Review Summary: Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies is Volbeat's most commercial album yet, but is also some of their heaviest material to date. Volbeat has fully arrived to their rightful place among metal's elite.
I'll admit it, I have a soft spot in my heart for Volbeat. Denmark's finest musical export of this decade are simply one of the most unique bands in metal. What other band in recent memory has combined the old-timey sounds of rockabilly and traditional country with thrash metal with such great effect? In some regards, Volbeat are metal's answer to punk's Social Distortion.
Ever since "Still Counting" from Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood unexpectedly broke through on mainstream rock radio, Volbeat have become darlings in the metal world. A couple of big-time tour slots supporting Metallica, and one commercially successful album (Beyond Hell/Above Heaven) later, Volbeat has arrived onto the American rock scene and firmly planted their flag on the soil of the red, white & blue.
As the follow-up to Beyond Hell/Above Heaven, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies carried a set of expectations upon it's back prior to release. Would Volbeat abandon their unique musical identity in favor of radio-rock superstardom, or would Volbeat rebel against their sudden fame and emerge from the recording studio with an album that resembled Michael Poulsen's death metal past? The answer is thankfully neither.
Tracks like Pearl Hart, Cape of Our Hero, & Lola Montez definitely continue in the melodic vein of past singles like Fallen and Heaven Nor Hell, but those songs are balanced by some of Volbeat's heaviest material ever, as Dead But Rising, Black Bart (maybe the fastest song Volbeat has ever recorded), and Doc Holliday will surely inspire frantic head-banging and horn-raising. However, a three songs truly stand out from the rest. Volbeat's country/rockabilly influences also rear their head, as instruments like harps, banjos, slide guitars & double bass (more on that later) come to the party and show themselves in little parts here & there.
The first track in this highlighted trio is Room 24. The song features metal icon King Diamond on guest vocals, and the results are truly massive. The first 30 seconds lumber ahead like a lost Black Sabbath song, then suddenly the tempo picks up and Room 24 charges ahead like a freight train, with Michael Poulsen and King Diamond trading vocal lines like fighters exchanging blows in a boxing ring. Room 24 sounds perfect for Diamond, as it has an incredibly foreboding and haunting vibe, and his vocals only add to what is already a great song. Spine-tingling stuff.
The second track I wish to highlight immediately follows Room 24. The Hangman's Body Count is set up perfectly by a slide-guitar intro that builds up to an intense drum rhythm and a great riff. This is, in my opinion, the best song Volbeat has ever written. The guitar solo is simply breath-taking, as new Volbeat guitarist Rob Caggiano (yes, he used to be in Anthrax) is given a chance to show off his talents. The chorus is powerful, and it's obvious why The Hangman's Body Count was chosen as a single. It is simply that good.
Finally, The Lonesome Rider earns special status for simply being one of Volbeat's most unique songs ever. It features Sarah Blackwood of Canadian indie darlings Walk Off The Earth on guest vocals, and it reflects Michael Poulsen's rockabilly influences. Of the 14 tracks on OG&SL, The Lonesome Rider is the only song that completely embraces those country/rockabilly instruments that I mentioned earlier, as Volbeat backs off the guitars and instead they lets the double bass take the lead. Blackwood's vocals further power the song along, and the combination of Pouslen's and Blackwood's vocals in the chorus are simply pleasant to listen to.
Speaking of vocals, Michael Poulsen is one bad mother***er. His unique combination of Elvis Presley twang, James Hetfield snarl and Glenn Danzig low-end results in a vocal tone that makes Volbeat instantly recognizable among their new brethren on rock radio. The man can simply carry a tune to quite extraordinary effect, especially on the curious cover of My Body. Young the Giant's smash hit receives a slightly heavier makeover in Volbeat's hands, but without Poulsen's vocals the song would probably come off as clumsy. Thankfully, Volbeat pulls it off.
As the album title suggest, Volbeat not only continues to use Americana as a lyrical inspiration, they have reached even deeper into American history, as several songs (Pearl Hart, Doc Holliday, Lola Montez, Black Bart) are directly inspired by famous Old West figures. Other songs ruminate on death & justice, while Cape Of Our Hero is a tribute to fighter pilots. Our Loved Ones is a heartfelt album closer that in some respects continues the story of a deceased father that was started by Fallen from Beyond Hell/Above Heaven.
As it turns out, there are no really bad songs on Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, although The Nameless One & The Sinner Is You come off as a little bit boring, but they aren't actually horrible. Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies does feel a little lengthy with 14 songs on the regular release, with several of those songs clocking over four & a half minutes. Like most albums, the bass tones of Anders Kjolholm are usually inaudible, but overall Rob Caggiano did a great job with the production of OG&SL.
The drums have a clear & powerful sound, the guitars have plenty of room to operate, and Michael Poulsen's vocals float well over the instrumentals. Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies is a great rock/metal album, and it maybe Volbeat's best overall. It will be certainly be interesting to see where they go from here, that's for sure. Welcome to metal's elite Volbeat, you deserve it.