Monday, January 25, 2021

VOODOO CIRCLE "Locked & Loaded"


(c) 2021 AMF Records

  1. Flesh & Bone
  2. Wasting Time
  3. Magic Woman Chile
  4. Locked & Loaded
  5. Devil With An Angel's Eyes
  6. Straight For The Heart
  7. Eyes Full Of Tears
  8. Devil's Cross
  9. Trouble In The Midnight
  10. This Song Is For You
  11. Children Of The Revolution
David Readman--Lead Vocals
Alex Beyrodt--Guitars, Vocals
Mat Sinner--Bass, Vocals
Markus Kullman--Drums

Additional Musicians
Corvin Bahn--Keyboards
Melissa Bonny--Backing Vocals

There have been a slew of great releases already in 2021, and it is only January!  Not that I am complaining, because I am most definitely not.  In fact, it makes me hopeful that 2021 is going to be one of those magical years we look back on in a couple of decades, much the way that people fondly recall years like 1986 and 1988.  And while there is still a LOT of year to go, 2021 is shaping up to be pretty special.

One of the records that I would say has to be considered as being at the forefront of this new year is Locked & Loaded, the lastest effort from the Voodoo Circle.  For the uninitiated, Voodoo Circle is the brainchild of axe-slinger extraordinaire, Alex Beyrodt, who has an uncanny feel for the classic heavy bluesy-and-ballsy rock that legends such as Deep Purple, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, and Whitesnake are synonymous with.  Unlike so many of today's "un-Ledded" clone bands, however, Voodoo Circle understands that being a soundalike is not enough; you have to have a passion for the music, the chops to perform at a high level, the songs to showcase that talent!  Fortunately, Voodoo Circle has proven time and again that they have all three requirements in spades!

On Locked & Loaded, frontman David Readman returns to the fold after stepping away for a couple of records, and the entire line-up from 2011's Broken Heart Syndrome record is reformed, which has stoked a lot of anticipation among fans of the band.  And while the previous efforts were still fine records, Readman's return serves to complete the package, in my opinion, as his vocals are a huge part of what drew me to this band in the first place.  This is immediately evident with album opener, "Flesh & Bone", which is about as perfect a beginning to an album as one could hope for, showcasing a tight band that sounds as if it hasn't missed a step despite not playing together as a unit for nearly a full decade!  Snarling guitars and big, arena-styled drums kick this high-energy rocker into gear and never look back, blazing a hard rocking path for four solid minutes that will have the listener immediately transported back in time to an era where this type of anthemic rock was the standard and not the exception!  Clearly pulling influence from Whitesnake and Deep Purple, this is a scorching example of Voodoo Circle at their finest musically.  Throw David Readman's massive vocals into the mix, and you have a song that is almost guaranteed to be the set-opener for the band in upcoming live shows.

I have long professed to NOT be a particularly big fan of Led Zeppelin, yet I love so many of the bands that Zeppelin inspired.  While a lot of people point to bands like Kingdom Come, the best or me would be Bonham, whose Disregard For Timekeeping is an absolute go-to album for me.  I have played that particular album hundreds, if not thousands of times, and continually go back to it even today.  For those who are fans of that band, "Wasting Time" is going to be an instant come-hither track, as the intro and the tempo are so much like Bonham's "Wait For You" that it is almost eerie.  No, it is definitely not the same song, but the sultry swagger, the "Kashmir" accents to the music, and the approach to the vocals are every bit as addictive as those from "Wait For You".  "Wasting Time" has a HUGE guitar solo, complete with speedy fret-runs and blistering picking, yet it somehow still fits the track.  I've hit repeat so many times on this track that it's a minor miracle the button still works, to be honest, and "Wasting Time" is easily the most-played track of this very young year so far.  

