Anyone who’s been keeping tabs on Volbeat will have noticed that they’ve changed. Up to and including their 2010 album Beyond Heaven / Above Hell, the Danes have peddled a brand of hard rock tempered with influences of rockabilly and outlaw country, making them among the most exciting and fun bands in that world. But on 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, that was more or less scrapped altogether in favour of down-the-middle hard rock, with Michael Poulsen’s distinctive baritone being the only feature that really stood out. The worst thing though, is that Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie is pretty much the same, but even more bland and forgettable.
While this is a new album though, it might as well be a repackaging of Outlaw Gentlemen…, as even on the most fundamental level, Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie never deviates from that already established formula. Even down to the construction of the tracklisting, there are inclusions that stand out due to gaping similarities from the album’s predecessor. There’s another guest vocalist that really isn’t needed (King Diamond has been downgraded for Danko Jones on Black Rose), a couple of tracks about obscure historical characters (Marie Laveau, a 19th Century Lousiana voodoo queen, and Mary Jane Kelly, the supposed final victim of Jack The Ripper) and a bizarrely selected cover that doesn’t fit with the flow of the album whatsoever and barely does a thing to change the original. Seriously, their rendition of Teenage Bottlerocket’s Rebound should’ve been consigned to a studio-only project or a covers release, not the middle of a full-length album.
And while it goes without saying that all of these things would’ve been better as one-off inclusions, it hints at the rest of the album, in that it is more or less the same. But while Outlaw Gentlemen… wasn’t stellar, it at least had some highlights; Seal The Deal… takes the most bland moments and exacerbates them across a full album. Any hint of their previous rockabilly influences have been paved over with mid-paced hard rock that, while not awful, can hardly be said to spark any sort of invigoration. Let It Burn‘s plodding, strangely weak fare rehashes everything that’s come before it but in a less competent fashion, and the aforementioned Mary Jane Kelly runs over five minutes but does very little with it, following the exact same instrumentation as most of the album’s tracks which, by this point in the album’s runtime, has become hugely tepid and unispiring.
To give Volbeat credit, they at least know the value of a good hook as, for as weak as some of these songs are, a good chorus stops them from being completely unlistenable. And there are some genuinely good tracks on this album – Seal The Deal is by far the heaviest song on offer here, with its more metallic feel and upped pace giving some much needed bite, while Goodbye Forever takes a more subdued, acoustic direction in conjunction with typical hard rock instrumentation and Battleship Chains utilises a vintage rock ‘n’ roll style in the album’s best moment. Volbeat aren’t a bad band – far from it – and in glimpses, Seal The Deal… shows this. But that’s the problem – it’s in glimpses. It’s an album divided by quality, with a pretty much half-and-half split between good and mediocre. It’s the fact that the mediocre tracks are so glaringly obvious by comparison that they make the greatest impression.
But excuses shouldn’t be made for Volbeat at this point. As disappointing as it is that they’ve shed a brilliantly exciting sound to follow the crowd, Seal The Deal… isn’t even the decent straight-up hard rock album it could’ve been. It is too familiar to their previous material, but even on a wider scale there’s so little to distinguish Volbeat from the less interesting members of their peer group. And with an album as painfully middling as this, that might be the crowd that Volbeat will be associated with for the foreseeable future.
For fans of: Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed, Tremonti
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie’ by Volbeat is out now on Vertigo Records / Capitol Records.