Robb Flynn (Machine Head), Matt Heafy (Trivium), Joey Jordison (Slipknot), Dino Cazares (Fear Factory)
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“You can’t consider yourself a hardcore kid or a metalhead without owning a Roadrunner album.” – Jamey Jasta, HATEBREED.

In 2004, Cees Wessels, founder and owner of Roadrunner Records, approached longtime A&R chief Monte Conner about creating a project and event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the label.

Roadrunner had humble beginnings, launching in 1980 under the name Roadracer, as an Amsterdam-based importer of U.S. metal albums to be repackaged for a European audience. Over the course of the two and a half decades that would follow, Roadrunner would evolve into one of the most respected outlets for metal and hard rock on a Global scale.

After launching the careers of bands such as SEPULTURA, DEICIDE, SLIPKNOT, MERCYFUL FATE, OBITUARY, and FEAR FACTORY, horror fans would soon feel the direct effect of the label. Long providing tracks for numerous films over the years, Roadrunner entered the Soundtrack realm itself by handling the sonic underbelly of FAUST (2001), RESIDENT EVIL (2002), FREDDY VS. JASON (2003), and RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (2004). In addition, the label would continue providing music on a per-track basis with Roadrunner artists appearing on soundtracks for the SAW franchise, the upcoming PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, and many more.

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Honoring a label that was responsible for such a long list of legendary acts would prove to be a task easier said than done. Putting together a “tribute” to a corporate entity could easily become an outlet for shameless shilling and masturbatory self-congratulation; a fact well noted by many of the bands involved (more on that later).

The result of Monte and Cees’ year-long plotting first included ROADRUNNER UNITED: THE ALL-STAR SESSIONS, a compilation CD of original songs born out of collaborations between Roadrunner artists past and present. Featuring an army of 57 musicians from 45 bands spanning the RR catalog, the album was released to mixed reviews, but did have its high points.

More interesting than the CD, however, was ROADRUNNER UNITED: THE CONCERT. Held on December 15th, 2005 at the Nokia Theater in New York City, the event would feature 39 musicians from 25 RR bands, performing 25 songs from the catalog of 19 bands. Joined on stage by non-RR artists including Scott Ian (ANTHRAX), and Tim “Ripper” Owens (ex-JUDAS PRIEST), the concert would feature a core “house band” consisting of Dino Cazares (AESINO, ex-FEAR FACTORY), Adam Duce (MACHINE HEAD), Paul Gray and Joey Jordison (SLIPKNOT), Andreas Kisser (SEPULTURA), and Roy Mayorga (STONE SOUR, ex-SOULFLY), surrounded by a rotating lineup of players on a per-song basis.

Filmed for DVD, rumors and speculation (will it ever come out?) have surrounded the release of the set until now. Due on December 9th, 2008 – almost 3 years to the day after the event, ROADRUNNER UNITED: THE CONCERT finally arrives as a two-disc special edition DVD from the label that put it all together.

Boasting the full concert, along with the “75-Minute Documentary”, the description is a tad deceiving, but not in a way that can’t be worked around.

Oddly labeled as “Disc 2″, the concert should without question be viewed first. Kicking off with a brief verbal love-letter to the label by HATEBREED frontman/hardcore poster-boy Jamey Jasta, the music begins quickly with a powerful version of BIOHAZARD’s “Punishment” leading into a hardcore set featuring songs by MADBALL, STORMTROOPERS OF DEATH (never on RR if I recall), and the always underrated LIFE OF AGONY.

The 5.1 Audio mix is excellent, and sounds great on the home theatre. What’s not great is the quality of the video itself. Surprisingly not shot on HD, the picture quality is on-par with a lot of early 1990’s VHS concert releases. Particularly disturbing is the inclusion of two camera angles that should’ve (and easily could’ve) been axed altogether: a blurry wide shot appearing to be filmed from the soundboard; and a medium angle that is completely “blown out” on anything being hit by the bright white stage lighting. Sadly, those same angles are cut to consistently throughout the set.

Technical aspects aside, the performances are the showcase of the set, and in that the DVD delivers. Moving into a straight-up metal portion featuring songs by OBITUARY, MERCYFUL FATE, KING DIAMOND, ANNIHILATOR, and DEICIDE, the concert gains ground quickly. Tim “Ripper” Owens handles the high-notes of the King Diamond and Annihilator songs masterfully, and serves as a clear reminder of why he was chosen to replace Rob Halford in JUDAS PRIEST for several years. Glen Benton, Satanic overlord of Florida’s DEICIDE handles vocals on OBITUARY’s “The End Complete” in a manner both true to the material and somewhat amusing, before returning to the stage in a suit of armor akin to JASON X being molested by a member of a Norwegian black metal band to handle vocals on his own “Dead by Dawn” (see clip below).

Hitting on the more modern-era RR, the set takes a turn with tracks by TRIVIUM (the only full band to take the stage together, albeit joined by MACHINE HEAD’s Rob Flynn), CHIMAIRA, and FEAR FACTORY (a little like metal karaoke with Trivium’s Matthew K. Heafy on vocals). In a move that certainly provides credence to the “united” title, past and present KILLSWITCH ENGAGE frontmen Jesse Leach and Howard Jones share vocals on the band’s “My Last Serenade”, closing out the song with a gigantic on-stage man-hug.

The low-point of the show by far is the performance of TYPE O NEGATIVE’s “Black No. 1″ absent of any members of the band, and with sickly H.I.M. frontman Ville Valo butchering the vocals, while looking frighteningly similar to “Glen/Glenda” from SEED OF CHUCKY.

Rebounding with a 4-song set from the RR All-stars CD, interrupted only by the mellow Corey Taylor/Keith Caputo duet of STONE SOUR’s “Bother”, “The Dagger” provides a fine example of what a good collaboration can spawn.

Moving into the show’s final act, the on-stage lineup grows larger and larger as the supergroup rips through tracks by SOULFLY, SEPULTURA and MACHINE HEAD, before the encore of SEPULTURA’s classic anthem “Roots Bloody Roots” with an army of guitarists, vocalists, and two drummers on stage to close out the night.

By all means, watch this after you view the concert. The deceiving part of this DVD is calling this a “documentary” at all. IT’S NOT. The “documentary” is in reality a 2008 “retrospective” of how the concert came to be, featuring newly-shot footage and interviews of the players involved, along with their reactions to being shown the concert footage themselves for the very first time.

In addition, several musicians, including SEPULTURA guitarist Andreas Kisser repeatedly refer to the event as “the party”, revealing the reason behind the lack of overall crowd movement during the concert itself. The attendees were industry folk, mainly from the label’s worldwide staff – many of whom were already liquored up from the free booze that started flowing from an open bar four hours prior to the show.

That said, the 75-minute retrospective is still an entertaining watch, especially in hearing the bands themselves discuss the potential disaster of having a label pay tribute to itself (see clips below). And since all turned out well, that’s all that really matters.

ROADRUNNER UNITED: THE CONCERT is an entertaining package that would be a welcome addition to the collection of any fan of dark and heavy music, especially those that follow the historical aspects of the genre and those that create within.

While I’m still a little burned that the video quality could’ve been better, this is a set that pays tribute to the music, and for that it does a great job.

Performances: 4/5 Stars | Package: 2/5 Stars

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