For much of their career, Grammy-nominated Danish rock band Volbeat (est. 2001) have been critically celebrated and commercially rewarded for their unique and inimitable fusion of classic rock ‘n’ roll, heavy metal, and rockabilly. The band distilled its disparate influences —everyone from Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley to Metallica to Slayer into a fresh, thrilling sound that quickly separated itself from the pack and from peers. The patented formula, which is actually anything but formulaic, lead to five No. 1 singles at the Active Rock format and 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven being certified Gold in the United States. The most memorable rock music functions best and resonates most fervently with fans when there is an authentic, fully beating heart at its core and pumping blood and adrenaline through its veins. That has always been the case with Volbeat and such remains true with their sixth album Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie.
The album is frontloaded with groove-centric, stadium-sized riffers that invoke emotion and inspire singing along. Volbeat’s sound is distinct as DNA —you hear a vocal line or a sonorous riff and you know it’s Volbeat— and it remains flawlessly executed. Overall, the songs crackle with catchy melodic Rock imbued with Volbeat’s signature sound. The album is also fully immersive, inviting listeners along for the sonic journey via an intricate labyrinth of characters and deftly established storylines featuring characters from New Orleans’ turn-of-the-century voodoo scene. The album stimulates every sense, be it base or highly evolved. Therefore, Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogiedefies categorization.
Singer/guitarist and main song writer Michael Poulsen is thoroughly excited about how the album demonstrates the progress and development of the Volbeat sound, which the band has been perfecting for over a dozen years. Yet he is quick to note the album’s tone and theme is “spiritual with sarcasm” and he invites fans to read between the lines when it comes to processing that lyrical skew. Sonically, he points to melodies that are more upfront while still distinctly Volbeat and it’s as though each prior album was the launchpad to get to this point.
The frontman said, “[The album] is Volbeat. But there is progress, too, when it comes to songwriting with huge melodies. It has the songs I have been trying to write for years and it seems like I was in the right spot to gather all the pieces.”
Volbeat were able to fully execute their musical plan with former Anthrax guitarist and producer Rob Caggiano now firmly installed in his role as Volbeat guitarist, co-producer, and co-writer of some of the songs. Caggiano joined Volbeat after realizing he wanted a career shift and due to his desire to step outside of his comfort zones and challenge himself. The addition of Caggiano added an adrenalized boost to Volbeat’s previously existing desire to further evolve. The chemistry has been cemented and as Caggiano succinctly put it — “it just feels right.” Therefore, the Volbeat chassis is more stable and sturdy than ever, as the album also finds the band changing lanes, without drifting too far from the core or patented Volbeat sound.
For the song “Goodbye Forever,” Volbeat invited the Harlem Gospel Choir to perform with them, something Poulsen has wanted to do since the band’s third album. “I have long wanted to bring in a gospel choir in, but I did not have the right idea. This? It just came naturally.” With an assist from the choir, the song explores the idea of global karma. “You have to be thankful for air we breathe and remember that Mother Nature will always be the boss,” Poulsen mused. “I am trying to wake up everyone who thinks they are here forever. Do not expect tomorrow to be there. Think about what you do before you wake up or go to bed. Say what you need to to your loved ones.
The band recruited Danko Jones for the song “Black Rose” and drafted Danish singer/songwriter Mia Maja to contribute backing vocals on several of the songs. She was mined from the underground, as Poulsen was blown away after discovering her performing in a bar. This vocal addition allowed the band to layer its sound in a new way. Poulsen said, “I did all of the ‘oohs’ and the ‘aahs’ before. But this time, it seemed right to have a female voice doing those parts. I knew that the songs needed backing tones from a female, so we called her up. She was surprised and thought it was a joke, like she was Candid Camera or something, since she just played small bars. But she was into it.”
Another way Volbeat upped the ante on Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie was by employing the bagpipes. Poulsen acknowledged that they are a “special instrument that you either love or hate.” Volbeat recruited one of Poulsen’s best friends from his school days to play the bagpipes on “The Loa’s Crossroad,” which is about the gatekeepers of the spiritual world. It may indeed be a polarizing instrument, but it gets a reaction and you can’t argue with the result.
With the band taking musical risks that lead to great rewards, they were also free to push the boundaries with the subject matter. While not a concept album, Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie is spiritual, as mentioned. But Volbeat’s definition of spiritual differs greatly from the traditional interpretation of the word. “When I say spiritual, I don’t mean a believer,” the singer said. “It’s not religious, since I don’t believe in God or the devil. But I do believe in the spiritual world and the songs have that voodoo element. It’s not a concept but the songs are connected. It’s not so much a theme, but rather using real characters who were strong in their belief about their contact with the spiritual world, with additional input from me, where I try and connect what once was and what is now.”
On “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown,” he perverts the usual clichés surrounding the devil and offers a very unique take on his enduring mythos. “How many times do we need to wake up the devil in heavy metal?,” Poulsen asked with a laugh. ” He had fun pissing off religion for the longest time and now he has to run from the crazy people who are his followers. He is retiring, since he is getting old. He had been partying way too long. But his son cannot be humanized, so he is fighting to find the crown and to give it to his son. You’ll have to wait and see what he does.”
The rhythmically anthemic “Marie Laveau” explores the tale of one of NOLA’s infamous voodoo queens, but with a modern day twist. “I am trying to wake her up from the dead and use her as an instrument to get in contact with my dead father,” Poulsen explains. Meanwhile, “Gates of Babylon” explores the idea of a goddess who never made peace with her sister and therefore uses the song’s protagonist as the conduit to locate her sibling in the underworld.
Clearly, Volbeat go deep enough to reach marrow with the lyrical material that comprises Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie. It satisfies the listener’s desire to rock hard and loud, thanks to a potent cocktail of grooves and riffs. Essentially, Volbeat and their new album slay all.
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