By Cameron Arndt
Voodoo Six take line up changes and a long hiatus in their stride as they return with a powerful, raucous 4th album…
Following the release of 2013’s acclaimed Songs To Invade Countries To – and that year’s triumphant jaunt supporting Iron Maiden in massive arenas all over Europe on the metal giant’s Final Frontier Tour – Voodoo Six looked poised to conquer the world themselves.
Unfortunately the enforced retirement of frontman Luke Purdie (for health reasons) put a spanner in the works. It was with the recruitment of Purdie some years earlier that the band had taken the first of a series of big steps up with the excellent Fluke? album. The singer’s gruff hard rock tones proved perhaps a more fitting match for the band’s muscular riffs than the more theatrical style of original singer Henry Rundell. Replacing Purdie was never going to be an easy task, but Voodoo Six sensibly took their time in doing so and, listening to Make Way For The King, it definitely seems like they’ve found the right man for the job.
Former Voodoo Johnson frontman Nik Taylor-Stoakes can match Purdie in the raw and gritty vocal stakes, but also has a different timbre to his voice, with more top end and even an intriguing frailty at times which lends emotional heft to the band’s still-punishing style.
With the incoming singer also recently joined by new guitarist Craig Price, and drummer Joe Lazarus having joined the band just in time to record Songs To Invade Countries, this is a very different line up to that which started out back in 2003. The axis of founding bassist Tony Newton and long-serving guitarist Matt Pearce remain, however, and their presence has helped maintain both the chemistry, and the quintessential sound of the band – Newton having been the band leader since the beginning, and Pearce handling all the guitar work on this new record (Price hadn’t yet joined).
So any fears fans may have had about the changes proving too much are quickly put to rest as the new record kicks off with Electric. The song’s opening riff is typically brutal, and the song has that classic Voodoo Six sound that mixes old school heavy rock riffs, thundering drum beats and thudding bass with a modern sensibility that sets the band apart from any number of identikit hard and metal rock bands. This band still sound like themselves, and no-one else quite sounds like them.
The title track keeps the momentum hurtling onwards with a buzzing, industrial intro – somewhat in the vein of Sabbath’s Iron Man – which quickly gives way to another spiralling, archetypal V6 riff. Pearce is on superb form in the early going (and throughout!), with solos which skyrocket out above the song, arching and soaring with style and flair, meanwhile it’s all held together by the pinpoint drumming of Lazarus and Newton’s thick, rattling basslines.
Let Me Walk, for example, begins with chiming guitars heralding a spiky riff, but here Newton’s bass really comes through with a rounded, meaty sound that’s just this side of funky. If you listen to the band’s previous records you’ll notice that the bass really is the glue that holds the band together, and it’s no different on this offering.
Meanwhile Taylor-Stoakes really sells the lyrics and helps raise the band above standard hard rock fare thanks to a stack of memorable melodies and catchy hooks that add boundless extra dimensions to the thumping backdrop – especially when he’s backed up by the strong harmonies of his bandmates.
The band also stretch themselves, at times moving a ways beyond the heavy classic rock template. This is never more evident than on the sensational mid-album showpiece Amen. Here Voodoo Six skirt Iron Maiden territory by crafting an epic, expansive track that never ever settles. A nervy, urgent opening guitar figure precedes the low-down, ominous verse then a stunning, visceral chorus which sees Taylor-Stoakes holler out the track title with furious abandon. A punchy middle eight then drops into a swirling soundscape which is as slow and evocative as the first part was fierce.
Then begins a glorious ramp-up, with Maiden-style keyboards swelling beneath the other instruments to give a tremendous, widescreen feeling. Ripping, straining guitar leads from Pearce twist and mesh around and within the rolling drums and massed backing vocals as Taylor-Stoakes leads the chant of ‘We never fade, cos some things will never die.’ It’s not quite like anything this band have produced before, yet still recognisably THEM.
The singer continues to showcase his range on Until The End where he adds something of Eddie Vedder’s gutsy vocal tremor to the fast-paced verse vocal as he sings about trying and failing to escape a negative relationship, ‘I’m crazy, you made me, so loyal, so lazy’ ‘You’re in my mind, till the end.’
Voodoo Six’s previous ballads have been, for me, something of a weak point in the past. They’ve never been bad, just not quite up there with the classics of the genre. For the solitary ‘more restrained’ number on Make Way For The King they’ve again gone a slightly different route than that previously travelled, so while The Choking begins with a shimmering guitar backdrop, and great, intense vulnerability to the vocal, the big, arching chorus, is heavier, even rougher than you might expect. It reminds me a little of Natural Born Killer by Avenged Sevenfold. Backing keyboards again add that big epic sound while there’s a melodic guitar solo with fiery moments, and big, crashing guitars in the extended repeat chorus and coda at the end.
The final few tracks throw in some more surprises, while maintaining the strong, heavy and catchy vibe that has persisted thus far. Walk A Mile has a driving beat and stinging riff which add slightly more swing and groove to the mix, while the closer, Swept Aside, is another epic. It’s less menacing-sounding than Amen, but there’s still a touch of desolation to the lyrics and the latter stages barely manage to contain more stratospheric guitar leads. Just when it seems to be coming to an end, the keyboards swell and the song rolls back in for an exultant extended outro.
Make Way For The King is a welcome return from a band who always seem to overcome adversity, and continually produce strong work. An upcoming UK tour will again see them take to stages around the country and is sure to be a highlight of the autumn rock schedules. With a new vocalist, guitarist and drummer now in place hopefully they are at the beginning of a more settled period which will allow them to attain the status their work deserves.
Make Way For The King is released via Cadiz Music on 8 September 2017.
Voodoo Six Upcoming Tour Dates: