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Metalbilly pioneers 

Volbeat teaches headbangers to shake, rattle and roll

While punk fans found rockabilly to be a pretty good time, their metal brethren pretty much blew off that party until Volbeat showed up. The group was born from the ashes of Danish death metal act Dominus after mad alchemist/singer/guitarist Michael Poulsen figured out how to give Motorhead the Cramps.

Since then, the band has become a global force, devising a better mix of melody and thunder than emocore ever managed. Volbeat's music blends his parents' love of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry with his own teenage passion for Metallica, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.

"Sometimes we'll have a more metal-based riff, sometimes it's a more punkish kind of riff," says drummer Jon Larsen, who's been with the group since its 2001 beginnings. "For us it's just natural to do what we do. Whether it's rockabilly or metal sounding, we know what we're capable of."

With the band touring constantly, Poulsen has proven himself adept at writing new material whether on the road or off. As a result, the group has managed to release four albums in the last seven years, with plans to start recording its fifth in early 2013.

Volbeat's 2007 sophomore album, Rock the Rebel / Metal the Devil debuted at No. 1 in Denmark, and Europe wasn't far behind. But their American breakthrough wouldn't come until 2008's Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood, which accompanied their first U.S. tours, one of which was spent supporting Metallica.

"You're on the road with the biggest metal band of all time," says Larsen of the tour. "It definitely helped a lot, but we did a tour before that with the Finnish [symphonic metal] band Nightwish and a lot of people came out to those shows just to see us. So the word was out already."

Since then they've stepped up their game, as seen in 2010's Beyond Hell / Above Heaven. It's their most accomplished release to date, full of songs that reach back to the Misfits but dispense with the makeup and creatures of the night in favor of more muscular malevolence. On standout tracks like "A Warrior's Call," Poulsen channels Elvis Presley's sneer while guitars burn rubber like Nashville Pussy's best tracks.

The album racked up gold and platinum sales across Europe and broke into the U.S. charts for the first time. But trouble was brewing beneath the surface. Finally in November, after over four years with Volbeat, lead guitarist Thomas Bredahl left the band.

While a temporary guitarist has been enlisted for the current tour, the band is still seeking the right full-time replacement. Traditionally, that hasn't been an easy task.

"When it was time to change guitar players [in 2007], Michael called me up and said I've been thinking about [Bredahl]. And I was like, 'You're out of your mind, he's a punk guitar player, it will never work.' But we brought him in for the audition and he nailed it," says Larsen. "Sometimes change needs to happen. Sometimes marriages don't work."

For Larsen, it's still about the sheer joy of performance, a fascination that dates back to him watching footage of the Beatles as a child.

"The little guy behind the drums looked so happy, I figured I want to do that. Hopefully we get more people to like it but if not, as long as we have fun, that would be good enough for us."

scene@csindy.com

  • Volbeat teaches headbangers to shake, rattle and roll

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