By David E. Gehlke
VOLBEAT founding member and vocalist/guitarist Michael Poulsen practically turns into a giddy teenager when talking about classic death metal. It's a side that likely many of VOLBEAT's rock radio-loving fans will never get to see, but to the underground denizens who bought everything with an Earache Records or Roadrunner Records logo in the early '90s, it's perfectly relatable. Stationed an hour outside Copenhagen, Denmark, Poulsen made regular treks to the city to buy the latest from death metal vanguards DEATH, ENTOMBED, BOLT THROWER and DISMEMBER. The ingenuity and excitement of these bands shaped Poulson's early years, leaving him with no choice but to start a death metal band of his own, DOMINUS. And DOMINUS, of course, paved the way for VOLBEAT's creation in 2001.
Finally seizing upon a long-held ambition and the heavy riffs he assembled during the creation of VOLBEAT's 2021 "Servant Of The Mind" studio album, Poulsen has launched ASINHELL, a death metal side project with former MORGOTH vocalist Marc Grewe and RAUNCHY drummer Morten Toft Hansen. The band's "Impii Hora" debut drips with all of the classic 1990s death metal touchstones like chainsaw riffage, savage Grewe vocals and straightforward song structures derived from one of Poulsen's primary influences, DEATH's Chuck Schuldiner. With VOLBEAT chatter kept to a minimum, Poulsen was happy to stick to the death metal script when BLABBERMOUTH.NET rang the friendly Dane up.
Blabbermouth: For VOLBEAT being as big as it has gotten, was it fun to do something like ASINHELL that didn't entail any pressure?
Michael: "In VOLBEAT, even though it's a style with many different sounds, I feel very free when writing. That said, it was extremely fun and great to sit down and get back to a lot of old-school death metal riffing where I could let everything in the songs be about old-school death metal. There's a lot of freedom where I can stay in one bubble instead of jumping into the VOLBEAT bubble that contains so many different styles that I have to juggle. It was a lot of great fun. I was so inspired. It felt good to get back to the old-school riffing. It's like riding a bike. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: So you're saying it didn't take much to remember how to write death metal riffs?
Michael: "It was always there! It's in my DNA. When I started playing guitar, it was for the sake of learning how to play death metal. My start as a musician was playing death metal. Later on, I played a lot of different styles that turned into VOLBEAT. Doing the death metal riffing was quite easy. It felt natural."
Blabbermouth: Was death metal accessible in Denmark? You didn't have a scene comparable to Stockholm or even Florida.
Michael: "Yes and no. Probably more no. [Laughs] I'm 48 now. I started to listen to classic heavy metal when I was ten. The husband of one of my sisters had all the classic metal albums from DIO, BLACK SABBATH and IRON MAIDEN. When I was 13, I discovered the more extreme bands like BATHORY, POSSESSED, SLAYER, CELTIC FROST and VENOM. I discovered them because I came from a small city. There was a small community of guys way older than I. They took the train to Copenhagen, which took an hour. They knew the right stores to get those kind of records. I visited those guys on weekends and sat in their apartments listening to those extreme bands. A totally new world opened up. I was already exploring the classic metal bands, but suddenly, those guys took it to a more extreme level. New adventures that were truly amazing, like learning to get into early DEATH, AUTOPSY, BOLT THROWER, MALEVOLENT CREATION, early DARKTHRONE — the list continues. Then the Swedish scene with CARNAGE, NIHILIST, DISMEMBER, ENTOMBED, GRAVE, UNLEASHED and all those great bands. There was an American and Swedish scene, and I started skipping school just to take the train to buy those records in Copenhagen. I remember those days like they were yesterday. Then I formed my own bands and got into tape trading and exchanging flyers and underground magazines. There was no internet. Getting your information was all about going into different stores and hanging out with people who were in there buying vinyl. It was also about hooking up with the right people for tape trading and for shows. It was about connecting. It was special. As a youngster, I felt like I belonged. My other friends were busy figuring out what they wanted to be when they grew up. [Laughs] I just wanted to be part of the metal community. That was my adventure. I never really said goodbye to that scene. It was only because when I formed VOLBEAT, the songs I started writing after I ended DOMINUS, there were so many different styles that I couldn't connect them to a death metal band. I had to go on a new adventure which became VOLBEAT."
Blabbermouth: The obvious next thing to say is that kids these days have no idea what any of what you described is like!
Michael: "No. Everything is a click away, or people can FaceTime and use the modern social media profiles I've never used. It's just not me. I don't connect with people like that. I connect by going out, talking on the phone, or opening my mailbox. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: You mentioned DEATH. A lot of the songs on the ASINHELL album have a DEATH influence, particularly around "Leprosy" and "Spiritual Healing".
