"Sticking to the same successful formula": A review of Volbeat's "Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies"
Ladies and gentlemen!
Since I'm going to see Volbeat with Anthrax and Crobot at TD Place in Ottawa next Wednesday, I decided to give their current record a chance. The band which is often described as a modern mixture of Elvis Presley and Metallica wrote a couple of authentic Western inspired tunes for this album. Fans of alternative rock and soft melodic metal music should check this Danish dynamite quartet out.
Volbeat is a commercially successful Danish rock quartet that plays an entertaining mixture of diverse genres such as hard rock, heavy metal and rockabilly. The band has a weakness for American topics and movies. After exploiting gangster novels and movies in the past, this fifth studio record “Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies” mostly exploits the fascination for the Far West. Some tracks don’t follow this general guiding line though and the band tries to be as diversified as possible on their fourteen or fifteen new tracks. Despite the addition of former Anthrax guitarist Robert Caggiano, Volbeat overall stays extremely faithful to its original sound and has probably even become more accessible than before with this release.
After the instrumental introduction “Let’s Shake Some Dust” that would easily fit on a country rock album or the score of a modern Western movie, the band kicks the album off with the catchy “Pearl Hart” that represents everything the band stands for. The riffs are powerful but never aggressive, the guitar harmonies are beautiful but not that memorable, the rhythm section with drums and bass guitar is audibly solid yet inoffensive and the charismatic vocals that sound like a mixture of James Hetfield and Elvis Presley are really charming and catchy. The track comes around with good melodies, inspired lyrics that tell a nice tale and a quite solid chorus executed by a band that knows how to get some airplay on rock radio stations. The whole thing comes around in consistent and radio-friendly three and a half minutes. The band’s obvious song writing strengths are also its artistic limits. Most of the songs on here are really nice to listen to but offer nothing truly memorable, profound or touching. They are all pretty much exchangeable. Instead of describing the first real track on the album, I could have chosen “The Nameless One” or “Cape of Our Hero” as well since they have almost the same approach and structure. It’s the kind of record that you could listen to while having some good time with your friends. Those who are listening to rock and metal albums will enjoy some of the few beefier riffs and the guest appearances by famous genre artists like King Diamond while those who enjoy softer rock or pop music will fall for the smooth melodies and catchy vocal lines. From that point of view, this record is a perfect compromise as most people will get something they enjoy from it. The problem is that almost nobody will thoroughly enjoy this whole conformist release.
One of the few more outstanding tracks is obviously the darker and little bit heavier “Room 24” that features King Diamond’s distinctive, occult and theatrical guest vocals that harmonize well with Michael Poulson’s darker, grooving and ingratiating timbre. Still, this song really sounds much closer to a regular Volbeat song than to one of King Diamond’s bleak offerings. The band missed the occasion to break its creative chains and come around with a truly distinctive tune. The song is quite good but definitely nothing more.
The band’s attempt creating a sound inspired by the tales of the Far West works best in the final tracks that end the album on a positive note. “Lonesome Rider” is a nostalgic yet energizing rockabilly song with soulful female guest vocals by Canadian indie rock and psychobilly singer Sarah Blackwood. Still, this catchy, joyful and rhythm orientated track adds nothing new to Volbeat’s typical soundscapes. The epic “Doc Holliday” comes around with casual banjo sounds, cool backing vocals in the chorus and crunching heavy to thrash metal riffs in the verses. This song is already more atmospheric, cinematic and also heavier than most of Volbeat’s tracks. With a harsher production, this track could easily pass as a righteous Metallica tune. Creative album closer “Our Loved Ones” opens around with harp, harmonica and acoustic guitar and slowly unfolds as an epic mid-tempo stomper where you can almost see the lone ranger riding off into the sunset at the end of a movie.
In the end, Volbeat is a talented band with its own distinctive and successful sound. As soon as the band moves out of its usual comfort zone, things start getting truly interesting. The thematic tunes with a slight country touch towards the end of the record are quite epic highlights. These moments aren’t frequent enough to make this record more than an enjoyable above average release. The first two thirds of this album include several songs that sound a little bit too exchangeable and feel like safe writing by numbers single candidates. They fail to add anything fresh to the sound and are lacking a few edges that would make them stand out. Faithful Volbeat supporters can’t go wrong with this record and fans of hard rock tunes about the Far West should also get their hands on this solid release. Those who are looking for some heavier material should look elsewhere and if you want to get a first really good impression of the band, you should rather go for the even more diversified, emotional and gripping “Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood”.
Final rating: 7/10
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