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The inaugural concert of the "Servants of the Road" European Tour, keeping in line with the name of the last album "Servant of the Mind", presented the distinguished gentlemen of Volbeat with a great challenge. The Danish team led by front man Michael Poulsen, which has been in existence since the beginning of the millennium, returned to the European stages after the pandemic. More specifically, the big arenas, because within the last few years, a small band from Copenhagen became one of the most popular rock acts of the last decade. Their unconventional style uses elements of heavy metal, punk rock and rockabilly. With the help of Poulsen's radio-friendly voice, this mix of genres becomes their own broth. When they played in front of massive crowds, it was usually due to festival settings this circumstance has become a habit. Can Volbeat maintain their original quality with the exponential rise in their popularity or will they slip into a creative hole like many artists before them? The performance at the Barclays Arena in Hamburg on October 17th, 2022, promises some answers.
The first concert back on European soil after a long abstinence represents an exciting affair for Volbeat. After the last overseas performances and since the release of the Danes' eighth album in 2021, the four men were eager to play on their doorstep again. With almost two decades of live experience, the band harmonizes excellently together, despite some line-up changes; Poulsen and Drummer Jon Larsen are the only founding members left.
On bass Volbeat recruited reinforcement in the shape of Kaspar Boye Larsen since 2016, and the former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano has been delivering the leads since 2013´s "Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies". With the former guitarist of one of the so-called "Big Four" (Anthrax. Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer) Volbeat was able to regain credibility from the overly critical metal scene. When they formed in 2001 and released their first album "The Strength/The Sound/The Songs" in 2005, all the voices were positive for Volbeat. The eclectic mix of country, rockabilly and groove/thrash metal was unused and fresh at the beginning of the millennium and would generate an instant hype.
This same hype has been amplified by a few steps with the follow-up work "Rock The Rebel/Metal The Devil", and one of their most successful singles, "Sad Man`s Tongue" is on this album. The degree of fame rose and rose and soon they appeared as headliners on several tours and the venues expanded immensely. With the sky-high popularity came also increasingly critical voices from within their own ranks; a lot of metalheads suddenly loathed their former idols for the newly gained fame. Volbeat was said to have sold out to the mainstream and doomed to remain a lifeless shell of their former existence. Over the course of the next few albums, this trench deepened even more, even collaborations with established figures within the metal scene could not appease the mob.
Here the question arises directly why so many people complain about the mass suitability, since Volbeat`s music is designed in its core to be radio friendly. Michael Poulsen was bored with his death metal past and wanted to revive the feeling of old rock classics within a heavy metal framework.
Around 9 p.m., the long-awaited concert began, to churn out their very own rock´n´roll for almost 100 minutes. The joy of playing is clearly written in the faces of all participants, with the additions of Skindred and Bad Wolves. The Barclays Arena offers the necessary technical bombast to accommodate a concert by one of the larger modern rock bands. Giant screens, which provide good visibility from every corner of the arena, as well as steam geysers give the best possible result with today's technology.
The frontman repeatedly emphasizes his gratitude for the numerous appearances, because the hall was as good as sold out, as well as the possibility to finally go on tour again. Honest words, however, overshadowed by a gigantic shortcoming: the sound was dull, powerless, and utterly muddy. Especially a modern band like Volbeat lives from having a good sound that drives the songs, especially the Thrash Metal elements, forward. As soon as the sound can't develop its full potential, the individual performance suffers considerably, especially in the hard´n´heavy realm.
Over the course of the evening, the sound didn't get any better, and so the opening concert of Volbeat ended in a sobering experience. A result that must be painful for the band, because the current material offers plenty of variety. By adding Rob Caggiano, the heavy metal aspects are turned up a decent notch, as well as enhancing the dynamics of the riffs. The voice of Michael Poulsen is frankly in need of getting used to, as it stands in stark contrast to this kind of music. Only after several runs does it unfold its effect, but it is also understandable if someone never gets accustomed to his singing voice.
Metallic and yet poppy, such music automatically polarizes. Nevertheless, technical aspects were the biggest enemy of the evening and took the band down hard. The powerful passages lacked force and the voice was lost somewhere in the sound murk. At this point, it is appropriate to ask whether metal music is suitable for large arenas/stadiums. On the one hand, the inherent theatricality of metal ensures that an equally large stage could be provided for full effect. Metal, on the other hand, is living off, like punk, an outsider function in the musical circus, which accordingly makes smaller and dirtier locations more suitable. This discrepancy remains and will not provide any clear answers to this question anytime soon.
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Originally published on February 6, 2023, updated on February 6, 2023