Saturday, 4 May 2013
Whenever I think of Danish metallers Volbeat, I think of the first time I ever discovered them. Like so many of their fans, it was their fortune of touring with Metallica in 2009 that first introduced me to their unique sound. Having not one clue about this band beforehand, not even knowing that Metallica had more than one band (Lamb of God) opening for them, I was completely taken. They didn’t put on a spectacular show, for the most part they just stood there and played their instruments, and let their music do the talking.
For those who don’t know, Volbeat, led by Michael Poulsen and accompanied by other mainstays Jon Larsen on drums and Anders Kjølholm on bass, as well as a lead guitar spot that seems to change every few years, have a very unique mixture of influences in their sound. In particular, when I first saw them I couldn’t believe how well they blended traditional thrash metal with rockabilly and bluegrass, with songs such as Sad Man’s Tongue and 50’s golden age of rock and roll on songs like We and especially Radio Girl. At the time they only had three albums, The Strength/The Sound/The Songs, Rock The Rebel/Metal The Devil and Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood, which all fared very well in their home and native land of Denmark. This tour with Metallica was exactly what they needed to break out of their home and cross the waters in to North America to become one of the more household names in metal.
After immediately trying and eventually succeeding to find all of their albums, I was amazed by their musical intelligence, especially on Guitar Gangsters. The album had a few less than great moments, but songs such as Light A Way and Back to Prom were like nothing I had heard before. Then not long after that, they released Beyond Hell/Above Heaven. This time the band continued to pile on influences on songs such as 7 Shots and maintaining that 50’s malt shop drive in sound on 16 Dollars. In early April, they followed up with their fifth album, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies.
Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies may have a lot of what makes Volbeat sound like Volbeat, however the band seemed to have concentrated on simplifying things a bit. It is still a nice heavy album and continues to follow some sort of story that the band started on songs going back to their first album. They continue to sing songs about made up characters and their mysterious tie-ins to the story line. A very obvious change in the albums sound is the addition of former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano; the first non Danish musician to ever play in the band. His addition gives the band something they have never had; a bona fide lead guitarist. His guitar solos do not go unnoticed.
The album starts off with a bluegrass-esque instrumental, much like Guitar Gangsters did years earlier.Let’s Make Some Dust leads in to Pearl Hart, one of the characters the band has introduced in to their strange little story. The song is typical of Volbeat songs, it has a heavy back tone with nicely sung lyrics that could otherwise be a love song had they been performed by anybody else (another of Volbeat’s traits that make them unique).
Other characters introduced in the forms of song titles are Lola Montez, which is a song sounding somewhat similar to old Volbeat songs like We in respect to its upbeat nature heard throughout. Black Bart features some dual guitar licks not commonly heard on Volbeat songs. This leads in to an absolutely trashing double bass drum attack that isn’t heard at many other points in the album. This track is unique to the album as it’s among the heaviest. Doc Holliday, the last of these characters, is a song that starts off with an almost metallic banjo riff playing over heavy guitars. This song turns in to another rapid paced metal tune sure to please any metal head to have never previously heard the band.
The following songs, The Nameless One, Dead But Rising and Cape of Our Hero are very similar to Pearl Hart in the sense that they are just Volbeat metal songs. All of them sound absolutely great, they all have their defining metal moments but include the odd sentimental break that speaks to the heart of their listener. There may be some bluegrassish influence in some parts but all in all they are simple metal tunes that don’t require much other description. Cape of Our Hero is the first single released from the album, and for good reason. It takes a while for the listener but they will eventually hear this is a special heartfelt tune, but any of these three tracks could have sufficed as the albums lead single. The second single, The Hangman’s Body Count doesn’t have as much of a light hearted side, but is otherwise another straight up Volbeat metal song that won’t disappoint
Volbeat have had many guest musicians on their albums. Their second album had fellow Danish musician Johan Olden of the band Magtens Korridorer, then they eventually moved up to having better known guests such as Napalm Death’s Mark “Barney” Greenway and Kreator’s Mille Petrozza. Well for this album, Volbeat was graced by the presence on heavy metal legend Kim Bendix Petersen, better known to metal fans as King Diamond. As expected by anyone who anticipated so, the song is excellent. King Diamond himself sounds in fine form and the band doesn’t seem at all intimidated by having such a presence on their album.
