The story so far: The first two Running Wild albums are the best Running Wild albums. This has made a lot of people very angry and is occasionally regarded as a bad take. Certainly, Under Jolly Roger, Port Royal, and especially Death Or Glory have their place, in addition to the ongoing dedication the band have to creating escapist, fun-filled romps across the seven seas, but there’s just something special about those first two. They contain the core of what would make the band so successful in the latter era: the ability to combine speed with infectious, catchy songwriting with a particular attitude: be it chains and leather or cutlasses and peg legs.
But it’s on the fourth track that Wanderer really step outside the bounds of the prior numbers, kicking off with a fancy-pants run of hammer-ons that find their way to an epic, uplifting lead that develops into the song’s melody. At first, it sounds like they’re leaning a bit more toward the latter Running Wild era, but the verse quickly falls into an early Dave Carlo-inspired bit of palm-muted speed. Vocalist Nuno Machado splatters the singing with quick yelps that, combined with an otherwise somewhat dry delivery, accentuate the patterns in a similar manner to that of Carmine Blades of contemporary speed metal act Seax. The nasally inflection doesn’t detract from the music too much, in fact, it adds to the singalongability of the anthemic chorus for what is easily one of the catchiest highlights of the album. You don’t have to be a Halford to hop in and sing along the road to triumph and glory – it’s bonding and anthemic in it’s accessibility.
In all honesty, “Force Of Ancient Steel” is the real turning point for the album, taking it from a fun-filled romp through speed metal nostalgia to some Real Serious Business, as evidenced in the following track, “Freedom’s Call.” Full of galloping gallantry from the first notes of the pulsing bass, the rhythm section really gets some play around the shuffling hi-hats and always pleasing ride accents chiming through the mix, complete with quippy fills coloring the drumwork. Yet this is only the half of it, as the full band really comes together between the power blast of twin leads and walking bass leading into the fiery, lofty solos that lead the way to the song’s conclusion.
Shooting for a three-peat of awesomeness, “Dark Age” brings the straightforward speed back to the mix. The accentuated wails of the vocals on the verse and their ganged counterpart on the chorus, the thronking of the bass, and the searing sparks off the guitar riffs are all present, coming together in a summation of Wanderer’s true might. After some seriously burning guitarwork, the band find their way to a pure Iron Maiden gallop that gives way to a touch of German speed soloing – man, this track has got it ALL.
For the rest of the album, from the building swing of “Drifter” to the hard rockin’ “Winds Of Death” to the epic swiftness of “Way Of The Blade,” Wanderer deliver in full and never lose the momentum they’ve so carefully gathered and released on Awakening Force. While, at times, the vocals may be a point of contention for some, it really does add to the the ease of jumping in and singing along over a cold ale, regardless of the listener’s talents in the ol’ yodelin’ department. What Wanderer have crafted is a pure, exhilarating journey through some epic speed metal that never loses its sense of fun as well as grandeur. Equip leather armor for this one, you’ll be grateful for the agility bonus as you sing along amongst blistering leads, triumphant riffs, and the unifying power of the almighty twin axe attack.