“I never felt myself forced just to write about the pirate stuff as it could be too limitating musically”

Interview with Rolf Kasparek from Running Wild

Interview for Metalegion Magazine by Estelle on the 26th of August 2016


Hi Rolf, first of all thanks a lot for taking the time and doing the interview with me for Metalegion Magazine, much appreciated!

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Death or Glory (1989)

Which album of Running Wild do you think was the most crucial or significant one in your personal career and/or in the fans’ opinion?

I would say Death or Glory – we had a lot better conditions concerning distribution, that was the next step for us as we sold pretty much more than we ever sold before. It was a very big step forward for Running Wild. And Blazon Stoned was the next step, it was the best sold album of my career. It was a truly important album that made the status of Running Wild.

Rolf, you are the only so to say “old” member in the current lineup of Running Wild. To what degree does this affect the songwriting process for the newer albums?

This time we had pretty much more time to write and to collect the ideas than I had for the albums before. It happened not intentionally, I just broke my shoulder so I was “knocked out” from the world for one year and that is why I could really make up my mind about the cover and the lyrics; I really could collect everything that was coming up to me.

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Rolf Kasparek (1989)

When I was doing the record and writing the songs back then when my shoulder was again moveable and I could finally play guitar, it turned out to be a great situation because I could pick out 11 songs from all these ideas (I had about 30-35 basic song ideas) which are still all different from each other. Every song should gain something to the album that the others couldn’t, in order to have a wide range of style. I had the time to work on the small bits of pieces and the arrangement of the songs.

Rapid Foray is more complex in a way than the earlier albums by reason of the basic ideas. Also, I haven’t used studio before we started out with the record. It was a pretty much relaxed working situation even if it was hard work to achieve all that we finally did with the album. But it was a great situation for me to have the time to work out the bits of pieces, the details of the songs.

You mentioned that you broke your shoulder in the beginning of 2014. As far as I know you also needed surgery in Germany from one of the best doctors to repair it – During that period, have it ever crossed your mind that your career as a guitarist could be in danger?

No, because it was totally cured as I reached to the point back then to play guitar in the proper way again. In the first place it was the best doctor that I could get. It was just a coincidence that I landed there in this hospital but he was the best doctor to work on a shoulder in whole Germany (laughs). And I just told him that I’m a guitar player, I’m a musician and I need to use my shoulder. And he did a really great job then, the operation went well.

It took me about half a year just to get to working on Rapid Foray again because of having to have a second operation half a year later. I could already play guitar but not in a proper way, I couldn’t work for hours: 3-4 hours a day was not possible, in the beginning it was like half an hour here and there… I simply worked on the ideas and was picking out songs for the record.

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Rapid Foray (2016)

ROLF UNVEILS… RAPID FORAY

This section of our magazine would basically mean a song by song explanation or just an explanation of one song, focusing more on the lyrical and instrumental side of the song(s).
Could you share your vision of a song, explain the lyrics, refer to some instrumental passages or tell how the song was created…? It’s up to you.

I was interested in doing the last song on the record, the Last of the Mohicans. It was a really important one mainly because of the idea of doing a song about the novel from James Fenimore Cooper. I already had the idea in 2000 while writing the Victory album but it was not coming down, it was not the quality I wanted to have and that’s why I put it down again and again. And when I started out with the Shadowmaker from 2012 I had the idea to the song again, but on the other hand I had another song called Dracula which finally made it onto the album. On Resilient from 2013 it happened in the same way, I had the idea to write the Last of the Mohicans but there, as the last song, Bloody Island made it onto the album.

While writing Rapid Foray I finally did have the time to do the song, I figured out very early a lot of ideas for it concerning my working situation because of my shoulder.

And the story it tells – I know the story since I was a kid, had to see it in Germany, we had this kind of tradition in the 60s and early 70s. Before Christmas we had these 4-piece movies about a certain adventure topic that was sold by German TV to French TV, so different TV stations got this together. There was one film called the Hawkeye Movie and another one was the Last of the Mohicans, which is one of the stories of this book.

