"I had to be there for my daughter's birth - even if it meant cancelling a show with Metallica.“ From touring with Metallica to his surprising breakdancing skills, Michael Poulsen shares what he's learned in his time with Volbeat, Asinhell and beyond

Michael Poulsen Press Image
(Image credit: Ross Halfin)

From bruising hard rock to thrashing psychobilly breakdowns, Michael Poulsen is a heavy metal chameleon. Starting out in death metal band Dominus, the formidable Dane quickly realised the heavy music scene needed a makeover - and along came Volbeat, throwing out big anthems infused with the bounce of 50s rock’n’roll.

Although Volbeat’s latest release, 2021’s Servant Of The Mind, was met with acclaim, Michael deemed it a perfect time to switch things up once more. Last year ushered in his most ferocious outing to date - an 80s-tinged underground death metal monster of a side-project called Asinhell. We sat down with the man himself, to understand what motivates his hectic hunt for a new sound. 

Metal Hammer line break


“A lot of kids dream of being firemen, football players or huge wrestlers… but I always wanted to be a rock star. From a very young age, I was a dreamer, lying on the floor with my head between two speakers, listening to music and drifting away for hours. My parents would come in and tell me I was gonna ruin my ears, but I just couldn’t stop myself. 

I created this bubble of sound, just fantasising about the performers and how I could surround myself with music. The idea of becoming a musician wasn’t at the front of my mind, but I was definitely flirting with the idea. The signs were always there.” 


“For my new project, Asinhell, we wanted to be true to the old-school metal sound. Yes, we have access to all this hightech, fancy studio equipment - but we wanted to do it like the old days. Fridays have become ‘Death Metal Fridays’, and we’d rehearse in [drummer] Morten Toft Hansen’s small garage. We even recorded it like we used to, back in the days when we were very young and didn’t have coin for anything. And it was exactly what we wanted.” 


“When it comes music, everything is about my roots. I started playing death metal when I was 15 or 16, but I also grew up with lots of 50s music. My parents were always listening to Elvis, Johnny Cash and those kind of performers. When I was in my death metal band, Dominus, you weren’t really allowed to mix different elements into the music. So, when I formed Volbeat, I made it my mission to cram as many different genres and inspirations as possible into the sound. It felt so liberating.”


“The struggles I’ve gone through have led to where I am now. There’s no good without bad, light cannot live without the darkness. You have to stay focused, stay positive. I’ve always had that mindset. People go through awful things, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Even though I’ve faced challenges, I’m in the right place now, so it’s been worth it.”


“One of the greatest challenges of my life was becoming a father. Suddenly, it’s not all about you - you’re secondary. Life definitely changed when I had kids. You become more aware of existence, and don’t want to waste time on the wrong things. It forces you to become a better person; you need great personality to bring that to your kids, to make sure they’re good people. Being a parent is an amazing challenge.” 


“When I started, the internet wasn’t really a thing. It was all about getting out there, meeting people - and music was how you could do that. When you loved, say, extreme underground stuff, you quickly became aware of the scene, and you could get involved with those groups of people. The underground scene has always been about connecting with other people. 

Even now, you see fans travelling to different cities, different countries, and they immediately know they’ll meet like-minded people at a show. No matter where you go, if there’s a concert, or a music community, you know you’ve got a friend. There’s something very special about the music community.” 


“Before the internet, how you promoted yourself was totally different. The only way to be heard was by tape trading, sending out flyers, or meeting people in people in record stores or venues. 

The internet can make it easy to over-hype yourself - and I never want to over-hype my own music. I hate it when certain bands are shoved in your face – you see them everywhere before you’ve even listened to one note. Music shouldn’t be pushed to a level where it becomes overexposed. If it’s good, people will find it.”


“When we started touring, it was magical. Suddenly you were going to another country that you’d never been to, and the next day, it’d be somewhere else new. I’d get home and my family would be so excited, saying, ‘You’ve seen more of the world in one week that we have in our whole lives!’ 

The lessons you learn when travelling are so important. I’d say travelling is an incredible thing to experience, and that everyone should immerse themselves in as many cultures as humanly possible.” 


“There comes a time when, after many years of touring, you just want to be at home. I’m not really a fan of travelling, nowadays. I like being with my family, picking my kids up from school, from kindergarten. I am a homebody - when I get back from tour, sometimes it’s a battle for my wife to get me out of my house!” 


“I have a twin sister, and we have such a strong connection. But having a child only made me more aware of how ridiculously special a family connection is. My daughter was born a little too early; when my wife started going into labour, I was actually on tour with Metallica in the US, maybe in New York. 

My wife called in the middle of the night saying, ‘My water just broke’, and I knew I had to be there - even if that meant cancelling a show with Metallica. When I went to the hospital and held my daughter for the first time, it was the most amazing thing. I can’t even describe it.” 


“I’m a very bad sleeper, so sometimes with touring, the lack of sleep is terrible. Tour buses are a nightmare. When you’ve not slept in five or six days, it really impacts your energy, and my voice really suffers. So I’d say sleep is essential. In terms of the body, I’ve also really gotten into running - I just love it. I need it. It’s like a drug for me, that runner’s high. Runner’s high is an actual high, I promise you!” 


“The biggest challenge I’ve ever faced was losing my father. You become very quickly aware of what life is all about, but also how short it is. My father always said, ‘Michael, while you are awake, be useful.’ That’s a great life lesson – I live by it. I’m not good at sitting around doing nothing. Before music, I’ve always had hobbies, be that football, cycling, or breakdancing - I even came second place in a breakdancing competition once.” 


“I’m always extremely busy, and I always want to be. I surround myself with good people who inspire me to keep pushing myself. I’m very, very proud of what I’ve accomplished in my musical career. I could retire if I wanted to, but that’s not how I function. I’m always inspired, I love what I’m doing. Ultimately, life is all about experience. I believe that the more we live, the more we get done, the better people we become.”

Asinhell's debut album Impii Hora is out now. Asinhell play Download Festival on Saturday 15 June. 

Emily Swingle

Full-time freelancer, part-time music festival gremlin, Emily first cut her journalistic teeth when she co-founded Bittersweet Press in 2019. After asserting herself as a home-grown, emo-loving, nu-metal apologist, Clash Magazine would eventually invite Emily to join their Editorial team in 2022. In the following year, she would pen her first piece for Metal Hammer - unfortunately for the team, Emily has since become a regular fixture. When she’s not blasting metal for Hammer, she also scribbles for Rock Sound, Why Now and Guitar and more.