Ascend by VodunRelease date: September 7, 2018
Label: New Heavy Sounds
It’s hard to think of a more unique band to have emerged in the last few years than Vodun. Bursting onto the scene in 2016 with debut record Possession, this London-based trio’s mix of tribal beats and riffs to make Tony Iommi jealous – coupled with the ferocious voice of vocalist Chantal Brown – created a heady mix of controlled chaos, with African influences dominating over more traditional metal sounds. Ascend is largely more of the same – a little more refined, perhaps, but the core dynamic of Zel Kaute’s frenzied drumming, Linz Hamilton’s crunchy guitars and Brown’s increasingly outrageous vocal abilities remains intact, as does the bands sense of heritage.
It’s that sense of heritage that drives Ascend. The band takes a heavy inspiration from African culture, both musically and thematically, in particular focusing on the mysticism and traditions of the continent. Throughout there are references to African deities and shamanistic practices, while musically the band frequently pay tribute to the continent’s tribal legacy. That’s not to say the band are completely focused on the past however; with songs such as ‘Started From’ showing off a feminist bent and the racially charged ‘Elusive Freedom’ making great use of samples. This is a band celebrating African culture, and using it to make a point about modern Western life.
Musically, the band sticks close to their roots as well. With the opening salvo of ‘Spirits Past’, ‘Started From’ and ‘Providence of Ancestors’ setting a frenetic pace, the band set their stall early and stick to it – the band have matured slightly since Possession but there will be no dramatic reinvention. They do bring in new elements – ‘Ogoun’s Flight’ has a jazzy horn section and ‘New Doom’ features a duet with Turbowolf’s Chris Georgiadus – but for the most part the trio stick to the same formula that has served them so well. At times it feels like the band are playing it too safe with that formula, with Hamilton’s controlled riffing seeming to hold in check the wilder excesses of Kaute and Brown. This can be frustrating, but it does serve at creating a sense of tension that runs throughout the album. Even the slower songs, such as the bluesy ‘Time Honoured’ or the menacing ‘For Your Kin’ crackle with the same sense of barely contained energy.
It’s this energy that defines Vodun – a sense of a storm waiting to be unleashed, the sense that at any moment things could get crazy. Ascend does exactly what you’d want from a second album – polishing the band’s savannah-stoner stylings into a hard rocking machine. The elements are all in place here, and while it would be nice to see them experimented with a bit more, Ascend is one of Britain’s most unique bands showing off exactly what they do best.