Volbeat

Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies

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In the two-and-half years since Volbeat's wildly successful Beyond Hell/Above Heaven, they've traveled some miles, both literally and figuratively. They toured not only Europe but the U.S. and Canada in support for nearly a year, and parted ways with lead guitarist Thomas Bredahl. A permanent replacement was found in Robert Caggiano, formerly of Anthrax, who was enlisted to produce Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies and play on select tracks. His addition has proved integral to the band's ever evolving sound. While the meld of various kinds of heavy metal, country, and rockabilly is still present here -- it is now undoubtedly the sound of Volbeat itself -- the lines between those styles are less pronounced. The sometimes jarring shift from rockabilly to thrash, from death metal to the Johnny Cash-country on previous albums, still happens, but here these sounds often coexist within the same song. While it is accurate to say that this set is more accessible than anything Volbeat has attempted previously, it is also the most ambitious set of tracks they've committed to tape. The songwriting is tight, focused; there are lots of hooks, most of them heavy -- thanks, no doubt, to Caggiano's presence. His playing style is full of insanely catchy riffs, vamps, and intricate melodies. Michael Tomas Poulsen's vocals still blend Elvis, James Hetfield, and Keith Caputo, but they growl less; they're expressive and natural sounding. Hard rock and vintage HM are the prevalent sounds here -- as heard on cuts like "Pearl Heart," the riff-arific "The Nameless One," and the aggressive attack in "The Hangman's Body Count." The slow, doomy chug of "Room 24" melds early Black Sabbath to death metal with King Diamond guesting on vocals. Another surprise is in the cover of Young the Giant's "My Body." Thanks to Poulsen's awesome singing and the blasting guitars, it could pass as a Volbeat anthem. An excellent example of all the band's styles converging at once is in "Black Bart," with death metal, Gun Club-style punk-country, and even Thin Lizzy's twin lead guitars. The Creepshow and Walk Off the Earth vocalist Sarah Blackwood sings with Poulsen on "Lonesome Rider," where slap bass rockabilly and hooky '80s metal commingle. Thin Lizzy also get channeled on the killer "The Sinner Is You," while Civil War-era banjo introduces the theatrical country meets death metal choogler "Doc Holliday." A high lonesome desert harmonica à la Ennio Morricone introduces closer "Our Loved Ones," which is as fine a melodic headbanger as anything the band's ever cut. While it is accurate to say that Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies is more accessible than anything Volbeat has attempted previously, it is also the most ambitious -- and arguably enjoyable -- set they've committed to tape.

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