Michael: "It's definitely one of the main influences and ingredients. It's not a secret that everyone in ASINHELL worships the mighty Chuck Schuldiner. He took it to the next level. There will always be, I guess, a conversation about who started death metal. Was it POSSESSED? Was it MANTAS who became DEATH? If we look at POSSESSED's 'Seven Churches', they planted the death metal riffing seed. Even though there are death metal riffs on 'Seven Churches', it also has a lot of thrash. When Chuck formed DEATH, he made it one-hundred percent, full-blown death metal. He took the sound a step further. The way of growling, getting a deeper voice and digging into obscure lyrics — you can say Chuck is the main guy when we talk death metal but got a little help from POSSESSED.
"It was interesting to follow DEATH's development. On 'Scream Bloody Gore', you can hear a lot of innocence, like the funny lyrics inspired by horror and gore movies. It's more fun than it is serious. It has its spirit and sound, but you can already hear when Chuck did 'Leprosy', like, 'Okay, alright.' The sound wasn't getting 'clean', but they controlled their instruments more. Suddenly, there was structure. There were hooks, bridges and choruses. You could hear Chuck develop into a great songwriter. Then, in the next step with 'Spiritual Healing', the songs' structure got even stronger. Even the lyrics were like, 'Okay. Chuck is getting serious now. Now some subjects are relevant to society.' You were not used to hearing stuff like that. For each DEATH record, he took it to the next level. Chuck and DEATH have always inspired me. I always find being inspired by DEATH when I had DOMINUS and even when I'm writing in VOLBEAT. Maybe that's something people could see between the lines. It's definitely there in ASINHELL."
Blabbermouth: Did you ever see DEATH live?
Michael: "Yes. I saw them once in Copenhagen. It was when they released 'Human'."
Blabbermouth: You made a great choice with Marc from MORGOTH. He was fantastic on MORGOTH's "Resurrection Absurd" and "The Eternal Fall" EPs. What do you like most about his voice?
Michael: "I always thought he was one of the best death metal growlers ever. Chuck has always been my absolute favorite, but the thing with Marc, when I discovered those two MORGOTH EPs, you could totally hear the great inspiration from early DEATH. You could hear the inspiration from Marc — I don't know if I would say he was 'copying' Chuck, but he had a certain tone similar to Chuck. I was like, 'Oh my god! It almost sounds like Chuck's brother!' And you could tell that MORGOTH was extremely inspired by DEATH. They managed to find their own sound on 'Cursed'. Marc later developed his signature tone and voice, but he will always have that edge that you will sometimes hear Chuck in his voice. I also love what he's doing in INSIDIOUS DISEASE. To work with a guy like Marc was a dream come true. I always thought he was one of the best."
Blabbermouth: Did you write the lyrics or let Marc do them?
Michael: "Since I didn't want to be the frontman, I thought Marc, the singer, should be the frontman and take care of the lyrics. The work he's done in MORGOTH and INSIDIOUS DISEASE was great. I did some demo vocals on the recordings where I improvised words so Marc could be inspired and be able to hear where I heard his voice on top of my guitar. His friend, Frank, did the lyrics. They used some of the words I used on the demo recordings. They turned them into great lyrics. We sat down and talked about how the lyrical themes should be. When you have a style like ASINHELL and it's old-school death metal, there will always be cliches, which is important. We don't take it seriously. Be serious about your actions, but don't take yourself too seriously. It is what it is. It has to be fun. We were on the same page that we wanted very dark lyrics because of how certain riffs sounded. But they also needed some kind of sarcasm, irony and many cliches that are recognizable within that style. I think we managed to do that. I think the lyrics are as great as the music."
Blabbermouth: Can you still do death metal vocals after singing for so many years in VOLBEAT?
Michael: "I've used so much time in VOLBEAT singing, so I must take care of my voice. I had an operation on my throat, so it never crossed my mind that I was supposed to be the frontman here. I didn't want people to think it was the second coming of DOMINUS or a more brutal version of VOLBEAT. I want ASINHELL to be a different animal, so I brought in Marc. He's so much better a growler than I. His kind of tone is the one I was looking for. My tone back in the day was way deeper than Marc's. If I had my own voice in mind, it would have probably been a little bit different. That was not what I was looking for. I never had my voice in mind. Marc is the best. I'm enjoying being in the back doing some death metal riffing."
Blabbermouth: Do you envision any ASINHELL live shows?
Michael: "Yes. The plan is for the next year for VOLBEAT to take some time off to write new material and record. We will not play live, but ASINHELL will play live. That's the plan. It's going to be great fun. I'll leave the frontman stuff up to Marc. It's not my problem!"
Blabbermouth: You're stuck on a desert island. What are the five death metal albums you'd bring?
Michael: "Oh, that's hard! [Laughs] I'll definitely bring DEATH's 'Spiritual Healing'. GRAVE, 'Into The Grave'. ENTOMBED's 'Clandestine'. AUTOPSY's 'Severed Survival' and BOLT THROWER's 'The IVth Crusade'."