Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Volbeat: Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies (2013)


For something like five years, I’ve been saying Volbeat should be big in the U.S. There is absolutely no reason they shouldn’t have the same status as the biggest bands to straddle that line between heavy metal and hard rock, like Godsmack and Disturbed (and yes, that those are the names I picked betrays my age).

I’ve also been defending their metal cred for just as long. But at my most recent opportunity to do that (a recent Opeth show), my defense was a less than zealous one. That’s because I had been listening to the band’s fourth release, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies. In contrast to previous albums, it’s tough to pick out more than a couple spots where they sound like a metal band.

We’ve seen a whole lot of metal bands turning into rock bands in recent years, with mixed reactions. Opeth’s transformation is still controversial, while Baroness’s was quite well received. I don’t personally have any hang-ups about it. I quite like the way some of these bands evolve. Whether there is any kind of formula for how a band can successfully make that transition, I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care for the non-metal Volbeat.

The Danish band’s appeal lies in two things. First is their ability to write extremely catchy music, and that is not confined to any genre. They certainly haven’t lost it, as any song here can stick in your head for days. But the more important part of their appeal is the unique way they take 50’s rock, rockabilly, country/Western, and all sorts of other retro influences and make them into anachronistic metal hybrids. When you take out the metal part of that equation, the appeal is lost. Songs, but no strength and much less sound.

To be fair, the metal is not completely absent. A collaboration with the greatest metal vocalist of all time—the immortal King Diamond, of course—stands out as easily the best track on here. Even so, “Room 24” is no “Room 17,” and in all truth pales in comparison to the Barney Greenway and Mille Petrozza guest songs off their last record. “Black Bart” is another metal example. “Dead But Rising” shows how Volbeat could still be a good band even if they’re only a hard rock band.

Beyond that, all that’s on offer here is a bunch of rock-radio ballads in a Volbeat-minus-metal style. Volbeat is perfectly capable of making a ballad into something awesome (see their cover of “I Only Wanna Be with You”); it seems they opted not to do that here. The only one of them worth mentioning is “The Lonesome Rider,” which bears some resemblance to Diablo Swing Orchestra.

I don’t say “sell-out” lightly, but at this point they're not just walking like a duck and quacking like a duck, they've got feathers coming out their asses.

The Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars

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