Volbeat has been on the scene for 20 years. How are they not massive in the UK by now? While I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of their last album, Outlaw Gentlemen and Seal the Deal are two of my favourite albums of the last decade, in any genre. After promising to return to their heavier roots with this one after the more pop-orientated Rewind, Replay, Rebound, anticipation has been pretty high for this album’s eventual release. I have to admit the singles have been a bit of a mixed bag for me so far. However, I am still excited to see what they have.
‘Temple of Ekur’ opens on a steady drumbeat before a couple of fantastic, thrash-esque guitar riffs come in over the top. The band is immediately living up to their promise of going back to their heaviness again. Michael Poulson’s powerful, low vocals soon come in over the top with an interesting, catchy melody through the verses. It then builds up into a huge, open chorus. It’s not quite as catchy as some of their best tracks, but it’s still a good singalong track! We continue to get awesome, heavy riff after awesome, heavy riff throughout the track. The bridge also being backed by some great guitar work. It reminds me a lot more of the Guitar Gangsters era more than anything from the last couple of albums. It does still retain that newer, radio-friendly style chorus too, though. A good start to the album!
The song that made me apprehensive about the album from the moment it was released, ‘Wait a Minute my Girl’, is up next. It’s catchy as anything, don’t get me wrong, it’ll be stuck in my head for the rest of the day. The sax solo is also awesome, I have to admit, and gives it a more party feel. However, it’s their lighter, rockabilly side which simply isn’t what made me fall in love with the band in the first place. Outside of the horrible key change for the last verse, there is little wrong with this song, other than the fact that the band has done this style so much recently, and done it better previously. It feels like a combination of ’16 Dollars’ and their cover of ‘Battleship Chains’, except for the fact that both of those are better than this track.
One of the longer tracks on the album, ‘The Sacred Stones’ is up next. I always love when Volbeat goes a little longer with their songs as it gives their awesome instrumentation more room to breathe. Both opening riffs, the slower, clean one and the plodding distorted one were both fantastic and set the tone for the song perfectly. The slower, chuggy verse worked so well with Michael’s higher vocals, making the instrumentation sound all the heavier. We also don’t get a vocal-led chorus for a while. Michael spits a few lines dripping with Hetfield-esque attitude before the guitar riff does the rest of the talking. It’s amazing.
When we finally do reach a chorus it is again rather radio-friendly, but also heavier than the previous two. It’s an uplifting chorus among heavier stuff, and it works surprisingly well! We get an awesome breakdown riff after the second chorus, adding even more heaviness to it all. We also get the first guitar solo from the awesome Rob Caggiano, even going as far as to put some Tom Morello-style effects in there too. I’m gushing over this track far too much but I can’t help it. It’s awesome and definitely a different style of Volbeat song again. It makes the playlist!
Another single, ‘Shotgun Blues’, opens on another awesome guitar riff. It’s chunky, chuggy, and heavy. It continues through the verse, the track not letting up at all. The chorus is open and catchy but also feels like the most old-school Volbeat one yet. It’s something I have missed from the band over the last couple of albums, something that is catchy without having to venture too far into pop. The whole track reminds me of ‘Warriors Call’, my favourite Volbeat song, and my original introduction to the band. We get another awesome guitar solo, this time with some harmonising, before an AWESOME riff kicks the track into overtime. It slows down and speeds up and damn do they make the most of it; it’s great. We then get a final chorus to take us home. A fantastic song and one that again makes the playlist!
‘The Devil Rages on’ is another track that has what I can only describe as ‘Tarantino chords’ at the start. Listen if you’ve seen his movies and see what I mean. The main riff is plodding and Michael’s vocals stay low over the top. After a little spoken word part, the pace picks up, almost giving off ‘Misirlou’ vibes on the guitar. It all leads to a now typically massive, catchy chorus, it being somewhere in between the last songs and the radio-friendly type. It drops down to just Poulson’s guitar and vocals after the second chorus, adding some interesting dynamics to the song as it slowly builds up again into a final huge riff/outro. A minute of great Volbeat riffs is more than good with me and this was awesome!
