The elevator pitch for Volbeat is pretty simple: Metallica meets Elvis, titanic heavy metal riffs colliding head-on with rock'n'roll groove that would do Motorhead proud. With eight albums under their belt, the Danes have risen to prominence as one of Europe's most beloved rock-metal hybrids, their sense of swagger only matched by the sheer size of their choruses (all the better to fill arenas with).
But Volbeat weren't always rock'n'roll rebels - back in the mists of time they were kids with a love for extreme metal, with frontman Michael Poulsen serving as the vocalist for death metal troupe Dominus. With the group’s eighth album Servant Of The Mind wearing those extreme metal influences proudly on their sleeves, we thought it was high time Poulsen talked us through the 10 extreme bands that inspired his band.
"The new album seems to have a lot more of that heavy stuff out front, but I guess it's only natural because every member of Volbeat has been involved with death metal, thrash or punk bands in the past. With Servant Of The Mind we’ve been able to recapture some of that youthful energy , going back to where we started but using the experiences we’ve got now to write great choruses and fun rock songs. As long as we’re having a good time and can see people having fun, we’re doing things right.”
10. Bathory – Under The Sign Of The Black Mark (1987)
“I remember hearing Bathory’s Under The Sign Of The Black Mark and knowing with absolute certainty – now this was extreme! The intensity, the sound… everything about that record is completely out there. Plus, the songs themselves are quite heavy, which made it an easy pick for where to start with Bathory: it’s still one of my favourites now.”
9. Autopsy - Severed Survival (1989)
“Autopsy’s Severed Survival completely blew me away. I’ve built a huge collection of death metal records from over the years, but Autopsy always rank as one of my favourites. Even though their style is – and excuse my language – fucking rotten, they still manage to inspire me within Volbeat, especially in terms of their rhythms, which are just excellent. It’s a record I can put on today and it still feels completely new – it gets me every single time.”
8. Grave - Into The Grave (1991)
“I was only a young boy when I first heard Into The Grave by Grave, but its still an album which is very dear to my heart. It was their first album but had that signature Swedish guitar sound I really liked. Those guys meant serious business! They had some of the same imagery used by Autopsy but weren’t messing around with any of it.”
7. Deicide - Deicide (1991)
“You couldn’t hear Deicide’s self-titled album and not immediately recognise just how American it was. The band came from Florida and had a certain style that made them kings of the whole American scene. Their first two records were amazing and they were really stabbing out to something original even as they used so much of the American scene’s ideas.”
6. Darkthrone - Soulside Journey (1991)
“Darkthrone’s Soulside Journey came out at a point where death metal was at its peak. That album really stood out to me from everything else we were listening to and buying at the time – there was something so dark and cold about their sound even before they became a black metal band. They recorded the album in Sweden because they were also inspired by that Swedish sound, but ultimately they came away sounding like themselves. It's still an album that inspires me – they were so ahead of their time.”
5. Gorefest - Mindloss (1991)
“One of my favourites back in the day was Gorefest from Holland, especially with the album Mindloss. They sounded really fucking rotten, but I guess you need to when you’ve got a name like Gorefest! I loved the guitar sound of Mindloss, its cutting and almost hurts your ears if you turn it up. Chris [de Koeijer, vocals] became one of my closest friends and is one of the finest growlers of that time – he has this rumble that I really love. Though some of those first records they released were pretty standard death metal, they had this really heavy rhythm that you couldn’t help but be inspired by.”
4. Amorphis - Tales From The Thousand Lakes (1994)
“Who doesn’t love Amorphis from Finland? They’re one of my favourite bands in general, so while I wouldn’t put them as extreme, Tales From The Thousand Lakes can definitely be considered a death metal classic. Speak to any guitar nerd and it's always Amorphis's albums that will come up in conversation because at the time they stood out from everyone else with their usage of oriental melodies and signatures. It was something you might get in a heavy rock band like Rainbow, but wasn’t really being done in death metal. Amorphis took things to a new level and gave some fresh air to the scene.”
3. Death - Spiritual Healing (1990)
"One of my all-time favourite death metal albums that I can’t see anyone topping is Spiritual Healing by Death. It’s got everything you could hope to have from death metal, which isn’t really surprising when you look at who was making it. Chuck Schuldiner was the mastermind behind Death and maybe even the inventor of death metal and there’s so much within Spiritual Healing that defines death metal.
He somehow manages to sound ahead of his time too though, with the lyrics but also how melodic he can be while still being incredibly brutal and heavy. Chuck’s talent with growling, being able to clearly speak so you could make out what he was saying is amazing. That album will always get my attention when I’m writing because it's just so great."
2. Napalm Death - Harmony Corruption (1990)
“I was already a fan of Napalm Death’s first albums, there was something just beautifully disgusting about them. But I was watching Headbanger’s Ball one day and had missed the introduction for the band and the video itself was blurry, but I was totally blown away. I heard it again later and found out it was Napalm Death’s Harmony Corruption, their first with Barney Greenway on vocals. I already knew Barney’s work through Benediction on their great first album Subconscious Terror.
With Barney, Napalm Death developed their style more towards death metal and away from the grindcore and punk elements they had to start with. It was amazing when we got to hook up with Barney as we were all huge fans. I remember going to Jacob Hansen’s studio with Barney to record Evelyn. I’d got my headphones on with this huge mic and Barney’s like ‘just get me a normal mic’ and starts growling louder than my mic could take! I was there with my dog and when Barney started growling, his output made my dog start barking loads too, trying to compete.”
1. Entombed - Clandestine (1991)
“Entombed are one of those bands that go right back to the very beginning of our interest in music. I was releasing music back in the day with the death metal band Dominus, but even back then it was totally clear how inspired we were by Entombed. With Volbeat there have been moments where we could incorporate some of those influences into our sound, but beyond that they’re a band we toured with a lot and LG [Petrov, Entombed’s original vocalist] was a good friend of mine and I got to know Alex [Hellid, guitars] really well too.
They’re such a unique band and after they came out loads of other bands tried to copy their sound – there was a specific guitar pedal that bands from Sweden used that I think was just called ‘heavy metal’. I don’t know if it was Nihilist [Entombed’s original incarnation] or Dismember who figured out that if you turned all the dials up to 10 it would make this insane sound, but that became the sound of Swedish metal for years. When we recorded Becoming, our producer Jacob Hansen was like ‘this sounds like Entombed – you should use the pedal!’ We were like ‘we’d love to but its been out of stock for years…’ and he was like ‘well I’ve got it’ so we were able to tap into that Swedish death metal sound, which is beautiful.”
Servant Of The Mind is out now via EMI
Volbeat play Download Festival UK in June 2022.