By Matt Albers
Everyone likes surprises. Especially when that surprise comes in the form of a concert in St. Louis that far surpasses the expectations of its audience. And that is exactly what happened when Danish “metal ‘n rollers” Volbeat returned to the U.S. for an early summer festival run after two South American dates. The first date of this tour, however, was not a festival date, but rather headlining Pop’s in Sauget, IL in May 2012. This was the second time Volbeat played at the venue, the first being in May 2009 opening for Nightwish. After headlining an only decently sized crowd at The Pageant during summer 2011 with Cold and Anchored, it was surprising to see them return to this city at all. Fortunately, through more local rock radio airplay and word of mouth, a noticeably larger crowd turned out to Pop’s that night to experience such a unique band live.
For an off-date of a festival run, what other bands could possibly be added to open for Volbeat? While some may have guessed any of a number of local rock or metal bands, it came as such a surprise to everyone that the legendary, undergournd, primarily Filipino-American San Francisco Bay-area thrash metal band Death Angel were officially booked as the opener a month prior to the show. Originally, Death Angel was booked to headline the venue Fubar, just across the Mississippi River in St. Louis city, as an off-date of their tour with Sepultura, Krisiun and Havok. When the band took the stage with pure, positive confidence and enthusiasm, vocalist Mark Osegueda explained that the band was contacted by Volbeat to open for them that night at Pop’s, to which they jumped at the opportunity.
While the pairing of these two bands may surprise newer Volbeat fans, their first two albums alone are proof that some of their influences, along with the obvious rockabilly, punk and country, include the some of the heaviest forms of metal such as thrash. Death Angel – having not played Pop’s since summer 2008 with God Forbid, Arsis and Light This City – held nothing back and gave the audience the best, heaviest and fastest thrash metal anyone could ask for. Even patrons unfamiliar with Death Angel had difficulty not being satisfied and entertained by the treat of seeing such seasoned veterans of metal.
Volbeat’s set seemed much more upbeat than their last show in St. Louis at The Pageant less than one year earlier. One would think they would be more begrudging of playing the area again after such a recent, only sub-par turnout. Maybe it was the huge line of fans that extended through the parking lot over an hour before doors, or maybe it was the sight of even more people filling the venue by the time they took the stage, but Volbeat’s morale and enthusiasm to put on another quality show was at its peak that night; so much so, that front man Michael Poulsen ran into the crowd while performing multiple times throughout their set.
Opening with their latest and biggest radio hit, “A Warrior’s Call,” the set consisted of live Volbeat staples such as “Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood,” “Radio Girl,” “Sad Man’s Tongue,” “Hallelujah Goat,” “Mary Ann’s Place,” and “Fallen,” as well as an encore featuring “The Human Instrument,” “I Only Wanna Be With You,” “Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza,” and “Still Counting.” Though there were also some surprises as well, both old and new; “Who They Are,” “16 Dollars,” and “The Mirror and The Ripper,” all from their latest album (2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven) and the old, rare gems “Caroline Leaving,” “River Queen” and “Another Day Another Way.” Their set from the previous year at The Pageant was arguably more iconic, with both old and new fan favorites like “A New Day” and “Soulweeper.”
The most noticeable difference to Volbeat’s performance that night was the replacement of guitarist Thomas Bredahl, who left in fall 2011, with Mercyful Fate guitarist Hank Shermann, who had filled in the guitarist spot for Volbeat since their involvement on Megadeth’s Gigantour earlier in the year with Motorhead and Lacuna Coil. His presence added both positive and negative changes to their live sound, including the tempo being noticeably slower than on recording or even previous live shows. Shermann’s gear and equipment yielded a different, perhaps crunchier, more distorted sound and style in his guitar playing than Bredahl or even Poulsen. However, Shermann’s added years of experience allowed for the addition of very impressive guitar solos in songs like “Sad Man’s Tongue,” and “Heaven Nor Hell,” where his shreds substituted strongly for the harmonica portions heard in the studio recording.
The only other negative aspect seen that night was that Michael Poulsen seemed to mix up lyrics on a few songs, but this could have been due to getting back into playing after a few months off after Gigantour ended. Overall, the live pairing of Volbeat and Death Angel was even more successful and exciting than anyone could have anticipated. Furthermore, the fact that St. Louis was so lucky to receive such a potentially once-in-a-lifetime concert experience is downright shocking to even the most casual of local concert-goers. Although Pop’s is nowhere near as comfortable of a venue as The Pageant, it housed an undeniably entertaining and perhaps unforgettable live show of rock and metal that surely left patrons smiling all the way home.