Running Wild fans disagree on when the band went bad. Some say the classic period ended with 2000’s Victory, when drummer Jörg Michael left and was replaced in the studio by “Angelo Sasso”, a man who has never played live, has never been seen or photographed, and who sounds remarkably like a drum machine. Others draw the line at 2002’s The Brotherhood, when longtime guitarist Thilo Hermann quit and the band became a Rolf Kasparek solo project. Others cite 2005’s Rogues en Vogue, which has music just as good as its title (unfortunately). Still others point to 2000’s Oops I Did It Again as the turning point when the band fell apart, which is strange because that’s a Britney Spears album. I’m still not sure about their whole deal.

Me? In my house, we support Victory. Despite its fake drums and Rolf’s strange notions about songwriting, it’s still a powerful work, hewing to the band’s strengths (those tremolo-picked pentatonic melodies that define the Teutonic sound), and “The Hussar”, “Tsar”, and “Victory” are some of the best songs the band recorded in the 90s. Don’t be fooled by the Beatles cover. Victory is power metal of nearly the first rank.

The Brotherhood is the album people accuse Victory of being: it’s seldom better than tolerable, and is often actually bad: either uninspired or inspired in wrong directions (obnoxious butt rock and ripoffs of KISS and AC/DC). It doesn’t just capture the band in sharp decline, it captures a new, weird version of Running Wild that’s barely a band at all: Rolf wrote all the songs, played all the guitar parts, programmed the drums, self-produced the album, etc, and the big problem with McCartney II-style bedroom records manifests itself, there’s nobody to rein in his worst impulses as a songwriter.

Rolf always had a love of KISS-style arena rock, but he knew on some level that most Running Wild fans do not share that love, so he kept it down to a dull roar. One or two songs like “Kiss of Death” and “Fight the Fires of Hate” exist per album, but no more. But suddenly, the album is packed with goofy shoutalong “stadium” moments, crowding out the speed and melody.

It’s a terrible idea. Even if you like KISS, Rolf is no Paul Stanley vocally, and the drum mach—I mean, Angelo Sasso gives the performance a sterile, enervated tone. Stadium rock is all about involving the audience in a collective human experience bigger than the sum of its parts. You can’t do that when your drums sound Kraftwerk-mechanical. Rolf is attempting to evolve the band’s sound in a direction that neither his skillset nor budget will allow.

After “Welcome to Hell” (the most boring fast song Rolf ever wrote—it goes through you like water), we get “Soulstrippers”, where the album rolls up its sleeves and starts doing what it really wants to do: lame power chords, a tempo set at a midpaced choogle, and a general brainless vibe of “ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?” that clashes with the socially conscious lyrics about media partisanship. But honestly, I’m glad someone finally solved that issue using the most powerful force known to man: boomer rock.

(Update: further research suggests “Soulstrippers” by Running Wild did not actually solve media partisanship. We regret the mistake.)

“Crossfire” is the same song again, even the stop-start pattern to the (very generic) “riff”. “Detonator”…look, this is a family website. I won’t assault your ears with offensive racial slurs like “d*d r*ck”. Let’s just say that if this song was a person, it would be a man, about 40 to 50 years old and recently divorced, with a widening paunch, a receding hairline, a pool room equipped with a wet bar, a collection of bespoke fishing lures, and an ability to flawlessly do a Johnny Carson golf swing on command. That’s how dad this song is. It’s like a bad parody of an AC/DC track. Just horrible to hear.

“Unation” always reads like “Urination” to me, which would make more sense than the real title. What does “Unation” mean? An “un”-nation? A “nation” made of “U”? I don’t want to be part of Rolf’s nation: he’s a pirate, and I don’t think my civic rights will be well-respected. The song itself is not bad: a kind of overlong torch anthem that makes you GET YOUR FISTS IN THE AIR and then hold them up for nearly six minutes straight. Life is tough in the republic of Unation.

“Dr Horror” is yet another dad rock opus with weak riffs and barely any metal influences at all. In the second verse, Rolf shouts “SEX!!!” for seemingly no reason. Also, what does he mean by “Tittytainments overload”? Actually, don’t tell me. Clearly, there were things going on in Helmut Kohl’s Germany that history is better off forgetting.

Closing epic “The Ghost” is based on Lawrence of Arabia. It invites direct forensic comparison to past epics like “Treasure Island”, and you hear that the songwriting just isn’t there anymore. The song is a chore to get through: it shows Rolf busting out the double harmonic major scale for an ersatz-Oriental feel, but even that’s a stale and unengaging cliche. At least it’s metal.

However, there are a few decent tracks.

“Siberian Winter” is an instrumental (a rarity for latter-day Running Wild) that’s quite fast. After “Crossfire” and “Soulstrippers”, hearing double-bass drumming again made me want to cry with relief: I felt how the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front must have felt when they found a soldier’s fallen-off leg to eat.

“Pirate Song” is the band swinging at the safest target imaginable: an uptempo power metal song about pirates. It’s good, which is no surprise. This is the equivalent of Georgia O’Keefe painting her own labia flaps: the band’s in its artistic safe zone here.

“The Brotherhood” is a long-winded but compelling mini-epic that harkens back to The Rivalry. It’s slow, heavy, methodical, and works perfectly. The title track on Running Wild albums is invariably great, a streak which would dramatically break with 2005’s Rogues en Vogue, where none of the songs are good.

Overall, the album is dregs and distillates. The highlights are just faded Xeroxes of past glories. The lowlights are the worst influences possible. Rolf is clearly losing interest in the Running Wild sound, and although he can go through the motions, The Brotherhood just isn’t that. Like trying to get drunk off a bottle that was emptied days ago.

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