"Magic Woman Chile" continues that Middle-Eastern/Indian vibe, especially with the backing vocals and the rhythm and tempo, and once again, comparisons to Led Zeppelin are going to be impossible to avoid.  Vocally, Readman is more controlled and somewhat lower in pitch than Plant typically was a lot of the time, but the delivery style on this track (and "Wasting Time" for that matter) is a dead-ringer in places and serves to enhance the track all that much more.  The solo from Beyrodt here is a wicked one, and this is a powerful, guitar-driven rocker of the highest order.

Title track and single "Locked & Loaded" continues with the punchy, 80s-inspired blues-rock stylings that will likely have David Coverdale on the phone seeing if he can recruit Beyrodt and company for his next record!  Utilizing some horn-sounding keyboards as an enhancement, a catchy "big, boom, bam, here for you mama!" vocal refrain, and an insanely simple-and-singable chorus, "Locked & Loaded" is almost guaranteed to become a fan favorite in the live setting (once we get back to live settings)!  Naturally, Beyrodt rips into yet another huge solo, but for me, it is Readman who is the real centerpiece on this track, as he is able to track up and down his powerful range throughout the song and he sounds particularly strong here, adding and subtracting a bit of snarl as needed.  Really, really loving this track.  

For the Whitesnake fans, the comparisons on a couple of tracks are going to be immediate and intense.  "Devil With An Angel's Smile" is an uber-catchy, bluesy riff rocker with a huge hook and some great backing vocals, and gritty rocker "Straight From The Heart" has a killer "Bad Boys"-styled intro riff that would have Coverdale doing a double-take to make sure Whitesnake wasn't performing without him!  But perhaps it is the big power ballad, "Eyes Full Of Tears", which finds Readman in full-Coverdale worship mode, that has the biggest connection with Whitesake's self-titled masterpiece from 1987...which was also considered to be a rip-off/clone effort in its own right.  And while I get both cases...I also disagree with the assertion in both cases.  Sure, there are a lot of similarities in style and approach, but as I stated at the opening of this review, without the ability to write the songs and the ability to then pull them off, none of the comparisons would be made.  

The intro to "Devil's Cross" is a bit of a slip for me with its dated, 80s keyboards, but once the guitars and Readman's vocals hit, all is quickly forgiven and forgotten.  A bump-and-grind, mid-tempo groove 
worms its way through this track that is another one that fights for repeat time from me.  Readman adds the smoky snarl back to his vocals, further enhancing the ultra-cool vibe.  If there is a video made for this track at some point, I would fully expect a nighttime shoot with a Tawny Kitaen look-alike shaking her money maker down on a dock somewhere, bumping and grinding along with the solo that Beyrodt carves through the mid-section of the track.  In fact, Beyrodt's axe is given more time to really shine here than on most of the other songs, as there is some serious riffage going on for the last couple of minutes, with the solo and then the outro work that flows under the last runs through the chorus section really putting Beyrodt's talent on full display.  Love it!

"Trouble In The Moonlight" speeds things back up a bit with some nifty double kick drum work and yet another smoking string melter from Beyrodt, before the deep blues approach of "This Song Is For You" slows things WAY down.  Opening with a lyric straight from Prince's "Purple Rain",  ("Never meant to cause you any sorrow...never meant to cause you any pain...."), "This Song Is For You" is pure soul-searing pain set to music, and Beyrodt proves beyond a shadow of any doubt that he has a feel for this type of playing.  For that matter, he and Readman may want to consider a project of just this style of blues rock, devoid of the pomp and hair of the arena rock that tinges every song here, this is just smoldering blues rock at its finest, with both men delivering some of the best performances on the entire album.

The record closes with a rollicking, galloping rocker in "Children Of The Revolution" that wraps the record right back around to where it started, with hard-edged, blues-based arena riff rock of the highest order.  A great way to end a great record that long-time fans of the band will immediately begin comparing with the best the band has ever released, I have little doubt. 

