When Volbeat were starting out 20 years ago, frontman Michael Poulsen would go down to Copenhagen’s Sex Beat Records (opens in new tab) and give its owner, Thomas Andreassen, his band’s merchandise in the hope that the shop would stock it.
“Michael would say: ‘Do you want to have our T-shirts in the shop and hand out some of our promos?’” Andreassen says today. “Demo CDs were not registered for sales, so I would put them in customers’ bags as giveaways.”
Two decades on, very little has changed apart from the premises. Thomas still runs this compact, basement-level institution (named after an old Gun Club song) packed wall-to-wall with brand new shrink-wrapped vinyl and CDs. And today his old friend Michael Poulsen is leaning on the counter, perusing the vinyl LPs he’s already collected from the shelves.
In other respects, an awful lot has changed. These days Volbeat are one of Denmark’s biggest musical exports, give or take Lars Ulrich (not uncoincidentally, Metallica have been Volbeat’s biggest cheerleaders over the years). Andreassen concedes that he never saw his countrymen’s success happening on this scale.
“There were many bands coming down to the shop saying can you do this or that,” he says. “You can’t know a band are going to be successful from the very first time you meet them.”
Today, Poulsen and bandmates Jon Larsen (drums) and Kaspar Boye Larsen (no relation, bass) are just regular record shop customers once more, albeit ones with 400 Danish krone (around £50) of Classic Rock’s money to spend on albums as part of our Record Store Challenge. “Wait – you’re paying us to go record shopping?” Kaspar Boye Larsen asks disbelievingly.
There’s already a low-level power struggle brewing. Both Michael and Kaspar have their eye on Crawler, the brand new record from Bristol postpunk rabble-rousers Idles. “I loved their other albums,” says Michael. “I don‘t think they’ve made a bad record.”
By contrast, Jon Larsen is gravitating towards something more vintage. “I’ve got some stuff behind the counter already,” says the lugubrious drummer. “The big Beatles Let It Be box set, the new reissue of the Stones’ Tattoo You and the vinyl box of The Kinks In Mono. I don’t listen to music made after 1985,” he adds, looking like he’s not joking.
Michael has already hit the Sex Beat racks, alighting on the ‘N’ section, from where he pulls out Napalm Death’s paint-stripping turn-of-the-millennium album Enemy Of The Music Business. “One of the great bands,” he says admiringly.
Volbeat and the British grindcore pioneers go way back: Napalm frontman Barney Greenway appeared on the Volbeat song Evelyn on 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven album, while Napalm cover artist Frode Sundbø Sylthe created artwork – a striking, Hipgnosis-style image of a person removing his own mannequin-esque face – for the Danes’ new album Servant Of The Mind.
Like so many albums of the past few months, Servant Of The Mind was an unplanned arrival. “When management told us that all these tours had been cancelled, I said: ‘Okay, I’m gonna write a new album,’” says Michael. “And they went: ‘Perfect!’ Then I thought: ‘Oh my god, what did I just do?’ But then I picked up the guitar and it was, like… [makes blazing guitar noise].”
Written in three months and recorded in three weeks, Servant Of The Mind largely dispenses with the arena-sized hard rock of its two predecessors, in favour of something heavier yet still anthemic – partly a product of recent events.
“I did all these interviews while I was at home, and they made me think about our career and look back on it all,” he says. “And when we were in the rehearsal room with no shows, it was like being seventeen or eighteen years old again; what was coming out again was really heavy. It felt like starting over again.”
A few racks over, Kaspar is revisting his own younger years, and pulls out the debut LP by 80s punk provocateurs MDC (aka Millions Of Dead Cops, aka Millions Of Damn Christians). The bassist grew up listening to first-wave hardcore bands such as Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat.
“The attitude, the energy, the music – it was all really primitive,” he says, only to promptly smash his underground credibility into tiny pieces by pulling out Blink-182’s most recent album, Nine. “This is an album with Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio singing, who are one of my favourite bands,” he says apologetically.
