Hard rock and metal fans around the world know Michael Poulsen as the singer, guitarist and songwriter of the massively successful, genre-bending Volbeat. Eight albums, an ever-growing list of hit singles and packed arenas and stadiums across the globe have established the Danish band as one of the true giants in heavy music. But as many fans know, Poulsen’s musical roots run even heavier. Throughout the 1990s, he fronted the death metal act Dominus, which released four albums. Now in 2023, more than two decades after Dominus disbanded, Poulsen finally has returned to death metal with his new band, Asinhell, also featuring former Morgoth vocalist Marc Grewe and Raunchy drummer Morten Toft Hansen, and inspired by classic acts of the subgenre such as Death and Entombed. With Asinhell’s debut album, “Impii Hora” (Latin for “Ungodly Hour”), set for a Sept. 29 release through the legendary Metal Blade Records (pre-order here), Poulsen is excited and eager to “let the metal flow.” Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with him toward the end of Volbeat’s summer North American tour to get all the details on the new band.
LIVE METAL: We’re here to talk about your new band, your new death metal band Asinhell. Going back a bit, we know you have your roots in death metal; you had a death metal band before Volbeat. When you were younger, how did you get into that kind of extreme music?
MICHAEL POULSEN: Well, I believe discovering the classic heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, Dio, Black Sabbath, Rainbow and bands like that, I was probably around 10, because one of my sisters, her husband had all those classic heavy metal albums. And then three years later when I was 13, I discovered some of the more extreme bands like Bathory, Kreator, Slayer and very quickly later discovered Death with the amazing debut “Scream Bloody Gore.” From then on, it was all one big adventure discovering extreme music where you could actually hear and read in interviews that those guys were inspired by those classic bands that I was talking about. Of course, they were all very much into Celtic Frost, Venom and Possessed. But I believe I was around 13 when I discovered the more extreme side of heavy metal music.
Let’s fast forward to two, three years ago when you were working on the latest Volbeat album, “Servant of the Mind,” where you got heavier than you had in a while. But little did we know that, at the same time, you were working on music that was even heavier and became this new band. What inspired you at that time to pursue that direction?
Well, when it comes to Volbeat and writing “Servant of the Mind,” it was during the pandemic and I was home like everybody else and had the time just to concentrate on being home and working at home instead of working on the road, get back home, work a little bit, work in the rehearsal room, get back to the road again. This time, it was all about working at home, so very quickly I had a whole album. I wrote “Servant of the Mind” with Volbeat in like three months, and while doing that, I was just so much on fire that there were certain riffs that I could hear were a little bit more extreme and probably too extreme to be in Volbeat. So I put those riffs into my death metal safety coffin. (laughter) It was not that many riffs; it was just a few ones. I ended up using one, actually, on a Volbeat song called “Becoming.” The opening riff of that song is very Entombed-inspired, and we also ended up dedicating that song for L-G. Petrov when he passed away.
Also, we had this amazing, ugly sounding pedal, the Boss pedal that a lot of the Swedish bands have been using that has become the Swedish death metal signature sound. We went on a U.S. tour, and I talked to my guitar tech about that pedal that we used in the studio, like, “Could you please order it on the net? I might use it here on the tour, just sit backstage and do some riffing.” And he said, “So, are you going to form that death metal thing?” I said, “Ah, I don’t know. I have to find the time.” It’s always been about that—finding the time to actually do it, because I’ve always been so extreme busy with Volbeat touring—especially touring—but also writing, being in the studio. There’s no time for looking back and having a death metal project. I was still listening to the music, but I just couldn’t find the time to do it because I was so in that Volbeat bubble.
So I said, “Just order the pedal on the net, and we’ll see what happens.” And just as we were talking about it, my iPod—out of nowhere—started playing Entombed, “I’m full of hell!” And I took that kind of as a call from L-G. from the other side. So alright, I got the message. It’s time.
I wanted to call the band Full of Hell because of that song and the spiritual side of the story, but I quickly found out that there was another band by that name. So I had to come up with something else, and that became Asinhell. Three words—just put the words together, and it looked better for the logo. So that kind of was the beginning.
When I came home from that tour, I just started writing, and I couldn’t stop. I was so much in that death metal bubble finally where I could just sit down, the Volbeat record was already out—“Servant of the Mind”—we already did the tour in the U.S., and now there was actually time to sit down and do something else. So quickly, I started writing these Asinhell songs, and very fast I had enough material for a whole album.
How did you go about putting the band together? Did you always plan to get another vocalist?
