The Blues-soaked strain of hard rock/AOR/hair metal still lives on after grunge and alternative rock eclipsed it commercially 30 years ago. Look no further than Germany’s Voodoo Circle on their latest album Locked & Loaded for proof of this- the combination of Alex Beyrodt’s true-to-tradition musical vision on the guitar, David Readman’s Coverdalian vocals and the driving rhythm section of Mat Sinner and Markus Kullmann puts them next to their primary influences (Deep Purple, Whitesnake, etc.) as the most prominent and rock-solid preservers of this timeless sound. The Burn-esque “Flesh & Bone” makes this immediately clear, while “Wasting Time” puts a more dramatic and contemporary flare on Slide It In-era ‘Snake, strings, synths, bells and all.

Magic Woman Chile” closely follows the dynamic of “Wasting Time” with a distinct Bonzo groove holding it all together; in contrast the title track is a mean, massive arena rocker that departs slightly from the band’s regular pastiche. “Devil With An Angel Smile” is a run-of-the-mill Zep-esque number while “Straight For The Heart” shoots straight back to the late ‘80s with its Slip Of The Tongue-style metal god riffery. A ballad is basically obligatory at this point, and we get it with “Eyes Full Of Tears”- thankfully there are no traces of the sappy cliches that many ‘80s slow numbers unfortunately fell victim to, and a decent amount of hard rock credibility is maintained. The big-hair pomp comes back first with “Devil’s Cross”, then with “Trouble In The Moonlight”, a grooving shred showcase that smacks equally of Slip and the likes of Saints An’ Sinners and Trouble. Voodoo thenopt for the slow and soulful approach on “This Song Is For You”, closing out at last with “Children Of The Revolution”, a final melodic rocker thrown in for good measure.

Voodoo Circle do a great job on Locked & Loaded in their objective to preserve and freshen a distinct variant of vintage rock, so there’s no need to make any comment about progression or current-ness as far as this record goes. It might boost their integrity to bust a little bit out of the niche they’ve settled into, to where they sound less like an imitation or a tribute act and really come off as if they’re sticking to the script with their own spin on it. Food for thought, food for creation- in the meanwhile, Locked is a knock-out-of-the-park for old school enthusiasts the globe over, for those who just can’t- and won’t- turn it down, no matter their age. If this is a preview of what’s in store for ’21, it’s very encouraging.

RATING: 4/5