It turns out that, beyond their idols and friends Metallica, there are few groups who unite the members of Volbeat. “Weezer,” Kaspar says after a few seconds thought.
“No, they’re from after 1985,” replies Jon.
It turns out he’s not joking. The drummer is Volbeat’s classic rock wing. “When I was a kid I was introduced to The Beatles, then the Stones, The Who, The Kinks,” he says. “Those bands just stuck with me.” These days he’s more interested in old music than anything new. “I get more excited when I hear there’s a re-release of an old Slade album,” he says.
And which Slade album would he recommend to someone who only knows the singles?
“Slade On Stage,” he says, referring to their 1981 live album. “Everybody talks about Slade Alive!, but with Slade On Stage they were really on fire.” He reaches into the nearest rack and pulls out a copy of Dio’s overlooked 1990 album Lock Up The Wolves.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really heard this one,” he says. “I fell off the Dio wagon after [1987’s] Dream Evil, so I’m thinking of trying catch up on some of the later albums. I saw him in 1986, the show with the castle and the dragon.”
He looks momentarily forlorn. “You could still have big stage shows then.”
His all-time favourite band are Iron Maiden, to the point where he’s a staunch defender of their little-loved Blaze Bayley era. “There’s some really, really good stuff on those albums,” he says of 1995’s The X-Factor and 1998’s Virtual IX.
“It seems like people look at that period with disgust, which is a little bit of a shame. I was very happy when they did [Blaze-era anthem] The Sign Of The Cross on the Legacy Of The Beast tour.”
In the league table of ‘Coolest first record that the members of Volbeat ever bought with their own money’, Kaspar edges it with The Cure’s 1984 live album Concert, closely followed by Jon with Adam Ant’s 1982 single Friend Or Foe.
And Michael? “Shakin’ Stevens,” he says, referring to the early-80s retro rock’n’roller, although the passage of time – or maybe just embarrassment – means he can’t remember exactly which single it was.
Ironically, Shaky mined the same seam of vintage rock’n’roll as Volbeat do today, albeit in a less combustible manner. Michael grew up listening to his father’s old Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash records, and those icons left an imprint on Volbeat’s own music.
“It was very natural that we wanted to blend that music into this heavy sound, where you have the combination of inspirations from the fifties with early Metallica and some Misfits and Social Distortion,” says Michael. “It felt natural. We didn’t want to be just another band playing straight metal or punk music.”
Volbeat’s turbocharged, rockabilly-adjacent metal was fairly unique when they released their debut album, The Strength/The Sound/The Songs, in 2005. That record featured a souped-up version of Dusty Springfield’s late-60s blue-eyed soul classic I Only Wanna Be With You, the first in a series of Volbeat covers that have taken in everything from old-school country standards (Hank Williams’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry) to late-80s boogie rock classics (The Georgia Satellites’ Battleship Chains).
Servant Of The Mind’s bonus tracks include songs by both psychobilly icons The Cramps and Swedish crust-punks Wolfbrigade. “We just throw an arrow at a wall and see what it hits,” Michael says wryly of his band’s approach to covers. Still, some artists are off limits. Volbeat had deliberately steered away from tackling a Metallica song until the San Francisco band asked them to pitch in on their recent Blacklist project (the Danes gave Don’t Tread On Me a groove-metal overhaul).
And then there’s Elvis Presley. “Don’t touch the King’s work,” says Michael, who admits he has spent a presumably very large amount of money on rare Elvis singles and bootlegs. “It was back in the day when the collector in me just couldn’t live without stuff,” he adds sheepishly.
An exclamation of “This is one of the greatest albums of all time!” suddenly erupts from a few racks along. It’s Kaspar, and he’s holding a copy of Swedish death metal pioneers Entombed’s 1993 masterpiece Wolverine Blues. “This is where they changed style a little bit and went a little more rock, even though they still had that death metal sound. They invented a whole new genre: death’n’roll. Nobody did it as well as Entombed.”