Yeah, I never had myself in mind, because even though I was a death metal growler back in the day in my own band, Dominus, I knew when I was going back to death metal I didn’t want to be the frontman and the singer, because for so many years I’ve been in great contact with Marc Grewe—my very, very good friend and the best death metal growler of all time from the legendary German band Morgoth. For such a long time, we talked about doing this death metal project, and I think he’s so much better at growling than I am. He has a different tone. I’m way deeper in my tone, the stuff that I did in Dominus. But for me, it was important that if I was about to form a death metal band that people didn’t think that it was the second birth of Dominus, because it’s really not. It’s two different animals. Asinhell is a brand-new band, different, with new members. So I always had Marc in mind as the growler, the frontman.
Morten Toft, the drummer, he only lives 10 minutes away from my house, and our children play together and are having a good time. So we were basically just hanging out in Morten’s garage where he has his drums, because now and then he rehearsed for his own band, Raunchy. And I said, “You know what? I actually have a lot of old-school death metal riffs. Do you think you want to put some drums on top of it?” He said, “Hell yeah, I want to. That will be great fun.” Because he also listens to all that old-school death metal, like Obituary, Death, Autopsy, Gorefest, Malevolent Creation, Darkthrone—all that stuff—and of course, Entombed, Dismember, and the list continues. We kind of just hooked up every Friday for a couple of hours before we had to pick up our kids in the city we lived in. So Friday became “Death Metal Friday.” (laughter) I had pretty much a new song every Friday, and very quickly we had a whole album.
I called Marc, and I said, “Alright, it’s time!” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “I told you one day I’ll be ready. So what do you think?” And he said, “I’m on. Let’s do it.” I wanted to send him some demo stuff, and he said, “Just record it on your iPhone in your garage. That’s fine.” (laughs) So that’s what we did—no fancy pantsy equipment. When we started in the garage, it was just Morten’s drums. It was not mic’d up. There was no PA system. I only brought a small amp and a very old guitar. We just cranked it all up, and that was pretty much it. And then I’d be screaming and growling down into the phone so Marc could hear my ideas for where to put the vocals. He said, “Yeah, that’s perfect. That’s just how we did it back in the day with Morgoth, too. We should just mix this.” (laughter)
We booked (producer) Jacob Hansen’s studio, and we basically told Jacob, “This is going to sound how the records were sounding in the early ‘90s, late ‘80s.” We pretty much recorded it live—me on guitar and Morten on drums, and then I dubbed a few more guitars. Jacob Hansen put down the bass, and Morten said, “If you need a guitar player, please check Flemming Lund out.” I said, “Yeah, yeah, I know Flemming.” Back in the days when I was touring with Dominus, Flemming had his own band called Autumn Leaves. So me and Flemming have been knowing each other since we were like 17 years old, but we hadn’t talked for many years. I heard what he has been doing in his own band, The Arcane Order. It sounds amazing. His leads are very Chuck Schuldiner, so that’s totally my alley. So I called up Flemming and said, “Do you want to put down some solos on an old-school death metal project?” “Hell yeah! Let’s get to work.” So that was easy. It’s good, old friends just getting together again and doing old-school death metal.
When you were doing those “Death Metal Fridays” in Morten’s garage, did that take you back to when you were a teenager and just jamming with your friends?
Yeah. First of all, I’m pretty good at being 48. So it’s not like I’m desperate trying to be 17 again. (laughter) Hell no, hell no. I like being 48. But yeah, it did actually kind of have that feeling—also because we brought in very old equipment. So it kind of brought back a lot of great, old memories starting off as a very young dude, still trying to figure out how to do this whole death metal thing. Good times and great memories.
You’ve worked with Jacob Hansen for many, many years. With him actually playing the bass on the album, did that change the dynamic, or was it just like always?
There was a lot of opportunities to have a lot of very high-end, well-known names in Asinhell, both when it comes to the bass player and lead guitar player. I’ve got some good friends in the scene. But at the end of the day, we wanted Asinhell to have a good birth where it was more like it was about the music and it was not really about who was in the band.
You didn’t want it to turn into some kind of supergroup, right?
No, I hate that word. It’s disturbing. (laughs) Because what the fuck is a supergroup? You can put the best musicians together, and it doesn’t mean that it’s gonna be great. Come on, stop it. (laughs) I just wanted to get together with some good, old friends that I had been knowing since I was 14, 15, 16. That turned out great. It’s just old-school friends hooking up again and doing death metal.
