Volbeat is the name on everyone’s lips these days. The hype surrounding this Danish band has been unmatched in this century by nearly anyone. Everyone wants a piece – everyone wants to be on the bandwagon. Ever since Volbeat made their big break by opening for, and being personally endorsed by, Metallica in 2009, Volbeat’s assumed potential has been limitless. Their previous record “Beyond Hell/Above Heaven” was seen as the coming out party, which means pressure is mounted on “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” to be a blockbuster. I can’t stress this enough – the air around this band is kinetic.
Somehow understated in the buildup to this record is Volbeat’s full-time addition of recently relocated Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano. His role had changed – what began with Caggiano producing his new record now also featured his signature tone and playing cadence.
Let’s cut to the bottom line first: “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” is a more specialized and more excessive album than “Beyond Heaven: or any other previous Volbeat record. That sounds clunky when I read it back, so let me explain. Volbeat has long prided themselves on being able to blend multiple idioms into a single song, combining some rockabilly swing with metal elements, and sprinkling other ingredients into the stew as necessary. This new record compartmentalizes the band’s versatility and then amplifies each aspect in turn. To utilize a bunch of made-up words, the swing rock is swing-rockier, the ballads are balladier, and yes, the metal is metallier.
We’ll talk about that last one first. “Room 24” is one of the singles off the album (and a free download!) as well as one of its best songs. It features the glorious return to metal of King Diamond, arguably the most famous Dane since Beowulf. The King, essentially musically unseen since triple bypass surgery, sounds fairly robust, displaying a good chunk of his vocal range, backed up by the consistent chug of Caggiano’s stereotypical riff. It’s a strong piece, part of the album’s substantial middle of the order. Speaking of…
“Room 24” is right up against “The Hangman’s Body Count,” additional power hitter and recent crowd favorite. It’s a rather somber piece, but packed with authority and punch. Originally, I didn’t think too much of it (good though it was live,) but then I found myself whistling the haunted acoustic intro a full two days removed from hearing it. SO it has deceptive staying power in kind with Volbeat’s typical fare, and akin to the rest of this album.
This then dovetails into the swinging “My Body” which is “Outlaw Gentlemen’s” best showpiece for the rockabilly undercurrent which has always characterized the uniqueness of Volbeat. The song has that same happy pop that so typified so much of the career of the legend Elvis Presley. High praise to be certain, but deserved, as vocalist Michael Poulsen floats this song with just the right vocal timbre.
Every other selection on “Outlaw Gentlemen” is a permutation of those three basic ideals, each precedent or subsequent cut falling into one of those three categories. There is a mix and match of stringed leads, sing-along choruses and infectious riffs running through the length of the album no matter where you start.
A couple things to be aware of: My compatriot Chris and I talked about this album some, and we agree that it’s definitely Volbeat, but a sort of academically evolved Volbeat. The appeal attempts to be bigger, the choruses bigger, the hooks bigger, the production and presentation bigger. That’s not a bad thing, as we as an audience tend to leave behind stagnant bands. Nevertheless, this is a different sound than we’ve heard before from Poulsen and company, even if the tone and basic framework are the same. Additionally, the pacing and selection on the album has its odd points, with songs like “Pearl Hart” feeling out of place as the album’s (effective) lead track, and there are other songs that feel out of order. Still, they’re all there, and order is a small thing. As Herman Edwards famously taught us, it doesn’t matter where you sit on the bus, so long as you’re on it (also, you PLAY to WIN the GAME, apparently.)
In conclusion, I think “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” is very good, but a shade below “Beyond Hell/Above Heaven” in quality, while my wife thinks this new record is a shade better. So that’s the narrow spectrum we’re dealing with here as far as a critique is concerned. Whether it lives up to the massive billing is for the collective musical conscious to decide. Volbeat fans and those introducing themselves for the first time alike will assuredly enjoy, and it’s an album worthy of being enjoyed without reservation.