Picture the dilemma – you are head of the biggest grossing independent metal label in the history of music, it’s the label’s 25th year in existence and you have the task of formulating a product that will encompass your past, document your present and hopefully prove that you have much to offer heavy music fans in the foreseeable future.
The duty itself is no mean feat, and one made all the more complex when you place the demand of originality upon your initiative, thus ruling out the obvious suggestions of 10-disc box sets, collector’s edition packaging or signed instrument give-aways.
With the entire Roadrunner staff racking their brains, it was (ahem!) the English Roadrunner office who proposed some of the label’s biggest artists get together to record a limited edition single, an idea that struck A&R gold and has panned out into a full album of 18 metal and hard rock numbers, featuring members of 42 bands spanning the label’s entire history. Practically the construction of the album took well over a year to be realised, involving 55 past and present Roadrunner artists, headed up by four “team captains” (only in America!) who oversaw the writing and production responsibilities.
With Joey Jordison of Slipknot fame, Machine Head‘s frontman Rob Flynn and former Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares already secured as “captains”, it seemed an obvious choice to instate Max Cavalera – the brains behind Sepultura and Soulfly – as the fourth solid foundation for the project. However due to personal and recording commitments, the Brazilian legend was unable to devote himself to the work (although thankfully he does appear), so in a bold move the label turned to one of their youngest and newest members – Trivium‘s Matt Heafy – a risk that has ended up paying dividends in the finished product.
Opener The Dagger sees Killswitch Engage‘s Howard Jones and Rob Flynn sparring mercilessly atop a classic Fear Factory grinding bass riff, with Annihilator‘s Jeff Waters lending his incredible lead guitar skills to the project. The Enemy – featuring Chimaira‘s Mark Hunter on vocals – is briefly catchy but lacks the defined sound of a band unit; while Matt Heafy’s first appearance on In The Fire with King Diamond on vocals is a synergetic blend of old and new school metal.
Former Coal Chamber frontman Dez Fafara lends his trademark growl to Baptized In The Redemption, which is yet another non-stick Dino penned number. However, if Dino Cazares’ efforts appear to be the weakest overall, it is Joey Jordison’s that reek of pure quality. His totally leftfield (and shockingly soft) efforts with Glassjaw‘s Daryl Palumbo (No Way Out) and Life Of Agony‘s Keith Caputo (Tired ‘N’ Lonely) are both outstanding; and although the Glen Benton-fronted Annihilation By The Hands Of God is both terrible musically and theologically comical lyrically, his drumming on Constitution Down will soon place him back in the metal hall of fame for keeps.
The best thing about Roadrunner United is that it actually works. It doesn’t sound like the songs were written and recorded in a couple of days – blood, sweat and musical talent were poured into this project. This album will be a hit with fans because of its diversity, its lack of predictability and ingenious fusing of old and new flavours. Yes there are a few clichéd, forgettable numbers, but the majority of tracks ooze genuine talent, commitment and thought to shape an album that every self-respecting metal-head should own.