All of the members of Volbeat put in their time on the death metal scene as kids. For Michael it was with his original band, Dominus, whose penultimate album, Vol.Beat (short for ‘Volume And Beat’) gave his subsequent group their name. “The darkness and down-tuned guitars of death metal is really appealing when you’re seventeen or eighteen years old,” he says.
His death-metal reverie is interrupted by the sight of the new Manic Street Preachers album. “They’re one of my favourite bands of all time,” he says. “I remember constantly hearing Motorcycle Emptiness on the radio, and each time they released an album I was the first person buying it. James Dean Bradfield has so much character in his songwriting and in his voice.”
When asked if Volbeat would cover a Manics song, the frontman shakes his head. “There’s something about their songs that are already so complete,” he says. “What is there to change? Or maybe it’s that I don’t have the guts to do it yet.”
At the back of the shop, Jon Larsen is eyeing up the reissue of Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, the first record they made after the departure of Roger Waters, the bassist, singer and lyricist who gave Floyd a malevolent edge. That 1987 album isn’t widely loved by Floyd aficionados – it’s viewed as a lightweight, version of what they once were. Most people would have gone for a classic Floyd album from the 70s.
“I know, but I have all the old ones,” he says. “I was hoping they were releasing a new version of Animals, but I think that’s stuck in an argument between Roger and David [Gilmour].”
It’s time to wrap up our shopping expedition and head over to the counter to hand over Classic Rock’s hard-earned krone. Even though it works out at just one album per person, they’ve inevitably busted the budget by quite some margin. We could be harsh and take one purchase off them, but we’re not quite that mean-spirited. Avid record collectors, the trio picked up some extra records that they’re paying for themselves. Sex Beat’s Thomas Andreassen tots up the totals with an old-school pen and paper.
“Back in the day, I was constantly listening to music twenty-four-seven, but now it’s very rare, because I’ve got my own music running through my head constantly,” says Michael. “If I do find something new, it’s because I’ve seen it on iTunes or friends have recommended it. But I liked it way more back in the day when I could come into Thomas’s record store and pick out things he’d play on his record player.”
Records are bagged up, hands are shaken and farewells are said; but no home-made demo CDs are surreptitiously slipped into carrier bags this time. Copenhagen’s finest record shop might not have changed much in the past 20 years, but Volbeat certainly have.
Michael Poulsen: Idles – Crawler (2021)
“This is their new record. I discovered them by watching the TV series Peaky Blinders. There was one of their songs on the soundtrack, and I was like: ‘What the fuck is that?’ The sound is kind of post-punk, but it has so many different influences, and it’s still very original – they make ‘ugly nice’ music. They inspire me – we were going to cover one of their songs on our last album, maybe Never Trust A Man With A Perm or Great. We still might do it."
Kaspar Boye Larsen: Carcass – Torn Arteries (2021)
“I loved Carcass early on. I first heard [second album] Symphonies Of Sickness in 1990 or 1991, and I loved it. But they started getting too metal for me, with all these guitar solos. The comeback album [2013’s Surgical Steel] sounded like that as well. But this record sounds like a band in top form. Plus I love the cover, of a heart made of vegetables."
“I’ve got a Sex Pistols box set – the complete demos and out-takes. I’m a big fan of theirs. I think if they’d never met John Lydon they probably would have been a pop band. The way he wrote and what he expressed in his lyrics took them somewhere else. And at the other end of the scale I’ve got the reissue of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason by Pink Floyd. They remixed it and updated it – I believe Nick Mason re-recorded all the drums. But I still prefer them when Roger Waters was in the band.”
Volbeat's Servant Of The Mind is out now via EMI. Issue 297 of Classic Rock is available as a Volbeat Bundle Edition (opens in new tab), featuring a unique Volbeat cover and a Volbeat patch.