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James Fenimore Cooper – The Last of the Mohicans (1826)

I was really impressed by the story because it was a battle on the one hand, and on the other hand it’s a very adventurous case. I must have been around 9-10 years old when I saw it for the first time and I was simply impressed. There were a lot of movies coming up with the story but telling it from a different kind of view, a different kind of perspective.

I wanted to do this song and I figured out that the story is too complex to tell it in just in 5 verses or so. I just had to figure out what was the main point to me from the story and this is the loss of Chingachgook [one of the three frontiersmen, among the main figures of the film – ed.]. He not only lost his son but he lost his culture, he lost his present, he lost his future, he lost everything. His pride… Everything that was important to him that made up his life so far; he had to start at a new point from then on.

And that was the point I had my focus on while writing the lyrics and telling the story. I also had to tell it musically and that’s why it turned to be such a long song because it’s such a complex story.

Now it’s understandable why it is the largest song on the album with a running time of around 11 minutes. The song, as you also mentioned, was clearly influenced by the 19th century novel written by James Fenimore Cooper. What lead you to adapt this particular novel into a Running Wild song and also, do you think it fits entirely into the Running Wild pirate image you built up over the years?

rw5I always brought in different kinds of ideas on the albums because I never felt myself forced just to write about the pirate stuff as it could be too limitating musically. Also, if you only write about that kind of certain topic just have certain melodies in your head and certain musical ideas. Back on Death or Glory we had a song called Battle Waterloo which also was a part of history. From time to time I’m just doing different stuff because there were also some songs on the album just like Victory of Guns which is just a normal rock ‘n’ roll song. So I never felt myself forced to just go ahead for this kind of image stuff.

The story of the Last of the Mohicans takes place in the 18th century, but the pirate stuff did too. So it fits in that case as it is a part of the story and so it is a part of what happened then. The indians were pretty much in the same kind of situation as the pirates were. They had to fight for their lives and for the right and had to see how they pull through this. The first place there was a war between England and France about North America, they just wanted to keep their hand on that, so that was the basic story back then.

We can notice that the lyrics after your 1987 album Under Jolly Roger were intensely researched. Where did you get the inspiration and especially the information for the lyrics?
What does the whole pirate image mean to you and how did you get yourself into it?

Everything started with the song Under Jolly Roger. I was watching TV when I came around with the idea of the song, there was this advertisement for the movie called Pirates (1986) written by Roman Polanski. And there was this scene where the flag was rising up and I found it beautiful. “Wow Under Jolly Roger, a great title for a track!” – It started with that. I became especially interested in this stuff when I was writing for Port Royal. And I just love books about that. Totally different kinds of books about different pirates, about history, about theories, about shit, about everything that had something to do with the life in the 18th century. It was all about that pirate stuff on the Caribbian. And I had a lot of books where I could pick the stories from, stories that all come from reality. Just as our song called Calico Jack.

rw-jollyrogerAnd sometimes our songs are coming up with imagination about the topic. If you have a look on the new album a song like Black Skies, Red Flag has nothing to do in the first case with the reality, just has this kind of red flag as a symbol for the pirates that they will show no mercy at all. We have the real pirate flag in our minds with a skull and crossbones. But actually every pirate had his own flag back then.

So there’s totally different stuff that comes from that. And sometimes I’m coming back to that, I had all the ideas for the new album and one of them turned out into a song called Black Bart, which is a song about Bartholomew Roberts who was the most famous and the most successful pirate of all time. He was mentioned in the story of Treasure Island and he was real. It was not just imagination, he actually existed and was a very strong character; there were a lot of different things in his character that were not at all usual for that time. He was never drinking alcohol – what a weird situation for a pirate (laughs)! He was always sober, all the time. And he was gay, for the 18th century he was gay! He was very very open, he didn’t hide it, he was never hiding. And it was very strange for the 18th century to do that. The crew was really onto him, he was also relentless, a really tough guy. And so that was the story I was coming back to, I was just going for the books again and I found a story about which I haven’t had a song written yet, I figured he would be a great character to do a song about.

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Running Wild (Death or Glory era)

Rapid Foray also brings back some of the memories from the classic Running Wild period. Your previous two albums (Resilient, but especially Shadowmaker) didn’t convince entirely many older fans of yours. Was this something you were looking for this time, to make peace with the older fans?

