My first hard rock record was Saliva’s Survival of the Sickest. I don’t mean that it was the first thing that could be lumped into the hard rock category that I’d ever heard—far from it—but that record gave me—then just into my teens—that missing bridge between classic rock and heavy metal.1 I could listen to both at the same time by throwing it on, hearing rock n’ roll played by a band who still had the nu-metal swagger of their early days. That link between genres is exactly what I look for in hard rock, and it seems that the Norwegians in Shotgun Rodeo think the same. By Hook or by Crook is only their second record, but it showcases a highly developed band with a clear sense of their own sound.
I’ll preempt any worries and say that this doesn’t sound exactly like Saliva, but that feeling behind Survival of the Sickest—which was in the right place at the right time for me—is here in spades. In a sense similar to Hammer Fight, Shotgun Rodeo beef up their hard rock with clear references to metal. Shotgun Rodeo’s biggest muse seems to be the rockier moments of Exodus—think in the vein of “Blacklist” and “Throwing Down”—which means that there’s an abundance of groove to be had here. There’s more than a hint of newer Anthrax as well, particularly late-career winner Worship Music. Straddling the line between incredibly hooky metal and burly hard rock is the name of the game here, and Shotgun Rodeo plays it with gusto.
There’s plenty to like on By Hook or by Crook. The title track bursts through the gates with a riff that, if played in a car, would cause speeding in excess of thirty kilometers an hour over the limit. It’s red-blooded and catchy hard rock, setting a high bar that, by and large, the rest of the record measures up to. “Human Hand Grenade” comes up all aces, with a great verse and a big chorus that would appeal to both the metalhead and the hard rocker. There’s nothing exceptional structurally, as the song is quite simple; instead, Shotgun Rodeo exploit standard rock structures to emphasize infectious riffs and vocal melodies. “Fort Knox” is another prime example of this and is one of the best radio-ready tunes I’ve heard in a while. “Tony Iommi” is great fun and full of references like Anthrax’s “Judas Priest” was, and Black Sabbath bears a clear influence on the universally solid riffs, which are still decidedly modern and true to Shotgun Rodeo’s template.
With a runtime of fifty-five minutes spanning across thirteen songs, By Hook or by Crook is bound to have some lesser moments strewn across it. These come primarily in the form of both “Taking My Life Back” and “The Bandwagon Syndrome.” It’s worth noting that neither of these songs is bad, but merely lack the élan which elevates the better parts of the record. At their best, which comprises the majority of By Hook or by Crook, Shotgun Rodeo nails down the energy, hooks, and attitude of hard rock like seasoned professionals with the hearts of passionate amateurs who want nothing more than to rock bloody hard. Missteps which hardly register as such due to being merely good hard rock songs aren’t much of a criticism, but they do force the record to be scored below that great mark when it comes to reviewing it.
Shotgun Rodeo chose a fitting production for their music. It’s loud, punchy, and not terribly subtle, much like the songs themselves. This isn’t to say it’s overly loud or hurts the ears, but it certainly is “modern” in just about every sense of the word. The riffs and harmonies are allowed room to shine, and not a detail is missed with an attentive listen. This is a band with nothing to hide or obscure, and for good reason; the music on By Hook or by Crook is high-quality hard rock, and should appeal to anyone who enjoys this type of music. It’s not overly serious and is definitely a party record, but it’s a mighty good one. I expect this to be the kind of record that sticks in the craw, being remembered at the end of the year due it still being played loudly and often.