You can't trust a musician to tell you the truth. It's a simple thing to keep in mind, but we idolize our favorite players so much that it's often difficult to remember proper perspective. Rather than being some almighty vehicle for divine inspiration, they're all too human, subject to the same fits and rages as the rest of us. And most of all, unless they have to, they will never retire.
Running Wild mainman Rock'n'Rolf Kasparek is a perfect example of why we need to be careful about taking anything a musician says as gospel. Kasparek put Running Wild to be a few years ago, having cemented his legacy in the power/speed metal universe. He was ready to move on to other projects, which didn't manage to capture much attention. So, when the time came, Running Wild came back from the dead, lumbering through another adventure much like the fetid corpse of a zombie lurching ever forward in search of life.
Giant X, then, is the antidote to the lie that was Running Wild's retirement, an investment by Kasparek in something new, that can hopefully fill the void in his musical heart and allow him to let the past be the past. Rather than chugging through another hour of speedy riffs and constant double-bass drumming, “I” is an album that borrows not from Helloween, but from the hard rock of the 70's and 80's. That being said, no one can escape their identity, and the spirit of Running Wild is ever-present.
After the obligatory intro, “On A Blind Flight” marks the new direction Kasparek takes, turning high speed chugging riffs into mid-paced chugging riffs, throwing in the same sort of big vocal hooks that marked the best Running Wild material. It's a solid song, but doesn't move far enough from the sound Kasparek is known for to feel like a new start, to stand as it's own unique work. “Don't Quit Til Tomorrow” is a better effort in this respect, with more 70's inspired guitar work leading into the song, which features the kind of pop hooks that would have made it a big radio hit in a different era. Of course, that's tempered by the fact that the song is about rock and roll, which intellectually ruins the whole thing. If a song has to talk about rocking, it by definition cannot by itself rock.
“Badland Blues” is what the title suggests, an attempt as a high-gain blues number that doesn't go far enough in that direction to live up to the promise. Throwing slide guitar on a rock song doesn't turn it into a blues, and when the hook comes in, it's clear the song is anything but the blues. That continues with “Now Or Never”, which dabbles with electronic sounds before turning into essentially a Running Wild song, and “Nameless Heroes” a ballad which is played just fast enough to dilute the feeling a ballad is supposed to elicit. It must be mentioned the embarrassing “The Count”, which apparently takes inspiration from Sesame Street, adopting the counting children's rhyme for it's chorus, in one of the least rocking moments I've ever experienced as a music fan.
Ultimately, what makes “I” disappointing is the scatter-shot and skin-deep flirtations with new sounds. There's variety present, but too often slathered atop what is a standard-fare song. The album would have been better served focusing on one sound and prying as much from it as possible, instead of turning out an album that has trouble holding together. There are some good songs on “I”, but it's hard to find them while wondering what style of song is going to be next in the pipeline. What made Running Wild work for so long was the dedication to a singular sound, regardless of how worn out it may have been by the end. Giant X could use a dose of that single-mindedness, as “I” never settles in one place long enough to leave an impression.