Volbeat are two decades deep into a career that has found them sharing stages with genre legends like Black Sabbath, Metallica, Motorhead, Slipknot, Megadeth, Anthrax and more. They have racked up nearly three billion cumulative streams over the course of their career, earned gold and platinum certifications all over the world, scored a Best Metal Performance Grammy nomination for “Room 24 (feat. King Diamond)” from 2014’s acclaimed (and U.S. gold-certified) Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, and have won multiple Danish Music Awards.
At this stage of the game, Volbeat don’t have anything to prove. Not. A. Damn. Thing.
Even so, Servant of the Mind, the band’s eighth album, takes the signature heavy metal, psychobilly, punk ‘n’ roll sound on which they have built their reputation up a notch.
The lead single “Wait A Minute My Girl,” which frontman Michael Poulsen drafted as a love song to his fiancé, swiftly cruised into the No. 1 position on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Airplay chart and camped out there for three weeks. It became the band’s ninth No. 1 at the format, which is a record for the most chart-topping singles by a band not based in North America.
The rest of the songs on the album weave intricate and fascinating tales. “The Sacred Stones” tells the story of “an earthly being who has committed himself to the dark side. He is on a mission, speaking to darker forces and fallen angels.” Elsewhere, “Shotgun Blues” explores the ghostly events he had recently experienced upon moving into a new home. “Every time you move into a house, you bring dead people with you. Weird stuff happens whenever I move into a [new] house… it’s very otherworldly.”
Meanwhile, “The Devil Rages On” looks at the idea of the devil taking human form. Album opener “Temple of Ekur” returns to the ancient themes explored in past songs such as “The Gates of Babylon,” while the epic album closer “Lasse’s Birgita” explores the story of the first witch burnings to occur in Sweden in 1471. “Dagen Før” offers a brief respite from the ‘thunder and lightning’ and features guest vocals from Danish artist Stine Bramsen, who is renowned for her solo work as well as being a member of the band Alphabeat. The song, in the tradition of “The Garden’s Tale,” “Maybele I Hofteholder” and “For Evigt,” features both English and Danish lyrics, and marks the first commercially released song featuring Stine singing in her native Danish.
“I wrote the whole album in three months,” recalls Poulsen, noting that the process of drafting a Volbeat album is normally two years in length. That’s due to things like constantly being on the road, family matters, and various other distractions that life throws one’s way. However, this time, he wrote at a decidedly quicker clip and completed the album faster than he did even in the earliest days of the band. “I was in a good place and mood while at home, and had a captive audience of myself,” he remembers. He found himself inspired and as a result, the music and lyrics just flowed out of him.
Isolation and idle time can be either very good or very bad. For Servant of the Mind, Volbeat were forced to craft new material during the shutdown and quarantine necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While this is a scenario that every band dealt with and will certainly lead to asterisks next to many album titles of this time, Volbeat used the isolation brought on by social distancing and the idle time of being in lockdown to charge forward in their songwriting process.
“Mother Nature told everyone to sit down and behave, and let’s see if we can get this pandemic monster out of the way,” the frontman recalls about the moment the band decided its next steps. “I thought, ‘what the fuck should I do? I should just write a new album.’” While he was semi-joking at first, he realized why not just do it while he had the time on his hands?
The pandemic-dictated time off meant he wouldn’t be writing parts backstage while on tour or while holed up in a hotel or on the bus on off-dates. It afforded him time to pull out material and contextualize his own work. “Think of all the energy you use on the road and onstage,” he says. “You let all that energy out, come home and write a record. The live energy is gone, so it’s a different writing mode. This time, I thought, ‘Where do I burn off this fucking energy?’ I’ve been doing my morning run, biking, and training…”
Poulsen also listened to interviews that he did about the band’s history for P3 Radio Denmark’s Hvem et Volbeat podcast and found inspiration came from internal and external sources. He burned off his excess energy by funneling it into the new material.
“I started digging up old records again,” he shares. “I do that constantly, but listening to it after doing the podcast interviews, I felt like I was hearing them again for the first time. I felt like a kid again when I picked up the guitar and thought ‘let’s see what comes out of it.’ I couldn’t stop myself. The material was shot out of my body.”
While he is keenly self-aware that the album is a product of the pandemic, Poulsen also realizes it’s completely and totally Volbeat in 2021. He admits, “I don’t think it would have sounded like this if not for the pandemic. There are a lot of Volbeat signatures in it. If you go back to the first record and [compare it] to where we are now, you can hear how the band has developed its style, while keeping the signature sound.” He is proud, understandably so, that the band has arrived at a place where its songwriting is unfuckwithable and it’s no longer just writing riffs and adding vocals. In fact, the band is at a place where you hear the opening chords and the distinct timbre of Poulsen’s voice and you know it’s Volbeat.
Poulsen also feels that Servant of the Mind is a marked shift from 2019’s Rewind, Replay, Rebound, which was filled with stadium-sized hooks and choruses built upon a foundation of layers upon layers. The frontman reflects on that period as “draining but worthwhile” since “you need to go that route to see how far you can take it. I am extremely proud of it.”
Having gotten that out of his system, he was able to approach Servant of the Mind in a more laid-back way. It’s a cleaner, crisper listening experience.Ultimately, Volbeat took a step back to take a giant leap forward. It’s not time to start thinking about what’s next. It’s time to indulge and immerse fully in Servant of the Mind.