No, not really. When I was going through all the ideas I had for the album, I figured out that there were some parts that had some more trademarks from the late eighties-early nineties. But I was not heading down when I was writing the songs, when I was collecting the ideas. I never said to myself “you have to write songs like back then” – that simply wouldn’t work. If you try to do a copy of a song from 25 years ago, there would not be coming any good song from that. If I got a great idea that sounds like that and I got this feeling and I got this kind of spiritual thing going around what you feel about the pirate stuff or the metal that you consider to be classic for Running Wild… It’s great when it’s there. You really can rock on that and you can go and work on the bits of pieces to make it to be a great track. And that’s what I did. But I never said to myself that I had to write songs like that. I don’t think that would really be ending up as a great record. The record was just the way I was feeling when I was writing and collecting the ideas and when I was picking the songs for the album. I figured out very early when I was working on the tracks themselves that a lot of songs had trademarks from the classic stuff.

I agree with you on that that you couldn’t simply copy a song from back then because it wouldn’t work out the same way.
As you also mentioned earlier, you had more than 30 songs completed for Rapid Foray. If I can ask do you sometimes use portions or complete songs that were not featured on the previous album(s)?

This was the first time that I had so many ideas for an album. If you have a look back into the early days Death or Glory etc. – those were really the songs I had that I put on the album. I couldn’t pick from such a big “pool” from which I have the possibility to do that today. There were a lot of ideas I had to put down because they didn’t fit to these 11 songs. But that doesn’t mean they are not great songs. Meanwhile I was writing the material and was working on the production itself, I had a lot more ideas for the next album that I had to put down and force myself to forget them. This is a kind of pool of creativity I have in the last 2-3 years which I never had before in my life. There are a lot of things going on, a lot of ideas are just coming and I really can’t stop it (laughs). It’s totally different because before, I put down Running Wild as it was really hard for me to write the songs and get the proper ideas for a good track. It was really hard work, but today it’s just coming like a river.

That’s for sure great for us fans to hear!

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Running Wild at Wacken Open Air 2015 [Photo: apesmetal.com]

About “putting down” Running Wild as you said, the last time you played live was on Wacken Open Air in 2015. Was it because your last show in 2009 also happened to be on Wacken? Also, do you plan to give concerts anywhere else seeing that so many fans are kind of dying for you?

I was just starting out working on the new album and we got the idea from the Wacken guys to do a show there in 2015, festival headlining. We felt like it was a great idea to do that but we had to find 2 new members for the band as it was just P.J. [Peter Jordan guitarist – ed.] and me at the time. We figured it out but after that I had to go back to the album to finish the recording.

About concerts, we are not doing touring but we will play on a lot of festivals the next year. So we just get all the offers and we sit down and consider all of them and see what we can do, what festival is suitable for us concerning the fees and the possibilities. We plan to bring a full set from Running Wild on the stage. This is all planned for the next year. It is also the plan maybe to do 2-3 shows around the next Christmas, 2017. This is the next plan and now we are working on that. Now we are pretty much involved in interviews and the promotion for the new album. We will just sit down and see what we can do about 20 different offers from festivals all over Europe.

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 A fan’s Running Wild-themed leather vest

That’s awesome to hear that there is a chance of seeing you!

You guys are also really active on your Facebook-site when it comes to marketing, for example you have an album where you upload fans’ pictures with their Running Wild tattoos and reliquia. What was the most surprising way of a fan showing his respect towards Running Wild that you’ve experienced?

The fans are so loyal to Running Wild, even if we talk about 32 years now because it was in 1984 the first album which was revealed for the public. I see so many people getting tattoos from Running Wild, some of them even more than a dozen. It’s a statement that Running Wild means a lot to them and it is a big part of their lives and makes me proud. Also if you take a look at how many musicians claim to be influenced by Running Wild, even if they are fans you never came across with because they are doing different music themselves. In Flames for example, they have grown up with my music – they are making totally different music themselves but are saying “you were a milestone for us because you’re the reason we started out making music”. It makes me proud to see the next generation rising. Or Sabaton, they also claim to be great Running Wild fans and have grown up with my music. Handing over the fire to the next generation – I am really proud of that.

rw6About fans and about being proud of fans being so loyal: Do you feel like you ever disappointed either your fans or yourself with any of Running Wild’s records?

