Unchaining the Wolf
“Always the one with the bad grades, always the black sheep, always the idiot. »What’s to become of him?« they used to ask. That’s when I put on spandex, grabbed my Flying V and shortly after played Wacken Open Air.” According to Roadwolf’s guitarist Valentin “Vali” Strasser and his bandmates, heavy metal music is still looked down upon by society.
Roadwolf (gig review here) started out ten years ago, climbing the “steel mountain” of Austria’s practically non-existent classic heavy metal scene from Wiener Neustadt, a small town just outside of Vienna. “At the time we started making music together, there was no scene for classic heavy metal,” recalls Christoph “Aigy” Aigner, who served as the four-piece’s bass player since the very beginnings. Emanoel “Mano” Bruckmüller (Mano), the band’s drummer, remembers: “When we started, the Austrian metal scene was all about death and nu metal – it was the time when bands like Slipknot and Korn became a big deal.”
“Either you believe in something, or you don’t.” – Franky
Roadwolf never wanted to go down that path, though: “There’s a clear difference between a life attitude and merely following a fashion trend. It’s wrong for a musician to go down hype lane. Either you believe in something, or you don’t,” says singer Franz “Franky” Bauer. Roadwolf wanted to live up to their true idols Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crüe – not only musically, but in appearance and stage performance as well.
Rockers, rollers, seekers
At first, people dismissed them as “the glam rock lot,” a blow which still rings in Mano’s head: “They kept comparing us to Steel Panther. The problem with Austria is: If people from abroad do something, it’s cool. If the locals do it, it’s embarrassing.” Aigy agrees: “We were the only band here playing such music. The only not-nu-metal band. The outcasts. It was a serious downgrade.” Roadwolf were being looked down upon.
Vali remembers going on search for like-minded musicians. Scouring the dodgier bars of Vienna, he tried to find a band he could join. “I told everyone I wanted to do something in the style of Priest and Maiden. They all just laughed at me. The responses I got were either »There’s no money in that,« »Nobody listens to that stuff anymore,« or simply a dismissive »Are you fucking gay?«“ Death metal fans viewed classic heavy metal as unmanly.
“The problem with Austria is: If people from abroad do something, it’s cool. If the locals do it, it’s embarrassing.” – Mano
“I also had people walk up to me and say: »Your band’s never gonna make it«,” Mano reveals. “I knew they were saying that to offend me, but honestly, it didn’t. Because I knew I already had everything I needed from the band. And I also knew we were gonna work even harder and achieve something, so when the day came – and it did – all of them would tuck in their tails and run off.”
Franky is still encountering similar reactions in his sphere: “I always wanted to be in a band, no matter what. So I’ve been doing this for over thirty years now, and yet people still ask me why I do it. »It isn’t appropriate,« they say. But I’m still loving it. I think whatever you do with passion and ambition will automatically lead to success, even if it’s only a tiny personal one.”
Paving the way
How do you earn respect as a niche band in a country that used to be culturally so narrow-minded for most of its existence? The task seems daunting and the prospects meagre. Franky recalls the early Austrian rock scene: “There was nothing »cool« in there.” But this seems to have evolved over the past few years, “the scene has undergone substantial changes, no matter the specific genre. There’s a lot more quality and appreciation now. Still not enough, but it’s getting there.”
“Once you put your heart to something, you can actually go a long way.” – Vali
“As soon as we played Wacken, we drew some serious attention,” says Vali. “Suddenly, we sat at the same table with other musicians, and they treated us on eye-level.” Once Roadwolf had returned from playing a slot on the biggest heavy metal festival in the world in 2014, held annually in the north of Germany, their way was paved. It doesn’t occur to the band to be cocky, though. “That just isn’t us,” explains Mano. “But we do feel more respected now.” Franky makes clear there’s no reason to take off: “I’m doing it for myself and for the band. What other people say is irrelevant.” Vali describes the respect the band has earned as a “positive side effect.” But: “It’s not why I do it. I just realised that once you put your heart into something, you can actually go a long way. That’s what it’s all about.”
Finding the right formation
As is the case with many bands, Roadwolf still had to undergo several line-up changes before really settling. Back at Wacken, the group still had two guitarists, Franky hadn’t joined the band yet, and Aigy took on the part of the singer as well as playing the bass. Second guitarist Felix “Johnny” Keller, however, left the group after the festival performance. Over the next few years, Roadwolf tried their luck in replacing him. They checked out two more guitarists, yet neither proved to be fully suitable for the job. Vali, Aigy and Mano continued as a power trio for a time.
Their frustration about not having a fourth band member grew – Roadwolf’s music demands a full cast. In search of a singer, they eventually found common ground with Franky, who, by joining the band in 2016, relieved Aigy of the burden of balancing playing bass with acting as the band’s primary vocalist. Consequently, he could go back to paying full attention to his instrument, while still adding backing vocals to the set. However, the two latest formations also meant that Vali was to be the only guitarist in the band. This circumstance demanded him to shape up his skills even further, since relying on a second guitar was not possible anymore. He decided to take up the challenge, and until today, the band still consists of Mano, Aigy, Vali, and Franky.
