Lonewolf - The dark crusade 4.5/5

Reviewed: 3-1-10


1. Dragons of the night
2. Viktoria
3. Legacy of the wild
4. The dark crusade
5. Hail victory
6. Warrior priest
7. The wolf division
8. Heathen horde
9. Words of the witch
10. Winter farewell
11. The hour zero

In August 2009, Rock'n'Rolf Kasparek stowed the sails on his pirate ship for the last time, drained the dregs of his rum keg, and vanished in a flourish of booty and plunder at the Wacken Open Air festival. Running Wild are no more. For all who were saddened by that event, and who yearn for the days when CDs such as 'Black hand inn' and 'Death or glory' were ruling the heavy metal universe and our true metal hearts, I bring tidings of joy. From the land of the Eiffel Tower, the Marseillaise, the guillotine, and freedom fries come Lonewolf. This quartet of stout-hearted metal warriors have spent most of the last decade carving a crimson career, dedicated to keeping the sound and spirit of Running Wild alive, much like Finns Cast Iron, but better and more prolific. Although Lonewolf's early efforts were perhaps longer on charm than on skill, the band honed their craft to a razor sharp edge on 2008's 'Made in hell' CD, a fantastic piece of work that reflected superb songwriting skills and much improved playing. When 'The dark crusade' hit the streets of Europe in October 2009, it was touted as "The reaper has returned to black hand inn" in promotional materials. I was anxious to hear for myself.

If 'Made in hell' was Lonewolf's statement to the world that they were a legitimate force of true iron glory, 'The dark crusade' is their masterpiece, the CD that says they can stand toe to toe with any traditional heavy metal band in the world and emerge victorious. As good as 'Made in hell' was, 'The dark crusade' is even better. All the elements I loved about the band before are fully intact. The twin guitars of Damien Capolongo and Jens Borner are mesmerizing, as they demonstrate total mastery of that patented, instantly recognizable Rock'n'Rolf picking style and an affinity for utterly enchanting guitar themes and melodies tailor-made for audience singalongs worldwide. And Jens Borner's gruff, throaty vocals continue to fit the music perfectly, as he sings with full power and emotion to compensate for his admittedly limited range. (To his credit, Borner has obviously worked very hard to enunciate his English lyrics more clearly, and is now much easier to understand than he was back in the early days.) And the brand-new rhythm section of Alex Hilbert (ex-Nightmare) and Antoine Bussiere keeps the bottom end pounding and crushing, with a clear production courtesy of Polish manager/producer/collaborator Bart Gabriel.

What's different this time is that the songwriting is nothing short of jawdropping, with no weak links among the 10 proper tracks (plus intro). Want a slow-paced thundering beast of a song? "Warrior priest" represents that style at its best. How about a catchy uptempo single with a stellar chorus? "Viktoria" is for you. A speedy, frenzied track of pure Running Wild worship, both lyrically and musically? Check out "Legacy of the wild". How about an extended epic song with shifting tempos and moods? The 11-minute "The hour zero" hits it out the park. A ripping barn-burner that lays waste to all its path? "Winter farewell". Nothing feels like filler, nothing feels boring and repetitive, and certainly nothing feels out of place. Surely new bassist Hilbert deserves some of the credit, given that he contributed to 7 of these compositions musically. What's amazing is that Hilbert's writing meshes seamlessly with that of his new bandmates. There's no change in direction, no dilution of Lonewolf's style or purity. They're everything they were before, only better this time because the material is so fantastic.

The cynics among you may be questioning Lonewolf's motives. Is this some kind of cash-in to capitalize on the trendiness of pirate metal and the resurgence of true metal? No. Absolutely not. Why am I so sure? Well, I had occasion to witness a Lonewolf performance in Warsaw, Poland in late January 2010. When Borler introduced "Legacy of the wild" (which includes a lyric "The big brother I never had at my side/Through the dark and in the light, guiding my life" amidst loads of references to Running Wild song and CD titles) by dedicating the song to a band that will live forever in his heart, there was no doubting his sincerity. When I saw all 4 members of Lonewolf up against the barricade later that night, going absolutely bonkers when one of the other acts played covers of "Riding the storm" and "Under Jolly Roger", it only confirmed their honest and true spirits. These guys live and breathe this music. They love it to the depths of their souls. And after years of patiently toiling, Lonewolf have finally developed the writing and playing skills to match their passion and enthusiasm. With 'The dark crusade', they take their rightful place in the upper echelon of old-school European heavy metal. There were a few times in his career when Rock'n'Rolf released CDs that surpassed 'The dark crusade' in terms of quality and inspiration. But only a few. I can bestow no higher praise on this CD.




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