With Readman back in the fold on vocals, with Sinner providing the solid bass work he has always been noted for, and with Kullman's unheralded work behind the kit, Beyrodt has the freedom to unleash on every track here, putting together what is in my estimation the best record that Voodoo Circle has released to date...which is saying something considering the greatness of the first few records.  Beyrodt plays with an unbridled passion on every track here, and I have read he used multiple different guitars on various songs to get exactly the tone he was looking for, which seems to have paid dividends here, as this is a guitar lover's album, without question.  Big hooks, powerful vocals, a retro-yet-modern sound, and amazing production all come together to help form what will likely end up being a Top 20 release of 2021, which is quite a statement in January!

Rating:  The best Whitesnake album that band never released!  Crank this to a definite 9!  This is an EXCELLENT record!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

KICKIN' VALENTINA "The Revenge Of Rock"


(c) 2021 Mighty Music

  1. Freakshow
  2. Somebody New
  3. Rat Race
  4. Strange
  5. Lookin' For Me
  6. War
  7. Heart Tattoo
  8. End Of The Road
  9. The Revenge Of Rock
D.K. Revelle--Lead Vocals
Heber Pampillion--Guitars
Chris Taylor--Bass
Jimmy Berdine--Drums

Atlanta's Kickin Valentina has been around for a bit, now, starting with their debut EP nearly 8 years ago, and steadily building a fan base and a solid reputation as a live act.  Now they return to kick off 2021 with a roar on The Revenge Of Rock featuring a slightly adjusted lineup but a familiar formula, attitude, and approach that will be a welcome distraction from this crazy world for long-time fans, and a great starting point for newcomers to the sleazy parade. 

"Freakshow" kicks off the nine track The Revenge Of Rock (Nine?  What an odd number...), and will likely kick off the band's live shows when those return.  Pure adrenaline-fueled rock is the name of the game here, and this is a great track to introduce new vocalist, D.K. Revelle, who some may recognize from his stint in Jetboy.  Pampillion lays into a killer solo on this opening track that may be the best on the entire record, and with the very first song, Kickin' Valentina is off and running!

"Somebody New" has a Sunset Strip catchiness that honestly took me by surprise when I first heard it.  This is borderline radio rock material here, with a melodic factor not regularly found in KV tracks.  A sing along chorus with some really strong backing vocals reinforce the fact that this is not your typical Kickin' Valentina song, but dang it if it doesn't work!  Revelle's lower-ranged vocals remain gritty and dirty enough to keep you from mistaking this for something straight out of the Euro-Glam-N-Sleaze scene, as does the dirty blues guitar solo, but this is a seriously catchy track that will have more than a few people turning their heads, I am sure.

"Rat Race" ups the dirt and grit factor by ten, pouring the sleaze on in heavy doses along with edginess and anger in Revelle's vocal delivery.  Aggressive rhythm riffing and straight-forward, driving drums power this rocker on in a manner that is completely unlike "Something New".

For the most part, from here on out the record drips with attitude and oozes with raunchy.  I mean, this is Kickin' Valentina we're talking about!  "Strange" is definitely one of the coolest, catchiest sleaze tracks to grace my player in some time, and Revelle's approach nails this track!  Imagine the snarl of a slightly-less angry Lemmy and you have a good idea of where Revelle's best work is done, and he lives in this realm throughout this hook-laden rocker.  There is a solid groove that powers through "Lookin' For Me", which sounds all the world to me like AC/DC and Dangerous Toys had a love child at some point, with this three-chord rocker being doused in grimy, sweaty southern sleaze, complete with sing-along chorus and a scorching guitar solo designed to rip a smoldering hole through the wall of thump that is built up by the foot-stompin' rhythm.  "War" follows up nicely with another gritty, angry romp that features a simple call-and-response chorus that is going to be huge when we get to start going to live shows again!    

