Released: 2008, Mascot Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
I always find it interesting how certain bands can be all the rage in some parts of the world, while condemned to relative obscurity in others. Such is the case with Denmark’s Volbeat. In their homeland and surrounding territories, they’re apparently a chart topping, award winning, major headlining metal act, whereas if you were to mention the name in North America, you’d likely be met with a “who?” So it was by pure chance that I came across the band’s third and most recent full length, 2008’s GUITAR GANGSTERS & CADILLAC BLOOD. The band combines a unique style of traditional metal crunch and 1950’s classic rock n’ roll melody, and then drape the sound with lots of vocal harmonies and sing along choruses – think Metallica meets Social Distortion. The result is 14 songs of awkwardly pleasant, rockabilly metal (Rockametal? Metalbilly?).
Volbeat walks a genre tightrope of sorts, teetering at any given moment towards punk simplicities and then recovering the sway back towards some outright thrash galloping, all the while carrying Hank Williams, Sr. on their shoulders for inspiration. Sounds strange right? Well it is, but it works. Even at its heaviest, the tunes are still accessible enough to be radio friendly while not smacking of commercialism. After an intro reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack, the title track rips in with fist pumping, foot tapping sincerity, complete with lap steel guitar strings for effect. “Back to Prom” has a punkish, doo wop swing to it, while “Mary Ann’s Place” feels like a metal equivalent of Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” albeit with riffs pulled from Metallica’s black album. Covers of Hank Sr.’s “I’m So Lonely I Could Cry” and Jimmy Work’s “Making Believe” solidify the band’s affinity for the classic country and western drinkin’ ballads, while “Find that Soul” and “Wild Rover of Hell” are unmistakably metal in presentation and execution.
Vocalist/guitarist Michael Poulsen has a smooth warble in his delivery, but his English enunciated vibrato comes across sounding like Mr. Ed at times. The rest of the four piece keeps it pretty simple performance wise, but there’s enough going on with the various vocal harmonies and backing instruments (castanets, anyone?) that it balances out. Though I like the stylistic variety presented on the album, it does feel a little disjointed at times, like they’re trying to satisfy all of their many influences at once. But in a genre where many bands are intimidated to step outside of what may be considered acceptable boundaries, I give Volbeat credit where it’s due for taking chances.
This may be a deal breaker for many metal fans, but if this album could find its way onto the retail shelves of Hot Topic, it’d probably be huge. From the diverse musical sensibilities down to the noir imagery on the album cover, there’s plenty of potential crossover appeal on GUITAR GANGSTERS & CADILLAC BLOOD.