You know the fans are a big part of Running Wild, we would be nothing without them. That is for sure: they bought the records, they bought the tickets… They made the band great and this is what it’s all about. You always have to have the focus on that these people were loyal to the band through the good and though the bad times, and it makes me proud to be a part of their lives. For example once we got a letter from an American soldier who was fighting in Iraq and he said what brought him through all these evil things going on there was to listen to Running Wild all day long. And this means a lot to me to be the help for people through situations, to feel better, to make it through.

All time highlights…

For the end could you select up to 3 albums that you consider your all-time favorites and tell me something about each one? (For instance when you have heard it for the first time, why you consider it a highlight or some sort of memories when hearing it.)

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Judas Priest – Unleashed in the East (1979)

Firstly Unleashed in the East from Judas Priest: Priest is a starting point for me for heavy metal in the reality. When this album came out, everything started and one year after that all the NWOBHM started. We are called since then a heavy metal band because we were called before some kind of a hard rock band. Listening to KISS and AC/DC…

What also was really important for me is British Steel. It’s an all-time classic for me, THE most heavy metal album of all time. It just sums up everything that heavy metal means to me.

Thank you very much for all the interesting things you told me Rolf, all the best to you in the future and looking forward to seeing you sometime in 2017!

Thanks for the support. Have a nice day!

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Reflections of our yesterdays

Thought I’d share one of my all time favorite lyrics with you. (No feeling can be compared to the one I got while Dreamweaver is spinning on the turntable, I’m leisurely sitting on my bed and browsing over the magical lyric-book of the album.)

Sabbat – The Best of Enemies

Oh instrument of God force –
Fed on ignorance and lies,
So blind and narrow-minded
That you cannot compromise.
Even the most foolish thief
Should know what he is taking –
Lest he find himself within a
Cage of his own making.
The Ways of Wyrd are many and
Our path you must decide,
For the secrets that you seek
Are all around you –
Use your eyes.
The threads cannot be broken
That have brought you here to me –
And bind two foes together
Like the best of enemies.

You gaze upon me –
I can tell what you see,
A simple man
With simple thoughts and
Simple needs.
Superstition –
Preying on a mind filled with fear,
Opposition-
To all your ‘enlightened’ ideas.
Yet I will show you more than
You can comprehend,
Beware delusion is a
Dangerous friend.

Ask loaded questions seeking
Knowledge of a faith that
You wish to pervert –
All our values,
With hidden meanings
You try concealing your
Underlying wish to convert –
‘heathen’ souls,
To a faith that will doubtless
Send our gods to the grave –
Mistake you’re making overlooking
The fact that we might not want
To be ‘saved’.

[THE SORCERERS CREED:]
Fear is an old friend of mine,
We have met many times before.
(Drawn to these spirits like
Moths to a flame –
When there is no risk then
There can be no gain).
Death is a harsh fact of life
You cannot avoid or ignore.

The Life-force is as strong in
You as it is strong in me,
The difference is what you
Hold captive I set free.
You seek to subjugate all
Those who won’t comply,
I’ll take your prejudice and
Pride and show you why –
The values that you hold so dear
(all your laws and rules),
They hold no more sway here
Than the mutterings of fools.
Just look about you and
I’m sure that you will find –
Heaven lies within our hearts
And Hell is but a figment of
Your mind.

These teachings that you deem so
Sacred bcome words devoid of meaning,
When compared unto a faith that
Preaches something worth believing.
What is to become of us when
Truth is turned to lies,
Will none remain to wipe the tears
When Mother Nature cries?

Proceed with caution –
Subservient to all you survey,
Hidden dangers await us on
Each step of our way.
Do not falter –
For if you do you will fall,
Prey unto perils far worse
Than you’ve encountered before.
Compared unto the threats we face
Your devil seems so mild,
A relic from the faerie-tales my
Mother told me as a child.

