[5th April 2013]
01 Let’s Shake Some Dust
02 Pearl Hart
03 The Nameless One
04 Dead But Rising
05 Cape Of Our Hero
06 Room 24
07 The Hangman’s Bodycount
08 My Body
09 Lola Montez
10 Black Bart
11 The Lonesome Rider
12 The Sinner Is You
13 Doc Holliday
14 Our Loved Ones
In their native Denmark, Volbeat are huge. As a simple illustration of their size, they are playing Copenhagen’s Forum later this year, which boasts a capacity of 10,000. Other bands slated to grace this stage between now and then include Kiss, Neil Young, Nickelback and Black Sabbath. But only Volbeat, back with fifth album Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, have the pulling power to warrant two dates in the venue. Proper huge.
Outside of their homeland, the band are becoming firm fixtures on the ever-expanding festival circuit, and gradually working their way up the running order.
Despite their European roots, the band take their cues – musical, lyrical and visual – from Americana. This link with the US has been further bolstered by the addition to their ranks of a bona fide American – journeyman guitarist Rob Caggiano, most recently seen in Anthrax. Rob virtually joined the band by osmosis, originally coming in to sit in the producers chair for some of the recording before picking up a guitar in the studio.
You don’t have to read very far into any Volbeat article, interview or review to come across words like ‘country’ or ‘rockabilly’. A mean looking desperado type graces the cover of Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, and song titles like “The Hangman’s Body Count” are abound.
But the attachment to this rich seam of iconography is sadly superficial. Musically, the influence is limited to an odd bit of harmonica here, some acoustic guitar there and maybe a banjo or two. Only “The Lonesome Rider” seems to really embrace this Western theme, but just feels contrived and sterilised. More often than not, the only audible result of this influence is a slightly swung drumbeat.
Country, and especially rockabilly, has its renegade side, but Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies feels about as dangerous and lawless as jay-walking through a traffic jam.
Make no mistake, what we have here is an arena rock album, with big songs that will reach back to those unfortunate enough to have seats in a different time zone at the far end of the hangar. “Lola Montez” sounds tailor-made to get thousands of people clapping in unison. But with that size comes other sacrifices.
Michael Poulsen has a strong voice, but it does rather sound like Life Of Agony‘s Keith Caputo might have had he not led, well, a life of agony and spent his time studying the way that James Hetfield sings the word ‘yeah’. Whilst he is more than capable of hitting the high notes, his vocals feels more workmanlike than passionate. This feeling is bolstered by the rather one-dimensional nature of their tone and not helped by the less than inspiring lyrics. King Diamond, Denmark’s metal royalty, makes a squealing appearance on “Room 24“, which is tremendously exciting if you like that kind of thing.
The guitars, admittedly, are crisply recorded and pack a fairly satisfying crunch, giving the album a feel that sits between 90′s Metallica and the sort of radio friendly rock, like Nickelback, that sells by the container-load to middle America. The guitar solos are tasteful and fairly understated, ut the bass is so unremarkable and low in the mix, it’s doubtful many would have noticed if he simply hadn’t bothered turning up.
So all in all, this is a fairly bland and uninspiring release. The flirtations with the Wild West should be just enough to distinguish it from the massed ranks of middle-of-the-road heavy rock that gets pumped out of pickup trucks in the flyover states. It does appear that their domestic success is starting to be replicated in the US.
There is probably some mileage in this hybrid of styles – Poison The Well toyed with it on Versions with patchy but occasionally thrilling results. So it is something of a shame that this collection of tunes feels so lightweight and disposable.
However slickly produced and solidly performed Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies may be, those looking for something surprising or challenging are probably better off looking elsewhere.