Michael Poulsen: Guitar
Marc Grewe: Vocals
Morten Toft Hansen: Drums
For more than 20 years, vocalist/guitarist Michael Poulsen has been spearheading Danish rock and roll machine Volbeat, releasing eight full-lengths, selling millions of albums, and filling stadiums worldwide. Before fronting Volbeat, however, Poulsen formed death metal band Dominus, which recorded four fast, brutal albums in the mid '90s. When Poulsen was putting together songs for Volbeat's 2021 album, Servant of the Mind, he wrote a bunch of death metal riffs and saved them on his hard drive. Then, when he was done with the Volbeat record, he reopened the rusty gates to Armageddon and started putting together songs for his new death metal band Asinhell, whose debut album Impii Hora (Latin for Ungodly Hour), is a tribute to Poulsen's favorite old-school groups. The songs are rooted in crushing riffs yet injected with strong guitar hooks and shout-along refrains.
The opening cut, "Fall of the Loyal Warrior," starts in epic fashion with sustained chords and an insidious lick that morphs into a barreling rhythm that's both classic and contemporary. "Bands like Death, Entombed, Bolt Thrower, Autopsy, Dismember, Grave, Mercyful Fate, Possessed, and other old-school bands are the reason why we can do this this in the first place," Poulsen says. While he is proud to wear his influences on his sleeves, Asinhell developed its own identity. "With Asinhell, I was trying to make songs without any rules, but because I was so used to writing with Volbeat, I couldn't really prevent writing bridges, hooks, or a certain kind of chorus," he says. "It's just built into me. I think having that combination of old-school death metal riffs with a bit of structure make the songs really strong."
Two major factors inspired Poulsen to start writing caustic death metal passages for the first time since Dominus' 2000 final album, Godfallos. When he was in producer Jacob Hansen's studio working on Volbeat's Servant of the Mind, he shuffled through a box of old effect pedals, and found a Boss HM-2 distortion pedal, the signature effect for Swedish death metal bands and their "chainsaw tone." He turned the four pedal knobs to 11 and started improvising fast, brutal riffs, one of which he used for the intro of Volbeat's "Becoming."
The other big inspiration came from a combination of tragedy and a brush with paranormal. One of Poulsen's close friends, Entombed vocalist L-G Petrov, was suffering from bile duct cancer. The two spoke frequently and Poulsen met with Petrov to try and cheer him up. One day, Petrov called while Poulsen was in line at the supermarket, so he didn't pick up. The next day, Poulsen's cell rang in the middle of the night, and he missed it. It was Petrov. By the time Poulsen saw who had called, his friend had passed away.
"I was miserable," says Poulsen. "I thought, 'Oh my fucking God, he has been trying to call me, probably because he knew it was his time and he wanted to say goodbye.' The next day, I was about to take my morning run. I put on my iPhone headphones and, out of nowhere, without even pushing a button, Entombed came on with L-G yelling, 'I'M FULL OF HELL' (from the 1993 Entombed song "Full of Hell"). I took that as a sign. I was like, 'He's calling you again, Michael, and this time you're fucking picking up.' I truly feel it was a message from L-G telling me, 'Michael, it's time to make that fucking death metal record. Don't just talk about it, do it!'"
Poulsen planned to call the project Full of Hell, a tribute to Petrov. But there was already a band with that name, so he went with Asinhell, which earned the approval of his friend and fellow countrymate King Diamond. "He saw the logo and he loved it," Poulsen recalls. "He said, 'It's great because if you look at it, you can almost read it as 'A Sin in Hell.'"
The first Asinhell song Poulsen wrote was "Pyromantic Scryer," a stormer that balances a pounding thrash beat and rapid-fire death metal riffs with infectious, aggressive grooves. "I put on that lovely, ugly fuzz pedal and you can definitely hear the inspiration, because it was my wake-up call from Mr. Petrov," Poulsen says. "The rest just flowed from there." Another standout on Impii Hora is "Island of Dead Men," "It's one of my favorites. The chorus is very catchy, and even if it's a little forbidden in death metal to use the word 'catchy' it's really melodic so you remember it, and it makes a strong signature on the song every time it comes in."
