Review Summary: Rated K for Kickass!
Many centuries ago, a man whose name has been lost to the sands of time said to himself, "We humans are pretty rad, but wolves are also really badass. If you had a man who could turn into a wolf, a sort of... man-wolf... my god, that would rule!" Time passed. In the 20th century, an enterprising American named Reese got stoned out of his mind (I'm assuming) and had the revelation that not only were chocolate and peanut butter goddamn delicious, but when combined had the power to give your taste buds orgasms. And so he took a chunk of chocolate, hollowed it out, filled it with peanut butter, and changed junk food history forever. In 2001 a Dane by the name of Michael Poulsen had the revelation that he could redefine awesome by combining the catchy, old school swing of rockabilly with the energy and balls-out-itude of groove metal. And thus was Volbeat born.
Michael is without a doubt the real star of the show in the band with genuine charisma and a dynamic voice that sounds like it could fill a theater without a microphone no problem. He serves both guitar and vocal duties, contributing thrashing, syncopated riffs with an unabashed Elvis impersonation. Volbeat's first album was titled The Strength/The Sound/The Songs
, which appropriately sums up their attitude. This carries across into their third album Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood
It's worth noting that Volbeat aren't a true revival band like Brian Setzer. Rather, they're more of a fusion band like the Cherry Poppin' Daddies (at times). And they're not a squeaky clean group either. Many of Michael's lyrics tend to focus on the idea of the outlaw, the outcast, or the anti-hero. Songs of drinking and rebellion fill the albums. It's appropriate because as tame as the rockabilly acts of the 50's may look to us in the new millennium, in their time they were a new brand of hard-drinking hedonists born into an era of paranoia, anxiety, and repression. And being derived from the blues, there was plenty of room to be miserable and angry.
The album can be a bit deceptive in that regard as it starts off with an instrumental intro that transitions into the title track, and that is followed up immediately with the very 50's-influenced Back to Prom
. But where you get your first hints of something heavier and bleaker is Mary Ann's Place
, a melancholy tune in the vein of the early rock death ballads. I kid you not. Most of us tend to forget or were simply not aware that music in that decade was packed to bursting with songs about dead loved ones.
This is not to say of course that Volbeat ever give the image of being clean, safe, or overly commercial. The title of the album alone should make it clear. Just as Pantera declared themselves to be the Cowboys from Hell, Volbeat are the Guitar Gangsters. They are here to rock out, get completely blasted, and pack it all up to do it again tomorrow night.
Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood
offers a decent variety of songs. Some of the darker tunes include Hallelujah Goat
and Wild Rover of Hell
. The requisite 50's love songs are here in the mostly unrequited variety such as We
and Maybellene I Hofteholder
. And there are of course the roof-raisers such as the title track and A Broken Man and the Dawn
. A couple of ballads are thrown in as well. Light a Way
has a more modern power ballad feel to it while still being heavy with whiskey-soaked Americana. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry
is a Hank Williams cover, which cements the band's dedication to their American West/1950's influences.
As I mentioned, Volbeat never hesitate to show themselves as the outcasts. One particularly good example of this is the cynical Still Counting
in which Michael croons out his lamentations and judgments in a bar, a loser among other losers. At the same time though there's a dichotomy of sometimes finding heroism in suffering such as we see in Light a Way
. The lyrics are only marred slightly by Michael's imperfect English and at times it feels a bit like reading dialog from Metalocalypse (i.e. "And no longer shall Hell awaits," or "Your charm do not evens the pain.")
I've heard Volbeat accused on occasion of being a gimmick band who use an Elvis impersonation and slide guitar to hide behind in place of real musical talent. But listening to the infectious songwriting of Mary Ann's Place
and Wild Rover of Hell
it's clear that this is not the case. This band is all about catchiness and groove, and few can dispute that they're a talented bunch. Which does bring about my one complaint about the production. Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood
was obviously given a higher studio budget to work with than its predecessor Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil
(also badass). This led to the decision to layer Michael's voice in nearly every single track. But as I mentioned before, the guy has such a naturally powerful voice that it feels completely unnecessary and calls to mind the cheesy overproduction that so many contemporary artists make the mistake of using when they're not using auto-tune to sound like someone's strangling a robot dolphin.
That said, this quibble with the production is hardly a deal breaker. The fusion of rockabilly with groove metal is fresh and original enough and so well executed that it completely leaves the realm of gimmickry behind while giving it the finger on the way out as it zooms off in a classic American roadster. The album loses a little slack toward the end but not enough to kill the experience, and half the tracks make for some truly rad party music. And if nothing else, it's so different and cleverly presented that the flaws are irrelevant. You owe it to yourself to check this band out because there's nothing else quite like them.
If you're looking for something new, Volbeat gets a hardy recommendation. Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood
: Rated K for Kickass!