"Heart Tattoo" is the lone slower moment on the record, and it is a good one.  More of a shuffle than a ballad, this is a solid piece of songwriting that shows a slightly different side of the band.  I'm not going to lie, the first thing I thought of when I heard this track was the great stuff that Hinder had to offer back in their best days of All American Nightmare and Take It To The Limit.  Gritty, southern guitars, solid bass work, and simple, straight forward drums accentuate Revelle's delivery on this number that will likely have a few lighters in the air at a live show, even though we never wander into power ballad territory here.  Not my favorite track, but it is a good one that I'm sure will get some repeats from fans. 

"End Of The Road" returns to a bit more good-time, party rock style, and again the band makes it work in an environment that should otherwise spit out a track like this.  Once again, a simple-yet-catchy chorus with really solid backing vocals set this song apart from the spit-and-snarl tracks that surround it, and the...dare I say "poppy"...rhythm and tempo make this a great song to blast with the windows rolled down as you hit the road.  The guitar solo here is an all-too-short Southern romp, and Revelle's vocals are as clean as anywhere else on the record, but there is no denying that this track works well and is definitely a contender for the best stuff here, depending upon your own personal musical tendencies.

The album closes with the title track, a high-octane blast of snarling sleaze that packs quite a punch as the The Revenge Of Rock comes to a close.  Gang shouted "hey hey heys" punch their way through the verses, with Crue, Zeppelin, AC/DC, KISS, The Who, Van Halen, and numerous other rockers from the past name-dropped along the way.  I would have to imagine that if "Freakshow" opens up shows in the near future, "The Revenge Of Rock" would be the perfect closer to leave fans sweaty, screaming, and ready for an encore!

Nine tracks feels a bit short, and with only about 40 minutes of music on the entire album, it all goes by too quickly.  But there is something to be said...a LOT to be said, honestly...about quality over quantity, and Kickin' Valentina has that ration down perfectly on The Revenge Of Rock.  Short, sweet, and ready to repeat, this is an album that deserves your attention and will likely not let go of you once it sinks its teeth in!  Do yourself a favor and pick it up ASAP.

Rating:  A crankable sleazefest from start to finish, with a couple of hidden surprises!  Crank this to 8!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

ROXX "Lynze"


(c) 2019 Independent Release

  1. Too Fast To Stop
  2. No Return
  3. Dark Side Of Love
  4. The Vigilante
  5. Break Off Your Walls
  6. Insanity
  7. In The Cold Of The City
  8. The Eye Of The Lynx
  9. Now Or Never
  10. Caballo Salvaje
Rodrigo "Roxx" Bugallo--All Guitars, Bass, Keys, Programming
Goran Edman--Vocals on 3, 5, and 8

Ah, the shred album!  I have always been something of a sucker for a good instrumental album, especially if the guitar player is just insanely talented.  Those Cacaphony discs, Friedman's early solo stuff, Michael Harris Defense Mechanizms, early Satch and Malmsteen and Vai (although he gets a bit weird for me in places)....I love that stuff, especially if I am in just the right mood. They tend to make good workout music for me, also, as I don't find myself distracted by the lyrics.  Actually, that is how I came across Lynze again!  I had digitally purchased Lynze a year or so ago when I first heard some samples, but after I got it, the world went wonky and I never got around to reviewing it.  In fact, I honestly forgot about it until recently, with the continued expansion of my home gym (thank you, Covid!), I have been working out at home exclusively and I started going through some playlists and folders I had made for my iPod and I stumbled across this album once again.  And, man, I am glad I did!

Rodrigo Bugallo is an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist who puts his full skill on display on this insanely catchy record!  Yes, from the moment "Too Fast To Stop" kicks things off, there is a lot of speed, a lot of fret tapping, a lot of hammer-ons and pull-offs and whammy-bending, but it is not all six-string masturbation going on here by a long shot!  Bugallo showcases a real feel for heavy guitar writing, particularly evident on tracks like "The Vigilante", which features some deep, melodic riffing to go along with the lightning-speed solo work, or the virtuosity of "Insanity", with its mind-numbing speed balanced with slower, dramatic passages and melodic sweeps.  For all of the intensity of the guitar work, the bass work from Bugallo is also worth mentioning here, as it really adds to the individual songs to have a solid foundation to build upon, especially when the drums are programmed...although they are done very well on Lynze.  

