Friday, July 18, 2008

Review: Volbeat, "Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil"

I love offbeat stuff, and when this record was pitched to me as “Elvis metal ‘n’ roll,” I just couldn’t resist taking a listen to it.

I’ll start with what could very possibly be my favorite song of the year so far, “Sad Man’s Tongue,” the band’s tribute to Johnny Cash. It opens with a country flair and that patented Cash beat. Vocalist Michael Poulson comes in with his Elvis vocals and a melody and lyric that owes more than a little to “Folsom Prison Blues.” After the first verse, it explodes into some hillbilly chainsaw rock, with a thrash interlude and a little bit of groove metal thrown in on the breakdown. It’s an absolutely perfect piece of redneck rock ‘n’ roll that’s right down my alley. I really wish there were more songs like this one on the record, where they just let go and rock.

The rest of the record is heavily influenced by Danzig, Black Sabbath and thrash. It’s good stuff, but, by and large, lacks the character of “Sad Man’s Tongue.” They’re at their best when they blend in the countrified sounds, like the slide guitar that opens “The Human Instrument,” or the blues-based riffs, as on “Soulweeper, Part 2.” The punkish, heavily Misfits-influenced “Devil or the Blue Cat’s Song” and the Sabbathian riffs of “River Queen” are other standout moments on the album, and it closes strong with the groove of “BOA (JDM).”

The only true miss on the record is “Radio Girl” which has a bubble-gum feel and seems a bit out of place with the darker material found elsewhere on the record.

For the most part, Poulson lives up to the Elvis comparisons, although there’s a lot of Glenn Danzig and at least a touch of Peter Steele and James Hetfield in his vocals. Poulson and Franz “Hellboss,” who has since left the band, provide some top notch riffing throughout the record.

How much you like Volbeat will probably depend on your tolerance for Poulson’s unconventional vocals. Admittedly, they don’t really seem to be the best fit with a few of the songs, but for others they’re perfect. It’s a solid record, but I still can’t help but wish the rest of it weren’t just a little more like “Sad Man’s Tongue.”

Get "Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil."

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