Why do you carry your God
Like a weapon –
A dagger drawn ready to strike
At the heart of a foe when you
Don’t really know the reason
That you fight? –
To replace our disgrace with
The ‘loving’ embrace of your Lord –
Can’t you see that the plans
Made for me and my people
To us seem absurd?

[THE SORCERERS CREED:]
Death is the only recourse
I require in my hour of need.
(Drawn to the spirits like
Moths to a flame –
When there is no risk then
There can be no gain).
Impassive it shows no remorse
For folly and greed.

Pre-emptive prejudice has
Dogmatised your life,
These blinkered views that once
Held true will no longer suffice.
For in my world there is no point
Where you can draw the line,
‘twixt good and evil,
Saint and sinner,
Damnate and divine.
Shaven-headed servant of
An infantile faith –
By what right do you presume
To come and try to take my place?
If there is one grain of truth
Amidst your hoard of lies, ’tis
“Love your neighbour as yourself”
With this alone I can abide.

These teachings that you deem so
Sacred become words devoid of meaning,
When compared unto a faith that
Preaches something worth believing.
What is to become of us when
Truth is turned to lies,
Will none remain to wipe the tears
When Mother Nature cries?

[THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR]
When living your life
Like an arrow in flight
You must always accept that
The end is in sight,
Be grateful at least for the fact
That you knew: you came to death –
He did not come for you.
You are like targets
Who sit and await –
Patiently suffer
The arrows of fate,
Saying “I am but mortal
And destined to die –
I can change nothing
So why should I try?”

Each morning you wake is an
’ember day’ dawning,
Your penance for living in
Permanent mourning.
By erstwhile ideals your
Hearts are enslaved,
You crawl out of the cradle
Straight into the grave.
What reward is a banquet
Of red wine and bread,
When you hunger for life –
But on death you are fed?

Do not underestimate
The task you undertake,
Overcome your hopes and fears
And meet them face to fate.
These spirits aren’t your enemies
But neither are they friends,
Do not dare insult them lest
All nature you offend.
They who were here before us
Will remain when we have gone,
And though we’re long forgotten
Still their memory will live on.
Perhaps one day mankind will see
The error of its ways,
And in its future glimpse
Reflections of our yesterdays.

In search of mediocrity

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ONSLAUGHT – In Search of Sanity (1989)

Review by Estelle on the 15th of January 2014

TRACKLIST

  1. Asylum
  2. In Search of Sanity
  3. Shellshock
  4. Lightning War
  5. Let There Be Rock
  6. Blood Upon the Ice
  7. Welcome to Dying
  8. Power Play
  9. Confused

RELEASE DETAILS
Genre: Thrash Metal
Label: London Records
Country: United Kingdom
Date: August 22, 1989

LINEUP
Steve Grimmett – Vocals
Rob Trotman – Guitars
Nige Rockett – Guitars
James Hinder – Bass
Steve Grice – Drums


As one of the biggest representatives of British thrash metal, the five-piece band Onslaught has never given up if it came to trying to find themselves. Firstly they were searching for some hardcore punk tunes, later they shifted for their successful and more effective thrash metal approach, and here they are again, in one of the – in principle – still popular and productive years of thrash metal, searching for sanity.

I don’t think I should explain why thrash metal isn’t about sanity. Thrash metal is about speed, thrash metal is about rawness, thrash metal is about violence. The more insane, the better; and even though Onslaught knows this really well, in 1989 they came up with an outstanding album that was obviously against the idea of what they did before, of what all the other thrash metal bands did before, and that the fans of their first two albums didn’t welcome very well.

Onslaught In Search Of Sanity

In Search of Sanity is a longer, slower and more melodic approach of the genre, the music they play is more like a mix of power, thrash and speed metal. The crystalline production of the album creates the sound of polished thrash, and the vocals even deepen this effect: the amazing high voice of Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett matches the melodic sections, but unfortunately it misses the thrashy parts; at some places when the music becomes fast and the riffs get real intense, the vocals take from our energy and from the feeling the album gives us as a whole.

