Story by Roger Lotring
When Michael Poulsen, singer/guitarist of Danish metal vets Volbeat, found himself frustrated by the narrow parameters of the Euro death metal community he disbanded his previous band, Dominus, and followed his musical instincts by forming a new group with a rockabilly swagger. The result was Volbeat, a metal band that combined jangling American rock melodies with the power and sinister overtones of vintage Metallica. “It was never about being one hundred percent one style of music,” he says. “It was all about being able to blend the different styles that we love.”
The metal scene of Poulsen’s teenage years cultivated a taste for heavier music but the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll dynamics absorbed throughout his childhood always seemed to appear on his songwriting palette. “I really like distorted guitars and the heavy sound [of metal], but all the melodies that pop up in my head are always from the ’50s.” Particularly those representing the uh-huh ’tude of the King.
“One time, my mother caught me trying to dye my hair with a black pen,” he laughs. “I said, ‘I want to have Elvis hair, he looks cool.” Now, Presley’s full name is tattooed along Poulsen’s left forearm, and the singer even held his nuptials at Graceland during a break in touring last year.
Volbeat—Poulsen, Thomas Bredahl (guitar) Anders Kjølholm (bass) and Jon Larsen (drums)—has created something “new” for a younger generation by adding an edge to somewhat archaic influences. But those influences are so obvious; Poulsen is genuinely surprised whenever people call his band original. It’s also surprising, he, a Dane, says, that American hard rock reflects none of its celebrated roots.
“It’s great that people like what we’re doing, but I keep asking myself, why the hell isn’t there anybody else doing this?” Poulsen asks rhetorically. “So many people say, ‘Yeah, I like Elvis and Johnny Cash, too,’ and I’m thinking, do you, really? Then where is the American rock music that goes way back? All the American rock bands sound like Nickelback.”
The Memphis swing is conspicuous but Volbeat still manages to be categorized as metal. Its major label debut, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven, even leans more toward the adolescent love of all things heavy than their previous three releases. Guest performances by members of Kreator, Napalm Death and Mercyful Fate uphold the metal classification, but Poulsen insists it was more about adding the proper textures to certain songs than establishing any pedigree.
But will a Danish metal band persuade American metalheads that an interpretation of their grandfather’s music is actually cool? “It’s not like we’re trying to convince [our fans],” Poulsen shrugs. “They come to us and say, ‘This is the first time I actually think Elvis and Johnny Cash are cool, because I used to hate when my father put on the records.’”
There will always be kids who still won’t like the million-dollar quartet of Presley, Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, but that’s okay, Poulsen says, laughing. “We meet them, and they say, ‘We really don’t like Elvis. He has gross hair, he looks weird, and my grandmother listens to him… but we love Volbeat!’”