While we were in the studio, instead of sending material out to different bass players in the scene—which could’ve been great, because there are amazing bass players, and everything that’s good, a lot of respect and love—but since we were in the studio and just wanted to get stuff done, we kindly asked Jacob, “Would you mind putting some bass on those tracks? Because I don’t want to do it.” Because it’s not supposed to be a Michael Poulsen solo project. I’ll put down the guitars—that’s my part of it. I write all the music, and I put down the guitars. So I asked Jacob if he wanted to put down the bass, and he was like, “Yeah, I would love to. I love what you guys are doing. That would be great fun.” I think he used one or two days to put down the bass, and that worked out really good. Later on, Flemming put down his solos at home. He’s got a little home studio where he could record his solos, and it turned out great. It turned out really, really good.
You said you gave a little bit of a guide to Marc on the vocals. Did you let him kind of run with it and handle most of the lyrics?
I asked Marc if he wanted me to do some kind of demo vocals, and he said, “Yeah, let me hear what you have in mind, and I can be inspired by that, and it will be more easy to figure out the structure when I hear where you actually want the vocals.” So that’s what I did. I improvised a lot of words. It’s no lyrics, just improvising. And some of those words Marc actually ended up using in his lyrics and made a great story out of it. He got one of his professor friends, called (Dr.) Frank (Albers), and those two guys worked together on the lyrics.
We agreed on the lyrics should be very, very dark and also sarcastic, ironic and funny, but at the same kind of represent that death metal feeling and have a certain mystique and darkness to it. It is what it is. Don’t take it too serious. When it comes to metal, there’s a lot of cliches and there’s a lot of fun. But between the lines, there’s also some very serious subjects. I think the balance in the lyrics, what they came up with, is truly great.
Yeah, I’ve heard the album, and the info that they sent me lists some of the topics for some of the songs, and I can’t wait until I actually have all the lyrics in front of me so I can follow along. It just seems very metal.
(laughs) There’s definitely a lot of cliches, and I love that. Because it has to be fun. It’s done very seriously. We’re very serious about the project, but it has to be fun. If you take yourself too serious with a music style like that, it doesn’t end up well. That’s just my opinion. You need to have fun with it. One of the lyrics that’s actually really funny if we’re talking about fun and gory stuff—“Island of Dead Men.” Have you ever seen that movie where I think it’s a football team that crashes?
Yeah. They end up eating each other to be able to survive, and it’s a true story. I think they got inspired by that because in this lyric, there’s only two guys left, and they are good friends, and one ends up eating his good friend. Then there’s only himself left at the very end, so he starts eating himself. (laughter) So it is what it is.
You have a title track on the album. Does that have special significance, or were you just looking through the song titles for something that sounded good as an album title?
Well, the thing is when you pick a song title that’s also the album title, people have a certain tendency to think that’s the best song on the album or that’s what the album is all about. But it’s just if you go back in time and look at the releases in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was always a track that had the album title. We thought that would be a good idea to have that feeling that we were inspired by the old-school death metal recordings. It kind of ended up by a coincidence that that was the song that ended up having the album title, because the lyric just fit to that song and maybe also because that song kind of stands out from all the other songs. So maybe there’s a certain point in that. But there’s not really any deep thoughts about it. I think it ended up being just a coincidence.
How cool is it to be signed to Metal Blade Records for this album?
Oh, it’s great. It’s a dream come true, because I remember back in the days when I was shopping Dominus, being a young dude, you were trying to get to those amazing labels, and that was tough while you were tape trading and trying to get a record deal with your demo. Dominus ended up signing to a Danish label called Diehard Music, and you know, it was a good start. What was really bummer about it was that it was never really released on vinyl. Of course, that was the time where vinyl was on the way out. So Dominus was always only released on CDs.
Now, so many years after, having a new death metal project, being able to release on fucking vinyl—finally! A death metal project, on Metal Blade, with Brian Slagel—it doesn’t get better than that. It’s legendary. I’m so proud. We all know the great story behind Brian Slagel and his amazing Metal Blade. So that, again, is just like being 16, 17 years old again. It feels great, but I’m fine with being 48. Finally getting the opportunity to have my death metal on vinyl, it feels good.
And I can tell you that later, I will be rereleasing the Dominus albums on vinyl, and they will be available on different media. That will be a little bit later. Now we are concentrating on the Asinhell record and having people recognize the record, and then later on, there will be a time for those Dominus records to be released on vinyl.
That’s so cool. Sept. 29, the album “Impii Hora” comes out. What do you have planned for this band beyond that? Are you planning to go on tour?
The plan is to go out and play live shows next year since Volbeat will be having a sabbath year. We will take a year off touring because we want to write a new album and get into the studio to record a new Volbeat record. But at the same time, I will go out and play some shows with Asinhell. So that’s the plan so far.
Is there anything else you’d like to say before we go?
It’s all good. Let’s just keep it simple. Just like Chuck Schuldiner said, let the metal flow.
Pre-order “Impii Hora”