In search of allies
Roadwolf wasn’t the only Austrian band to revive the aesthetic of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). At around the same time, more and more musicians across the country gathered to establish a national scene for classic heavy metal music: Liquid Steel in Tyrol, Wildhunt in Carinthia, Küenring in Lower Austria. In Vienna, Roadwolf found peers in Diamond Falcon, High Heeler, and Grim Justice.
“After we’d already trotted about for some time, there were all these fellow bands suddenly coming up,” Mano recalls. “It was a huge thing for us to meet them. The first time we met in Vienna, we just stood on the street, talked for like three minutes, and then literally ended up jumping around, hugging, because we were so excited to have found equals.” Together, they formed the Austrian Heavy Metal Alliance (AHMA) in March 2014. Their piercing motto? “The future is now!” Viribus unitis (“with joined forces”), it is the alliance’s goal to tighten its bonds and spread old-school heavy metal across Austria and beyond.
The genre’s popularity should reach a new peak, not least thanks to international acts like Enforcer, Steelwing, and Bullet, who became increasingly big at the time. “We can only thank the Swedes for bringing this music back onto the stages,” Mano continues. “They really opened the doors again.” Roadwolf suddenly realised their goal was actually not so unrealistic at all. With a clear demand for classic heavy metal among society the band was more eager than ever to take a chance.
What is it that keeps bands like Roadwolf going? What lets them stick to the rocky road they have taken? “We’ve worked so hard all this time. We’re not just gonna let it go to waste. Our debut is going to be our personal milestone, and I can’t wait for it to be released,” Vali says. Aigy claims his main motivation is playing live gigs: “That was always my priority. It’s just something entirely different altogether. That fan interaction, and seeing people completely lose their shit for twenty minutes – it’s that energy you get and take along with you.”
“That’s a good point,” Mano agrees. “Playing live was the first thing we wanted to do, nevermind where. Everything went wrong back then, but we couldn’t care less. We felt amazing.” He describes the exchange of energy as the most fascinating aspect of a stage performance: “You give energy, but you receive some from the audience in return – and it all happens voluntarily. You don’t have to convince anyone to participate. There’s really a transformation going on, which happens so rarely in life. Live music is where people willingly give their energy.”
“It’s also about telling stories, though,” Vali claims. “Heavy metal tells stories in this really cool way. It’s a unique style that doesn’t rely on radio-hit schemes. You want to convey a message.” Franky adds the importance of appreciation to the bill, identifying it as the essence of making music: “Nobody wants to keep their creations hidden away. It’s always the same principle: the one builds a chair, the other writes a song. Whatever we do, we are driven by our search for appreciation. Everybody is looking for it, at least a little.” Whether artists release a record or perform songs on stage, what seems to unite them is the strive for recognition, even if only subconsciously.
Climbing the Steel Mountain
By the end of 2014, they had released a four-track EP, unofficially named Never Surrender, of which two tracks were also released on AHMA’s 2015 Austrian Heavy Metal Alliance vinyl compilation through The Doc’s Dungeon record label. They have played countless shows ever since, including support slots for Lizzy Borden, Vicious Rumors, Night Demon, Vanderbuyst, Steel Horse, Skyclad, and none less than Enforcer and Skull Fist themselves.
Staying true to their style started paying off for Roadwolf. In 2018, their single “Condemned to Rock” got airplay on national radio 88.6. Currently, they are in the last stages of finishing their debut album. When looking back today, the band knows they made the right choice: “I think it’s cool that we started making this music right away and stuck to it. We played our part in inspiring other people and developing the scene. That’s something to be proud of,” concludes Aigy. Together, they have unchained the wolf.
“We played our part in inspiring other people and developing the scene. That’s something to be proud of.” – Aigy
“One day, we got an email from this American lad,” Mano remembers. “Joseph, from Texas. He told us he got hold of our demo somehow. I asked him where he’d got it, and he said there was this metal band from Oregon playing in his town. He had a chat with them after the show, and they sold him our CD. He said he listened to it and it turned out to be one of the reasons he started playing the guitar.” To Joseph, Roadwolf were in the very line of succession of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Accept, and others. “To him, we were all bands in the same league,” Aigy remarks. „We were really honoured. It meant a lot.”
Vali remembers when he was Joseph’s age: “When I was fifteen, my best friend and I started to go out in the evenings. We were so naïve, believing we’re the only ones wanting to form a metal band with the sound we define as heavy metal. We’d put on our Maiden shirts and leather jackets that we’d bought in a second-hand shop around the corner only a few days ago. Then we’d sit in our favourite hang-out, down a few beers, and shout: »We solemnly pledge to lay the foundation stone of the New Wave of Austrian Heavy Metal!« We thought it super cool at the time.” A smile rests on his face as he shrugs: “Almost came true.”
Author: Robin Frank