While Poulsen sings in Volbeat and sang for Dominus, he didn't want to front Asinhell. So, in March 2022, he called his old friend, ex-Morgoth singer Marc Grewe (Insidious Disease) and invited him to join the party. "I had known Michael quite a long time and he always mentioned that we should do a death metal project one day, but I never took him too seriously because he was so busy with Volbeat," Grewe says. "Then he called for real and said, 'Yeah, I want to do it now. Are you up for it?' Immediately, I was 'Yes, of course!'"
After considering drummer friends from established bands, Poulsen asked Morten Toft Hansen from Danish group Raunchy to join. Not only does Morten play like a fiend possessed, his and Poulsen's six-year-old daughters are good friends… and, it takes just ten minutes to drive to Morten's place. "One day, I saw that Morten had drums in his very, very, very small garage," recalls Poulsen. "I said, 'You know, I have this death metal project in mind. Do you think you would be into it?" He said, 'Of course. Where do you want to rehearse?' I said, "Right here where we are standing - in this little fucking garage! Let's do it old-school! Let's do it the way we did when we were 16 or 17 years old! No P.A., no microphones, nothing but your drums and a combo amp turned all the way up."
The two veteran musicians started practicing and completed a full song almost every time they got together. "Michael came up with some riffs, and together we focused on making good old death metal with the right amount of catchiness, groove and solid chuggin' riffs," adds Toft Hansen. "This will hopefully put a smile on fans of old-school stuff, and newcomers will hopefully dig it too."
Grewe was tied up at home in Germany when it came time to write the vocals, so Poulsen sent the singer phone recordings from rehearsals to start the process. "The ideas were all there and I had the structure for the vocals," says Grewe. "It reminded me of when I first started playing in bands; we always recorded on an old Sharp cassette recorder. It had that same kind of rough sound."
From the double-bass rumble and abrupt rhythmic shifts of "Inner Sancticide" to the trudging chromatic riffs and dissonant licks of "Trophies," Asinhell didn't just create a sick death metal novelty. Through Poulsen and Toft Hansen's years of experience and renewed hunger to destroy, they captured a firestorm in a bottle. Determined to craft twisted scenes that matched the music's brutality. Grewe recruited a death metal-loving psychologist friend, Dr. Frank Albers, who had dealt with sociopaths, schizophrenics, and violent criminals. "He had always wanted to write death metal lyrics and had some really strange ideas," Grewe said. "We bounced ideas off each other and used some of the vocal lines Michael had put in the demos. Most of the stuff Frank thought of was so weird and so eerie that it fit together great with the songs." Pulling no punches, they wrote about war ("Fall of the Loyal Warrior"), cannibalism ("Island of Dead Men"), serial killers ("Trophies," "The Ultimate Sin") and, of course, Satan ("Inner Sancticide," "Desert of Doom"). "The lyrics had to be brutal to fit the vibe and sound of the music," Poulsen says. "I love what Marc and Frank did. We wanted the lyrics to be dark, but also sarcastic, with a glimpse of irony."
Since Poulsen had worked with Hansen in Volbeat, he asked the producer if he would work on Asinhell, and eventually asked him to play bass on the record. Poulsen reached out to The Arcane Order's Flemming C. Lund, an old death metal acquaintance, to play leads on the album. While Impii Hora is sonically crisp, tight, and immaculately constructed, Asinhell burned through the songs at Hansen's studio with the same urgency they had during rehearsal. The intense pace brought back the excitement Poulsen felt decades earlier working with Dominus. "We told Jacob, 'Don't use any sort of production tricks that makes it sound modern or slick,'" Poulsen says. "I told him, 'We want everything to sound raw; we're not doing lots of takes. If something is a bit out of tempo or you hear a crunch sound from the guitar or Morten hitting something where he's not supposed to, just fucking keep it.'"
Asinhell went from being a mere idea to recording the piledriving full-length Impii Hora in about a year. Poulsen asked Volbeat's management to help find a home for Asinhell and was thrilled when they mentioned that Metal Blade founder Brian Slagel would love the band. As soon as he heard Impii Hora, Slagel made Asinhell a top priority. "It's such a dream come true for me to get to be on fucking Metal Blade Records," Poulsen exclaims. "When they said they wanted to put out the album, I felt like I was 17 years old again. I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm making a deal with Metal Blade! How cool is that?' It was like I was finally getting the record deal I dreamed of when I was a teenager."