As John Steinbeck put it once: “Perhaps the less we have, the more we are required to brag.”
That is particularly true when it comes to music, it seems. Every single day at MV Towers, we get emails from people who talk about this or that band having a “unique” sound. Then you listen to the damn record and – usually – it sounds like a half baked version of Rival Sons. Or worse – its some unlistenable crossover that no one could find enjoyable, but hipsters have to claim they like to seem “cool” (goodness me, how else do you explain the idea that Frank Zappa ever sold a single song….?)
On that point. Vodun.
Now, on their debut album a couple of years back they proved that in a morass of blandness they really did have something to say. Genuinely heavy sounds mixed with African flavours and lyrics with a message – and when you saw them live, singer Chantal Brown was incredible. Part frontwoman, part force of nature, she matched their unhinged nature just perfectly.
The key is a second album, though. Anyone – ok, maybe not anyone, but even Rival Sons managed it – can write one great album. It’s how you follow it up that counts. And “Ascend” is astonishing.
At first look its more of the same, “Spirits Past” begins with Linz Hamilton (The Marassa) kicking out some huge riffs and then what can only be described as a frenzy ensues. But then you realise just how heavy it is. “Started From” boasts a guitar sound that if it came from the desert in LA would be called “stoner” except it’s a million times more crushing than all those Kyuss wannabes. This though, is Vodun and they’re not playing by any rules other than their own, so there’s a spoken word piece before the end – and if the rest of the planet showed this much solidarity with women then there would be no need for the me too movement, and moreover the world would be a better place.
A band that knows its history – political and musical – and “The Providence Of Ancestors” seems like it wants to summon something over something like a thrash starting point as Zel Kaute(Ogoun) absolutely pummels her kit and finds something tribal in so doing, and “Ogoun’s Flight” adds some African chanting to beef up the sound yet further.
What they manage to achieve as a three-piece is incredible. “Time Honoured” absolutely lays waste to everything it comes into contact with, while the world music rhythms and flavours of “New Doom” – there’s even a horn section in this one – make it a real highlight.
Arguably possessing less soul flourishes than the debut, “Elusive Freedom” changes that, and mixes the pot perfectly, while the epic title track deals with the summoning of the gods – and don’t worry if that all sounds a bit deep – it is possible to just enjoy this as a brilliant piece of music. That is actually what sets Vodun apart from all the other bands that try to be left field (and largely fail) – the songs here are the key. Anything else is natural and never sounds forced.
“Rituals” to that end, has a Sabbath type eerie riff about it, and “For Your Kin” follows it up with something that is short, sharp and very heavy.
As it does, it ends a record that shows the limitless potential of this band to do whatever it wants to do. “Ascend” could do for African sounds what Sepultura’s “Roots” did for the Brazilian rainforest all those years ago, but taken as a package with the superb music, the daring to be different and the overriding message of solidarity with all the peoples of the world, “Ascend” becomes special. Meet the band who really is unique.