Friday, May 27, 2016

Album Review: Volbeat - "Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie"

Following the success of “Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies,” Volbeat stood on the precipice of singular greatness, a band poised to seize the reins of both rock and metal, unifying them under one banner and carrying the devoted throngs of fans into a great arc of a career.  Everything is set, the world awaits another album, so the band has responded with “Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie.”

What strikes first is that Volbeat has developed as a group of songwriters.  Where their previous efforts told stories one at a time, laying down a thick beat and then changing it only when the song changed, we see here that the band has added some variety into their stew, giving us the elegant change of pace that marks the two halves of “For Evigt” (or in English, “The Bliss,”) the shift in tones and pitches from rock song to strummed ballad smooth enough that you only notice it after the fact.  This kind of addition to the arsenal adds a new dimension for Volbeat, giving the album some depth and a much richer and intellectually interesting listening experience.

To couple with this, part of what works for “Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie” is that it’s avoided a trap that Volbeat often falls into, which is that for all they’re a great band, Volbeat tends to find one tone and way to write songs for a given album, and then mercilessly hammers that anvil into dust for the duration of the record.  There’s a good deal more diversity here, between the swagger of “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown” and the pop guitar of “Let it Burn.”  Even the most cynical critic would say that Volbeat has certainly found a new gimmick for this record, different from those before.  So not only are we writing songs that are sweeping and varied from beginning to end, but the entire album orbits the central theme at different rates.

On an additional production point, Volbeat had along been an unwitting victim of the loudness war, but since that conflict has simmered down into a quiet series of border skirmishes, the band finds themselves free of the trap this time around, the unnecessary deep thump of their sound replaced in favor of a much more even-handed production.

With all that said, those who fell in love with Volbeat during the heady days of “Beyond Hell/Above Heaven” are going to regard large sections of this record with great, narrow-eyed scrutiny.  There are more than a couple songs on this record that sound very much like pop punk, which isn’t  a bad thing in itself, but does signal a shift for Volbeat that fans have to prepare themselves for.  “Black Rose” is going to come as a shock to more than a few devotees, coupled with the simple rockabilly chord structure and two-beat of “Rebound.”

It does bear nothing that regardless of the position of the listener toward these leanings, “Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie,” does commit the offense of having no bite whatsoever.  More than stylistic change, this is an idiomatic one, the vocals of Michael Poulsen and the guitars of Rob Caggiano both muted into demure roles.  Volbeat has always excelled at expressing a sinister edge within a cushion of highly accessible and beat-driven music, and this album lacks that signature quality. “The Gates of Babylon” could have easily been a big cannon, a full-on sixty-pounder of a song, but instead dances around the conflict rather than striking head-on.

So to reiterate, there’s nothing empirically wrong with this record.  Volbeat does a lot to show their versatility and develop themselves as songwriters, which is all great, but the scales are balanced against their metal chops to this point.  What listeners take away from “Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie” will largely depend on why they listened to Volbeat in the first place.  Worth a rental before purchase.

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