When I was a kid, and Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet, and information was scarce, I would bum a ride from my older brother to the local mom’n’pop record store (Starship Records and Tapes in northwestern Florida) and scour the vinyl racks for new releases from labels I trusted: Metal Blade, Combat, Noise. Those labels were trustworthy signs of quality, so I bought countless records without ever having heard a note of the music, just because I trusted the label. More often than not, those gambles paid off, sometimes spectacularly so. Today, of course, it’s different. We have access to all this music at our fingertips, and there’s no need to blind-buy anything. It’s also different because there are vanishingly few labels that I would consider lock-down guarantees of quality anymore. For my narrow-ass, idiosyncratic tastes, they’re all pretty much hit or miss. (By the way, that’s much more a commentary on me than on the many fine indie labels out there doing yeoman’s work bringing underground metal to the people, and I’m thankful for every single one of them.) My point is that, overall, Stormspell Records probably has the highest hit-to-miss ratio of any active label, at least for me. If they release something, I’m almost certain to dig it.
So it with Poland’s Roadhog, who have recently released their sophomore full-length album on Stormspell. (Their debut, Dreamstealer, was also released by Stormspell in 2015.) Entitled The Oppressors, the album features striking cover artwork more than a little reminiscent of Princess Leia in her Jabba-slave era. It was mixed and mastered by Stormspell’s resident mad genius, Cederick Forsberg (Blazon Stone, Rocka Rollas, Cloven Altar, etc. etc.). And it’s a damn good album. In their promo materials, Roadhog describe their music as a tribute to bands like Accept, Running Wild, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Grave Digger. For its part, Stormspell recommends The Oppressors to fans of more cult, obscure German bands like Stormwitch, Veto, Noisehunter, Vampyr and so on. My own take is that there are two sides to Roadhog. There’s the ripping, speed/power side, reminiscent of the likes of Enforcer (whose mainman Olaf Wikstrand actually produced Roadhog’s debut) on cuts like “Fall from Grace,” “All Hell’s Breaking Loose” and “Fight it Back.” Then there’s the more laidback side (“Shadowmaker,” the title track, or the children’s choir-augmented “Children of the Dark”), sounding very much like early ‘80s continental European bands influenced by the NWoBHM movement. Predictably, I prefer the high-velocity, pedal-to-the-metal, rip-your-face-off approach. But Roadhog seem equally confident and adept at both styles, and more I listen to the midtempo, meat’n’potatoes stuff on this album like “(Don’t) Follow Them,” the more it wins me over. Bassist/vocalist Krzysiek “Lawless” Tabor employs an effective, albeit limited, vocal style that is somewhere between Cauldron’s Jason Decay and the stereotypical early-80s underground German metal band singers. Also noteworthy is that The Oppressors doesn’t contain a single cover version, despite the abundance of song titles that have been used by better-known bands (“All Hell’s Breaking Loose,” “Shadowmaker,” “Set the World on Fire,” etc.).
There’s some really outstanding true heavy metal coming out of Poland these days. Of course, Crystal Viper are at the top of the heap. Axe Crazy are terrific. (If you haven’t checked out their Ride on the Night album on No Remorse Records, you’re missing out.) And Roadhog are absolutely worthy of investigation, as well. While I think their sound could use some refinement and a bit more individuality, there are some excellent ideas on display on The Oppressors. Exhibit A is my favorite song “The Fear,” which gloriously captures the magic of early Iron Maiden meets Running Wild with killer guitar melodies and a heavy dose of inspiration in a brilliant instrumental section near the end. So if you have a hankering for traditional European old-school metal that is solid, dependable and entertaining, you would be wise to lend an ear to Roadhog’s The Oppressors.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~