If its the instrumental work that you are here to feast upon, its very hard to pick a favorite, as all are so well done, but for my money it likely comes down to two amazing tracks.  "In The Cold Of The City" is a mid-paced string-bender with progressive elements thrown into the neo-classical mix.  Bugallo blazes through multiple solo sections, but the overall impression of the song is a more soulful, emotionally-charged track, enhanced by interesting almost-tribal drum patterns and deep, in the pocket bass work.  Bugallo truly pulls out all the stops on this amazing track.  If its aggression and sheer speed you crave, then "Now Or Never" is probably going to be your song of choice, as Bugallo comes out flying from the start and never relents.  Fret run after fret run blister through the speakers on this amazing piece of music, and the rhythm guitars and bass frantically charge to keep pace along with the jackhammer drum patterns.  There is a brief keyboard section to allow Bugallo a moment...a BRIEF catch his breath before diving back into another long solo section, and I am left in awe of the note density ever time I hear this track...or pretty much anything on this album, to be honest.  And, if it is variety you are after, you can't sleep on the Spanish guitar stylings of the album's closer, "Caballo Salvaje" ("Wild Horse" if my Spanish is correct).  Yes, it is completely different from everything else here, yet it somehow is a fitting closer and really serves to showcase the overall talent of Bugallo, regardless of style.

For many, while the guitar work is jaw-dropping, the real treat here is going to be the vocal performances from former Yngwie frontman, Goran Edman, on three of these tracks.  In each instance, I am drawn back to Malmsteen's Eclipse and Fire & Ice albums, which I consider to be two of the Swede's true masterpiece records.  Hearing Edman glide across these tracks that are also launching pads for some insanely catchy solos and gorgeous riffing gives me chills, to be quite honest.  In my opinion, Bugallo sounds every bit as good as Malmsteen on these types of tracks, and Lynze is better than anything Yngwie has released in more than a decade or two.  If I had to pick a favorite of the three, it would probably be "The Eye Of The Lynx", with its aggressive opening riff, machine gun drum patterns, and subtle supporting keyboards that all form up to create the sonic bedrock of this earth-rattling rocker.  The solo is, of course, absolutely off the chain, and the rapid-fire pace of the verse and chorus sections is set off nicely by a bridge section that brings things down to a more mid-tempo smolder for a few bars before flaring back to life.  Excellent stuff, but all three of Edman's tracks are top notch and you can't go wrong with any of them.  Ask me again tomorrow and I might tell you "Dark Side Of Love" is the best, with its thumping bass line, 80s-inspired electric drums, AOR-ish keys, and exquisitely layered backing vocals (also Edman, if I understand correctly).  Heck, I could make a case for "Break Off Your Walls" to be the best of Edman's work here, with its galloping rhythm guitars and searing solo section.  They are all three excellent tracks and I have to wonder if these two men won't get together again in the near future to build upon the greatness they have started with Lynze.

I simply love this album, programmed drums and all, and I seem to find something new to like about it with every listen.  As great as the instrumental work is, the composition of these songs is top-notch, as well.  This isn't riffing and running just for the sake of playing as fast as possible; there is thought and intent behind the melted strings and smoldering fretboards left in Bugallo's wake.  Add in the fact that the man handled pretty much everything on this record, and it is breathtaking to me the level of musical talent one beholds when they spin Lynze.  Seek it out, people!  I believe it is still available on Amazon, and even as a digital download album, it is well worth it!

Rating:  Crankable to the extreme!  Crank this to 8...which is about as high as I will likely ever rate an instrumental album...and then shred the dial!  This is some excellent neoclassical speed/power metal!