Rockett and Trotman play their guitars skillfully, although the songs could use more interesting and more diverse riffs, I could also say more riffs in general. Hinder’s bass line follows hard upon the guitars which gives a strong and heavy base sound to the album; Grice’s drumming is also solid and real tight sometimes, but his skills don’t really stand out from the other band members’.

The first mistake on the album that is completely inexplicable is the pointlessly five minutes long, boring intro full of random noises with the failing intention of terrifying, which has nothing to do with the music they play on the album at all. When we finally get to the first actual song, the title track, the pounding drumming, the powerful riff and the short energic guitar play work refreshingly and suggests us a massive album, and apart from the firstly quite weird vocals the song until the end of the strong solo is well-written and enjoyable. Then after bringing out the sound of the fairly technical guitars the track is getting dull – 7 and a half minutes are simply too long if we’re talking about thrash songs, and this is a typical returning problem on the album.

The third track is the rhythmical ‘Shellshock’ with basically almost the same riffing as the title track, which gives us the feeling of some kind of everlasting continuation of the sections which are too long anyway – even though the song contains clever and interesting parts such as the solo or the beautiful second riff after it, Onslaught can’t manage to hold our attention for as long as their songs would require.

The same problem again and again: ‘Lightning War’ starts off powerfully, some tight drumming and an energetic riff, after ‘Power Play’ this is probably the second fastest song on the album. Intense solo, the sudden drum beating right after and the fast continuation gives us some great energy… for a few moments – then we gradually get the usual “this is not enough” feeling.

The next one is a quite solid speed metal version of AC/DC’s ‘Let There Be Rock’, it isn’t a bad cover but it still doesn’t add anything to the album, if I wanted to be mean I’d say the album would be too long even if they simply cut this one out of it. ‘Blood Upon the Ice’ starts beautifully with the fierce drumming and the also dynamic riffs, the vocals take a bit from the feeling, though. Even longer than usual part before the solo, also too long after it, the riffs become generic and the vocals don’t help us to get a better impression either; here comes the slowly descending dullness.

If we still don’t feel bored enough, no need to worry, the band helps us out of this trouble as well – the next song, the longest ‘Welcome to Dying’ which is or which was supposed to be a slowly evolving ballad fails the point: after all the mediocrity they have been showing for the whole time, the leisurely slow and cheesy song instead of making us feel relaxed and comfortable makes us rather impatient and hungry for some heaviness. When it starts as if it was a soundtrack from a full-of-cliches romantic film we could ask ourselves: do we really need this on a thrash album?

Although the track has great moments, in general I can’t say it is well-written. Even the beautiful and technical solo where we can finally remember some ‘Metal Forces’ and shout “now this is Onslaught!” can’t help the fact that when we are already at 5 minutes we still feel like nothing happened, and when it’s over it doesn’t give us the feeling of something complete or whole because of its ‘slipperiness’.

After we got through the drawn-out ballad here comes some refreshment and at the same time probably the highlight of the album, ironically with the title ‘Power Play’. The thrashiest song of the record starts intensely, the tight drumming which keeps the pace up until the end and the lively riff work as some kind of salvation. The song with the emphasizable guitar playing and the spiritful vocals that we already got used to make a really strong ending for the album, although on the CD version we can also hear the quite decent but a bit also needless 2 minutes long cover of the song ‘Confused’ by Angel Witch as a bonus.

Summarized, the main problem is with the construction of the songs and of the album as a whole. While listening to the record, we continuously get the feeling of the lack of something and in most cases we can even say what it is – they could have created such a beast with this album if they just cut those real strong worthy parts out of the songs that they do contain but that get lost in the dullness and put them together as nine 4-5 minutes long tracks with kickass riffs and solos, instead of making the same mistakes while playing the pointlessly way too long repetitive tracks with lots of unnessessary filler parts. The song order could have been changed as well: Shellshock’s similar riffs to ‘In Search of Sanity’ wouldn’t be that disturbing if they put it 2–3 songs away from the title track; and I’m sure some hardcore thrashers would have more likely forgiven Onslaught for ‘Welcome to Dying’ if it was a winding-down closing track after ‘Power Play’.

Outstanding tracks: In Search of Sanity, Shellshock, Power Play

10/6.5