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!

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