‘Say No More’ has an awesome, almost thrash metal opening riff. It’s the most Metallica-like song on the album and even closer to ‘Warriors Call’. It’s a straight-up thrash song, and I love it. Outside of describing it as a newer Metallica song, I don’t have too much more to say about it, it’s by far the most accurate description. To be fair, it’s the same description as I can give ‘Heaven’s Decent’. This one has slightly more of a new Volbeat style to it with regards to the vocal melody and huge, poppy chorus, but outside of those elements it still feels like a Metallica-inspired thrash track. It also feels like some punk has been pushed into it too, a good, fun blend of styles.
The second of the first wave of singles this album received is also the first slower, emotional track on the album, ‘Dagen Før’. It opens on a slower, beautiful verse, clean guitars, and Poulson’s soaring, catchy vocals. Stine Bramsen of the wonderful Alphabeat lends her impressive vocals to the track too, both harmonising in the choruses and having her own solo parts in places too. The twos voices contrast surprisingly well together, and the usually pop vocalist works well in a rockier track. If anything she gets more vocals than Poulson in this track.
I wasn’t all that fussed about this track when it first came out as it’s very much like 90% of the stuff on their last two albums, a little samey. However, being at this point in an otherwise heavy album made it a fantastic and much-needed change of pace, giving me a much greater appreciation for the track.
Tracks like ‘The Passenger’ and ‘Mindlock’ both pick up the pace again perfectly. They provide a similar sort of sound as ‘Heaven’s Decent’, heavier instrumentation contrasted against poppier vocals. It’s somehow impressive that a band can play the riffs and huge drums that Volbeat does but somehow negate the heaviness of it by having such an uplifting chorus. It’s a formula that has worked damn well for them, breaking them into the UK and pushing them up to headliner status in Europe. Is no one going to point out the similarity between the ‘Mindlock’ riff and ‘Wherever I May Roam’, though…?
Meanwhile, tracks like ‘Step Into Light’ and ‘Domino’ go for more of their rock/rockabilly style, much like ‘Wait a Minute…’ and ‘Devil Rages On’. Both are good tracks that go at a plodding pace throughout but again, neither is the type of style I’d typically fall in love with from the band. A track I did instantly fall in love with was ‘Return to None’. It’s just over two-and-a-half minutes of heaviness and thrash, and it’s great. If anything it was just missing another Barney Greenway appearance, it reminded me a lot of ‘Evelyn’. The chorus was catchy and chanty and the rest of the track was fun and bouncy.
Then we have arguably the two best tracks on the album, ‘Becoming’ and ‘Lasse’s Bigitta’. The former made our track of the week, and for very good reason. It’s a slap in the face of great riff after great riff and features one of my favourite vocal performances of the album. The attitude of the verses contrasts brilliantly with the uplifting, gang-vocalled choruses, making all of it catchy in different ways. It also has the best breakdown and guitar solo on the album, both happening simultaneously as the outro.
Then we have the epic eight-minute ‘Lasse’s…’. Anyone who knows me or has read enough reviews knows I like a good longer rock song or two; prog is great. As I said about ‘Sacred Stones’, the band is that good at riff writing that when said riffs are given the space to breathe it definitely pays off. It feels like that not just with the riffs but all parts of the track this time. The verse is amazing and there’s plenty of it throughout, not even hitting a chorus until nearly 2:30. Speaking of the chorus, it’s another that is very few lyrics and more focused around the riff, and it’s great! We get a very extended bridge of great riffing and soloing before another verse, chorus and an extended, half-time outro takes us home heavy. It’s an awesome track and both make the playlist!
Overall: This was better than I had expected it to be, and a lot better than their previous album. It was heavier like they promised, but still retained a lot of the poppier elements that they have developed over the last decade, too. It felt like a real amalgamation of their styles so far, a culmination of the last 20 years. This may even be up there for one of the best Volbeat albums, for me. It’s a late entry to our albums of the year list, but damn if it won’t make it pretty high up!
The Score: 8.5/10