Danish band Volbeat tries to squeeze every single kind of rock music — from American roots to the universal snarl of aggro rock — into each of its bewildering three- to four-minute compositions.
For a while, metal and punk have been bedfellows. And punk has definitely found another more-than-suitable friend in the regional twang of rockabilly. But how frequently does punk's youthful energy and mosh-worthy speed sync up with alt-rock melody and song structures, death-metal licks, psychobilly tone, and the climactic crescendos of arena rock? Well, about as frequently as Volbeat writes a song.
Sometimes the Copenhagen-based multigenre quartet even embodies the stereotype of an exotic stranger awkwardly pursuing classic Western tropes. Dudes from Denmark playing balls-to-the-wall metallic psychobilly and wearing fancy vests? It's kinda like a foreign exchange student looking for "sex-ee Ah-merican rock 'n' roll chee-borgers."
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That is, until you spend a little time with the jams. At its worst, Volbeat shamelessly indulges the alt tendencies of melodic nu-metal, as exhibited by classic contributors to the American rock canon such as Puddle of Mudd and Nickelback. But at its creatively strongest, Volbeat will leave you stymied as it tries to unpack the metal shred à la Metallica and honky-tonk stomp of foundational Americana like Johnny Cash, as seen through the boozy eyes of punkabilly purveyor Social Distortion.
Take the foursome's 2007 single "Sad Man's Tongue." The beginning of this track sounds like relatively straightforward singer-songwriter country. The guitar is twangin' and vocalist/guitarist Michael Poulsen sings in a deep, soulful warble. But that all goes to shit at the 40-second mark, when the breezy guitar work violently morphs into death-metal stomp and the vocals shift toward rockabilly raunch. And then the song chugs along to its conclusion like a heavy-metal Reverend Horton Heat.
Another pretty typical Volbeat track, "We" is an even more challenging mishmash. Once again, the listener is given an accessible opening. There's a touch of Southern charm. And it's essentially radio-ready pop. Until, uh, that fateful 40-second mark, when double bass drums and Master of Puppets-style guitars come raging to the fore.
This peculiar, entirely unique fusion of hard-rock genres and Americana is Volbeat's sonic signature. But apparently the blend has become even more haphazard. In an interview with EspyRock, vocalist, guitarist, and founding member Michael Poulsen described his band's most recent release, 2010's Beyond Hell/Above Heaven, as "the most random Volbeat album so far... There will be songs that are more metal than ever and songs that are more rock 'n' roll and punk/country than ever before... We always try things out we haven't done before, but without losing the Volbeat feeling and sound."