Although Volbeat formed in the early 2000s in Copenhagen, Denmark, their sound owes as much to the earliest American rock ’n’ roll as it does modern Danish death metal.
“I couldn’t really label it or brand it,” said Michael Poulsen, the band’s lead singer and guitarist, in reference to the first songs he wrote for Volbeat. “It was a little bit country, a little bit punk, pop-rock, rockabilly. All those styles blended together.”
That grab bag approach seems apropos, since Volbeat first came together in a piecemeal fashion after Poulsen’s metal band Dominus dissolved in 2000.
“The ideas that I had for songs were not really in the Dominus style,” Poulsen said. “The songs I was writing had a feeling of something from the ’50s, but with a very distorted sound. I just sat down and started writing and didn’t think too much about which direction I wanted to go.”
Because of that, Volbeat, which actually lifted its name from a Dominus album, wasn’t easily marketable.
“The record company didn’t know what to make of the style,” Poulsen said. They thought it sounded interesting, but they didn’t have any idea who was going to buy it.”
But now, more than a decade later, Volbeat has a huge following in Denmark, where its last four albums have hit No. 1. Their American fan base isn’t too shabby, either: Friday’s Knitting Factory show is already sold out, and their most recent studio album, 2013’s “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies,” was their first to crack the Top 10 in the States.
“When I started writing, I could definitely hear that the melodies were inspired by old gunslinger movies,” Poulsen said. “I had just found a box of old videotapes that my father had of those old Western movies, and I started looking at them again and got really inspired. I thought it was the right time for Volbeat to pick up that feeling of being in the Wild West.”
The album also marks the first appearance by guitarist Rob Caggiano, a former member of the band Anthrax, who began the recording sessions as a producer and is now touring with the group.
“Just for fun, I said to (Caggiano), ‘You should not just be here in the studio; you should go out on the road with us,’ ” Poulsen said. “And he basically thought I was kidding with him, but we talked about it and the next day he was in the band.”
“Outlaw Gentlemen” is the most explicit illustration yet of Poulsen’s fascination with American culture: Some of the song titles – “The Nameless One,” “Lonesome Rider,” “The Hangman’s Body Count,” “Black Bart” – sound like they could be Sergio Leone films, and the lyrics tell windswept stories of gunslingers, bandits and frontier shootouts.
“I’m very proud of the album, and I have to say that it’s our strongest release, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than the other records,” Poulsen said. “Why bother going into the studio if you don’t have the belief that you can top what you already did?”