There are certain words that get misused to the point of cliché. Here’s two.
It literally drives me mad (sorry!)
There’s another. “Unique”. As in, “the band have a unique sound” or “they really are quite unique”. These appear more than you’d think.
Volbeat have a unique sound. There.
Rewind 15 years or so, a mate of mine handed me a CDR and said “here, you’ll like these. It sounds like Johnny Cash playing Elvis songs with Metallica.”
What he gave me was a compilation he’d made of some Volbeat tunes from their first couple of albums and he was right, I loved them. A lot has happened since and if the UK – in truth – has been a little slow to catch on, the sold out nature of their last tour a couple of years back showed that was changing. Not that they are bothered. They played the biggest show ever from a domestic band in their homeland of Denmark along the way.
But they’ve never forgotten their roots. You can listen to those early recordings and then you can put “Servant Of The Mind” on and it’s the same band, basically. Evolved, yes, but still there.
“…Mind” is a sprawling thing, though, even by their standards. 13 songs on the main album. Four more on the bonus bits and another one on the Spotify deluxe. Weighing in at nearly an hour and twenty minutes all told, if you think the album is dead no one told Michael Poulsen and his mates.
If you’re new to Volbeat start with track two – that’s not to say that the heavy metal gallop of “Temple of Ekur” isn’t superb, just bear with me – “Wait A Minute My Girl” boasts a piano that would make Jerry Lee Lewis blush (not much did, back in the day by all accounts) and a Saxophone that is lifted straight out the E.St Bands playbook. Then let that one finish. The next thing that follows “The Sacred Stones” comes in like Slayer playing “Holy Diver”. And then tell me another band that does that.
See, I know how to use the word unique.
“Shotgun Blues” – the version on the album, not the one on the bonus disc that adds some death metal stylings – chugs like a real groover, and the darkness of “The Devil Rages On” is interspersed with something close to mariachi if its was played by Jon Spencer.
“Say No More” is more a straightforward headbanger of the type that Rob Caggiano’s old band would do, while “Heaven’s Descent” has some proper urgent business to attend to, and is the one that most, perhaps, harks back to those early albums.
Across the piece there’s two versions of “Dagen Før”. I’ll be honest, I prefer the one with pop singer Stine Bramsen duetting with Poulsen, while “The Passenger” is one of those that seems to be on every Volbeat record. One that passes you by when you first hear it, then seems to worm its way in – indeed, if ever there was a band that you need to invest time in, it’s here.
The slow build to “Step Into Light” hides something that could have been on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, but what the band have always done so well is make sure whatever weird tangent they go off on, there’s always a hook, and that goes for the full on thrash of “Becoming” as much as the hard rock of “Mindlock”.
In case you thought to yourself, “well this is all very well, but let me tell you what this needs – an eight minute epic,” then “Lasse’s Birgitta” got you covered, and in case you really wanted to hear them do “Domino” by The Cramps, or “Don’t Tread On Me” by their obvious faves, Metallica, then they are here too. In honesty, those bonus tracks are what used to be b-sides when singles were a thing, and don’t add a lot.
The 13 song album, though, the whole of “Servant Of The Mind”, just underlines what has been obvious for almost two decades: no one’s mind works quite like Michael Poulsen’s and no band is quite like Volbeat.