The other guest musician on this album is (my fellow) Canadian Sarah Blackwood of indie band Walk Off the Earth, famous mostly for their YouTube video of them covering the Gotye song Somebody That I Used To Know with all five members playing one guitar. The song that she guests on is Lonesome Rider. This song is the first song on the album that truly mixes inspirations away from just metal. The song has a country/bluegrass sound and beat heard throughout. Sarah’s vocals do not sound out of touch with the song. She fair’s quite well at harmonizing with Michael’s voice. Her guest appearance on the album should not scare people away, especially not fans of the band whom are sure to see the innovation of this song.
An odd inclusion on the album is a cover of My Body, made famous by Young The Giant a couple of years ago. For anyone that knows, My Body, while a rock song, is NOT a metal song. Volbeat in the past has turned classics such as I Only Want To Be With You in to metal songs rather successfully, but this time they didn’t change much. Listening to both the original and this cover, the only difference is that it is maybe a little heavier, maybe a tad more accessible for fans of Volbeat who aren’t fans of the original, but it is a curious inclusion. The band has been playing the song live as of lately, so perhaps the reception they have been getting from crowds told them they should try recording it. I personally enjoy it, but I’m not convinced it will turn the hearts of every listener. You would have to already be a big fan of the band to truly like this track.
The Sinner Is You fits in with earlier tracks as your basic Volbeat metal song. It is another heartfelt song that could easily be re-recorded as a ballad by any other band. This stands out over the others thanks to its melodic guitar playing heard throughout, straying away from just having a guitar playing chords, making it more pleasant to listen to compared to other songs on the album.
The album ends with Our Loved Ones. Not the heaviest of songs the band has ever recorded, it has a rather slow pace and concentrates on its lyrics, but doesn’t lose the listener thanks to the strong musicality put in to the song writing.
I always remember that first time seeing Volbeat. I remember before they ended their set with We, some idiot a few rows behind me decided it would be funny to yell “YOU SUCK” at the top of his lungs, prompting some people to laugh. Luckily it was at the Air Canada Centre so there is no chance the band heard, but I remember in that moment thinking “I hope these guys become huge so that the idiot could eat his words”. Thankfully that sort of came true. I mean Volbeat aren’t huge, but they are very widely respected with metal musicians and fans alike and have come a long way since that 2009 concert.
Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies is not the best work the band has ever done. My personal favourite album would be Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood, and their strongest point as musicians would be either that album or Beyond Hell/Above Heaven. Both of those albums featured songs that sounded very different from each other, with some similarities, but still kept the band a unique piece of art, despite both albums having some weak moments. Outlaw Gentlemen does not fit that description quite so well. It is very much a metal album, but for the most part that is all. It is filled with songs that may not sound alike but do have the same feel for the most part. With the exception of some bluegrass heard throughout, the album just doesn’t have the experimentation that makes the band so unique. I would still, however, recommend this album to any metal fan any day of the week, I would just hope that if someone were to listen to Volbeat for the first time that it would not be this album.
“Black Bart” – While as mentioned before, so many of the songs are metal songs, mostly heartfelt, somewhat inspirational in terms of music with nice heavy tone behind them, this song is not necessarily one of them. It is among the heaviest songs on the album, this andDoc Holliday would both have to be the heaviest on the album. This track however has a more classic Volbeat attitude to it that would give listeners an idea of the kind of music the band has been releasing for the past almost decade. It goes from heavy and thrashing verses and riffs to slow doom-like choruses.Rob Caggiano is more than apparent in this song, with his kind of show stopping guitar playing that the band has just never had before.
8.5 (Out of 10)
|“Let’s Shake Some Dust”||1:28|
|“The Nameless One”||3:53|
|“Dead But Rising”||3:35|
|“Cape of Our Hero”||3:49|
|“Room 24” (featuring King Diamond)||5:07|
|“The Hangman’s Body Count”||5:15|
|“Lonesome Rider” (featuring Sarah Blackwood)||4:05|
|“The Sinner Is You”||4:15|
|“Our Loved Ones”||4:51|