Volbeat, over the past twelve years, have consistently released great albums with unique, soulful songs that are derived from a number of different musical inspirations, and a wide variety of different sounds. I’ve never heard a band that incorporates so many different sounds into their style: thrash metal, groove metal, heavy metal, hard rock, punk rock, rockabilly, classic country and country & western. Frontman and songwriter, Michael Poulsen isn’t shy about paying tribute to his favorite artists and bands by incorporating their various styles into Volbeat’s music. These artists and bands include: Metallica, Slayer, Danzig, Social Distortion, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Elvis Presley. It seems paradoxical that they would be able to fuse all of these sounds from other artists together and still have a distinct style that’s all their own, but Volbeat do it masterfully. That’s what sets them apart from the rest, and that’s why there doesn’t seem to be a single band in the industry that sounds anything like them. It seems Volbeat are in a class all by themselves, at least for now.
The most beautiful aspect of Volbeat’s music are Michael’s lyrics. In a genre of music that is dominated by anger and aggression, Volbeat’s songs relay messages of love, loss, hope, desperation, sadness, and strength. His lyrics are impactful on a very human level, and are a window into his soul. Storytelling is the main creative medium that Michael uses to write his lyrics There’s the tragic story of the Ness family, the tale of Cadillac Blood and his band, The Guitar Gangsters and their experience in 10 House City, and songs about various obscure historic figures like Black Bart, Mary Jane Kelly, Pearl Hart, and Lola Montez. Michael has a knack for taking these characters, many of which were criminals, outcasts or victims of great tragedies, and casting them and their struggles in a positive light. This is lyrical creativity at its finest.
Now that I’ve shed some light on what I think are the best aspects of this already popular band, let’s get into one of their albums.
‘Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood’, was released on September 1, 2008 on Mascot Records. This album is their follow up to their second album ‘Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil’ which was the album that put them on the map. This album isn’t as heavy as Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil, but it’s the album in which the band started to take some exciting new creative avenues as far as lyrical concepts and songwriting. Michael Poulsen has dismissed claims that this is a concept album, but frankly, it’s difficult for me to see it as anything else. Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood tells the story a group of four men lead by a man named Cadillac Blood. They’re in a desert area somewhere in America, and they’re playing all the local bars in the desolate towns along the way in hopes of finding the man who shot Cadillac Blood and left him for dead. Eventually, they find themselves in 10 House City. It’s in this downtrodden town filled with the desperate and the depraved that they meet some people, learn their stories, see their suffering and decide to bring some joy into their lives with their music. You’ll even get to learn the stories of some of these individuals yourself. As if this concept weren’t enough to make a great story for an album, there’s also the song “Mary Anne’s Place” which serves as the fourth installment in the Ness family tragedy. The other songs that don’t fit into the main concept are “We”, “Hallelujah Goat” (the two best tracks on the album, in my opinion), and the two covers: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Making Believe”.
Musically, Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood, in classic Volbeat fashion, is an album that explores many different styles of music, from the hard rock title track, to the punk/50’s rock song, “Back to Prom”, to the raw and heavy thrash sound of “Wild Rover of Hell”. The songs have amazing melody, they’re catchy and paired with Michael’s soulful, booming voice, this album will have you both rocking out and singing along. Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood is a feel good album, and it’s an absolute joy to listen to.
As much as I respect Volbeat, and enjoy all of their music, I still can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed as they’ve drifted further away from metal in an attempt to make their music more accessible and more mainstream. When they first came out, they had a fresh, heavy and powerful sound that people were really getting excited over. ‘The Strength/The Sound/The Songs’ and ‘Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil’ had the sound that should’ve been their main focus moving forward, but they all but abandoned it completely. I think that’s why they’ve never really broken out despite huge success in Denmark and touring with the likes of Metallica. They’ve lost most of their metal credibility. How do they get it back? Simple, they have Rob Caggiano. They need to get back to their roots and really utilize Rob’s talent instead of confining it to their mainstream hard rock sound. If they do that, then the sky is the limit.