Friday 20 March 2020

Voodoo Six - Simulation Game (2020)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 Mar 2020
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No less a luminary than Steve Harris of Iron Maiden has been "keeping an eye on" Voodoo Six and it seems like he's become something of a godfather to the band over the years. They've already supported Maiden in Europe and they're about to support British Lion on tour in December. Then again, Tony Newton, bassist and co-founder of the band is Maiden's live sound guy.

Now, I reviewed the British Lion album earlier this year, with Harris on bass, but I think I like this more. It's clearly hard rock rather than heavy metal, even if the opening riff to The Traveller is a little reminiscent of an Anthrax mosh part. The band formed in 2003, so they're hardly new, and this is their sixth album so far. Alongside longterm members Newton, drummer Joe Lazarus and Matt Pearce on one of two guitars, they've added Tom Gentry of Gun on the second, and a new lead vocalist, Nik Taylor-Stoakes.

What impresses me here is that, even with so many connections, they aren't a clone of Iron Maiden at all. In fact, they aren't a clone of anyone that I'm able to conjure up. There are obvious influences but they're merged well and none of the songs really sound like anyone else. And here I should highlight that Simulation Game is emphatically an album of two halves that are further apart than we might expect if we only listen to one or the other.

I adored the first half. I caught hints of Maiden in some of the dual guitar breaks, but also hints of Led Zeppelin and even Jethro Tull, among a variety of others. The influences are generally from the seventies and eighties and primarily British, but these songs sound apart from anything else I've heard from the New Wave of Classic Rock thus far. I heard different people in the vocals of Taylor-Stoakes too, most overtly Sean Harris of Diamond Head but also a lot of David Coverdale and even Chris Cornell.

Overall, I think the biggest vibe I got here was Diamond Head, not because a single song sounds like them but because the general approach plays similar. Each song features a progression of different riffs that are often simple in themselves but add up to something complex when plugged together. The vocals play along with that, adding a more soulful layer over the top of the music. The biggest difference is in the density of the sound. Diamond Head like to stay stripped down and let the riffs speak for themselves. Voodoo Six prefer a denser sound that adds more texture, including what sounds like strings.

Only time will tell, of course, as to whether any of these songs gain iconic stature the way that so many of Diamond Head's have. The band sure give it a good shot though. The Traveller, the majestic Gone Forever (my favourite song here) and Inherit My Shadow are each really solid tracks on a first listen that get even better with a second and third. In between them, Liar and a Thief takes a bit more time to grow but I wonder if it's even better. Last to Know finishes off the first side well.

And my biggest problem with the album is that the second half doesn't build on that start but takes a wildly different approach. Instead of being rooted in classic rock and NWOBHM, with contemporary layers added, it's much more alternative in nature, albeit with far more strings. That Cornell influence becomes really overt on Lost and stays throughout the second half. Brake and Control clearly take their influence from the noughties and both feature the strings far too much for my tastes and in more intrusive ways: they add to The Traveller but detract from Control. The latter rocks more than Brake does, but all these songs feel grungier, American and more alternative.

There's also Never Beyond Repair, which is a ballad and the first song here to leave me entirely cold, but only One of Us really grabs me on the second half. And that leaves me in an odd place for a rating. The first half is an easy 9/10 for me, some of the best songs I've heard this month. The second, however, is more like a 6/10 with some of it lower, so I think I'm going to have to even out to a 7/10. That's going to rankle with me, though, so I'll plan to come back to this in a week or so and see if I want to bounce it up a notch.

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