You have to give a project like this credit for sheer balls alone, not to mention the amount of frequent-flyer miles annihilated in the name of tribute. Four "team captains" — ex-FEAR FACTORY guitarist Dino Cazares, MACHINE HEAD mainman Robert Flynn, SLIPKNOT drummer Joey Jordison and TRIVIUM frontman Matthew K. Heafy — assembled core bands from members of Roadrunner acts past and present, then wrote songs for various RR vocalists to sing. This thing runs the gamut — you get DEICIDE's Glen Benton, OPETH's Mikael Åkerfeldt, KILLSWITCH ENGAGE's Howard Jones and even one-time MISFITS vocalist Michale Graves, all on the same CD!
It's almost impossible to make a review of this project not sound like a laundry list of musicians. Here's a couple of the more impressive gatherings: the must-hear "Dawn of a Golden Age" pairs Heafy with Dani Filth, SUFFOCATION drummer Mike Smith, ex-CYNIC bassist Sean Malone and rhythm guitarist Justin Hagberg of 3 INCHES OF BLOOD. The excellent "Constitution Down" features none other than James Murphy, Rob Barrett and Andy LaRocque throwing guitar prowess around like anyone could do it, and EXHORDER/FLOODGATE frontman Kyle Thomas singing, with the godly Steve Digiorgio and Jordison as a rhythm section!
There was definitely a tendency to write for the vocalist — Max Cavalera's "Independent (Voice of the Voiceless)", one of Flynn's tunes, fires up some killer SEP-style thrash (and ends with a lush lead from ANNIHILATOR's Jeff Waters). Graves's track is horror punk, and King Diamond gets a song (written by the half-his-age Heafy) that wouldn't be out of place on one of his own opuses. Sometimes the team captain created, in effect, the best song the singer's band never wrote — Dez Fafara sounds better on Cazares's "Baptized In the Redemption" than he has on any COAL CHAMBER or DEVILDRIVER track to date.
The accompanying "making-of" DVD is almost cooler than the CD itself. You get gobs of in-the-studio footage, seeing everyone involved laying down their parts and making the songs come to life. Musicians and wannabes will be glued to this stuff, watching pros at work and immersed in the creative process. Shit, just seeing Mike Smith demonstrating his snare-heavy blast beats would be worth the price by itself (show it to any drummer you know and watch them cry), as would the extended shots of Heafy and TRIVIUM axeman Corey Beaulieu laying down the solo to the King Diamond-fronted "In the Fire". More shots of the vocalists (most recorded separately from the other musicians) would have been cool — although we do get a few quality moments with Glen "Papa Satan" Benton, joking around between bellows in the studio.
But will you ever want to just throw on the "Roadrunner United" CD to rock out to? If you're completely opposed to old-school metal, heavy thrash, black metal, catchy punk, metalcore, or emo-tinged rock and roll, you might find yourself skipping a few tracks here and there. But the new breed of metal fan is pretty damn tolerant, more so than usually given credit for — I bet more people than you think will flow right from "In the Fire" to the radio-rocky "The End" (surprisingly turned in by Cazares) to "Annihilation of the Hands of God" without too much cultural shock. A few tracks may be less than memorable, but there are no flat-out clinkers, an accomplishment unto itself on an eighteen-track CD with this many people involved.
People have been talking shit about Roadrunner's roster almost since before the label had one, and that will certainly continue after "Roadrunner United" comes and goes. But no matter your point of entry into the underground, someone representing an album you cut your teeth on is on this record. Even those who split from Roadrunner years ago, or have derided the label in the press (Benton, Waters, Diamond, Andreas Kisser, Robert Flynn), made their presence felt here — no one forced any of these people to do these sessions.
While the dickbrained will always foam at the mouth over any label that gets quote-unquote "too big" or "too trendy," anyone with two brain cells to clack together will recognize that a) Roadrunner has had an immense part in the evolution of underground metal, and b) this all-star album deserves credit, not only for its logistical impossibility, but for the talent on display, and the sheer scope of the material. I'm not saying Roadrunner deserves a pass or blind adoration — for every SEPULTURA and EXHORDER, there's a STAR STAR, RED TAPE, or a DOWNER in the label's history (and we're still not sure what we think of this whole NICKELBACK thing). But Roadrunner has done a fuckload right in the last 25 years, too, and if you're making a list of their most impressive achievements so far, "Roadrunner United" would have to be near the top.