Familiarity begets unpredictability.
While an obvious far cry from the 90s death metal mayhem that originally typified his career with Dominus, guitarist and vocalist Michael Poulsen and his outfit Volbeat’s unconventional blend of metal and mainstream music trappings has always seemed a near effortless expression. The very notion of putting a voice clean enough to pass for the Billboard Top 40’s regulars at the foreground of a hodgepodge of thrash, punk, metalcore, alternative and mainline hard rock seems the most counterintuitive arrangement ever to be suggested, whether it be in metal circles or any of the other aforementioned styles. But one listen to their albums reveals a fold of musicians that take to their craft like a metallic duck to a pool of toxic water, and their eighth studio LP “Servant Of The Mind” presents yet another exercise in freewheeling through just about every style in the book and still having it all make sense at the end.
It should be noted that Poulsen and company are not your typical flock of musicians, nor is the collage of sound within which they weave their sonic web. The singer in question is not just another singing pretty boy from the mid-2000s metalcore scene, but a man of many divergent voices, perhaps best compared to the likes of Mike Patton. Alongside the obvious tuneful style that one might expect from a clean sung chorus out of All That Remains or Trivium, there are some clear inclinations towards older rock icons such as Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison that sees some of this outfit’s material occasionally sounding like nods to early Danzig. The presence of former Anthrax lead guitarist and Bronx native Rob Caggiano adds a nice technical edge to the fold, particularly when they veer into thrash metal territory, which happens fairly often. Combined with the steady and occasionally inventive contributions of longtime drummer Jon Larsen and recently recruited bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen, this is a finely tuned, hard rocking machine with a penchant for wandering clear off the map.
Sifting through the seas of scatterbrained yet satisfying songs that populate this extended release can prove a daunting task if one is craving instant gratification, which is a tad ironic given this outfit’s frequent pop flirtations. The opening rocker “Temple Of Ekur” listens more like an off-kilter, punk-tinged rock song from the mid-70s with some trance moments of psychedelic flirtation due to the quirky vocalizations and mystical sounding note selections that pepper an otherwise upbeat romp. Nipping on its heels is a borderline full on pop punk banger “Wait A Minute My Girl”, which throws things for a bit of a loop with a 50s rock interlude complete with a piano and noodling saxophone, and is immediately followed with what can be best described as a direct homage to the dark and dreary stylings of Tony Iommi’s brand of doom metal with a slight epic 80s Sabbath era twist dubbed “The Sacred Stones”. In other words, three songs in and this could almost be confused with a VA compilation.
For how randomly this album shifts between seemingly disparate influences, it pulls everything off so competently that most skeptics of this sort of freewheeling approach won’t be able to help but shut up and enjoy it. Groove/thrash infused pounders like “Say No More” and “Mindlock” function as almost perfect emulations of Metallica’s famed yet often criticized early 90s sound, while the occasionally frenetic “Becoming” would almost qualify as a full on thrasher were it not for Poulsen’s vocals maintaining maximum cleanliness and the uncharacteristically happy sounding chorus segment. “Shotgun Blues” also hits the ear drums with a strong, heavy metallic thud, while the speedy rocker “The Passenger” borrows pretty obviously from the Motorhead formula before landing on what can be best described as one of the more sappy AOR choruses ever concocted. Throw on top of it all a dark blues rock meets rockabilly experiment with jangle pop elements gone awry in “The Devil Rages On”, and the listener has full crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
Those that are prone to complain about how there isn’t anything original going on in the rock or metal scene of late should hear this album and a few of its predecessors before continuing to mope, because their fundamental premise is not informed by Volbeat’s existence. It’s among the more unusual offerings to hit the market of late, and it might be a copout to say so but it isn’t necessarily for everyone. This band has brought a whole new twist to the art of fence-sitting between rock and metal, and those who enjoy the quirky antics of Faith No More, the cowboy thrash gimmickry of Dezperadoz and the unique blend of older influences that originally made Glenn Danzig’s solo career will likely be the most receptive audience, alongside some folks who didn’t mind all of the oddball stylistic shifts Metallica engaged in after the 80s. Originality may not be everything, but there are 3 Danes and one New Yorker out there who are doing practically everything while being original.
Released By: Republic Records
Release Date: December 3rd, 2021
“Servant Of The Mind” standard edition track listing:
1. Temple Of Ekur
2. Wait A Minute My Girl
3. The Sacred Stones
4. Shotgun Blues
5. The Devil Rages On
6. Say No More
7. Heaven’s Descent
8. Dagen Før (Feat. Stine Bramsen)
9. The Passenger
10. Step Into Light
13. Lasse’s Birgitta
- Michael Poulsen / Vocals, Guitars
- Rob Caggiano / Guitars
- Kaspar Boye Larsen / Bass
- Jon Larsen / Drums
Pop/rock sensibilities communicated through a metallic bullhorn are the order of the day for Denmark’s Volbeat, but their eighth studio effort "Servant Of The Mind" still offers up plenty of surprises for even the most experienced of ears