There are so many different genres and subgenres of heavy metal these days that it’s hard to keep track. Thrash, folk, death, black, doom, speed, groove, power, sludge—the list goes on and on. The overproduction of metal in its various forms has its drawbacks, of course, the main one being that the music brought forth by today’s sons and daughters of Sabbath is, let’s face it, often stale, tiresome, and clichéd.
A band like Denmark’s Volbeat, on the other hand, is bringing something new and exciting to the ear-busting realm. The quartet melds elements of ’50s-style rock ’n’ roll and grinding punk-metal to create a sound that—as heard on its new album, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven—is catchy and entertaining as hell.
Volbeat singer-guitarist and main songwriter Michael Poulsen, the mastermind of this bold exercise in genre-blending, grew up in a family that adored the likes of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
“Their songs were always played in my home,” recalls Poulsen, on the phone from Copenhagen, “and at a time I could sing all those songs. Later on, as a teenager, my big sister got a boyfriend who was really into the heavy-metal stuff like Dio and Black Sabbath, and later on Metallica and Iron Maiden, and suddenly there was a whole new scene in the world to explore.”
Poulsen’s burgeoning fondness for metal led him to form the death-metal band Dominus, which released four albums before he grew somewhat tired of the death-metal scene and his old love of classic ’50s music started to reassert itself.
“It was very obvious to me that all the melodies I was trying to sing at that point were inspired from the ’50s,” Poulsen says. “Those were songs where I was blending sometimes six different styles together in one song, and I was asking myself, ”˜Who the hell’s gonna listen to that?’ It was all about taking all of the influences and the styles that I liked—like rockabilly, rock ’n’ roll, country music, gospel, death metal, punk music, whatever—and blending it all together because it really felt natural to me. And it became Volbeat.”
A good example of Volbeat blending old-style rock ’n’ roll and today’s metal sounds is the Beyond Hell/Above Heaven track “Evelyn”, which sees Mark “Barney” Greenway from Napalm Death providing the growling, demonic vocals and Poulsen the clean, nonmaniacal crooning.
“Writing a song like ”˜Evelyn’ was my way of showing people that it was not only the ’50s elements we were inspired by,” notes Poulsen, “but we were actually growing up with a lot of great metal bands. And Napalm Death was one of the first extreme metal bands I was listening to—I was listening to them when I bought my first guitar. So being able to have a singer like Barney from Napalm Death on my record was a real accomplishment. It’s great to see that it’s actually possible for dreams to come true, in a way.”
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