Ascend, by Vodun
Suggested by Luke Kay
I came into this project looking for something different.
That was back before the reviews took over. They were largely accidental. I wrote one, then another, then suddenly it became a commitment to one thousand and a full year of all my free time. I’m relishing it, mostly, but it does mean I’ll be late to The Mandalorean party as I’ve so little time to spare.
The reviews also mean that, when I do encounter something different, the words are much harder to find. To be brutally honest, it’s much easier to throw something together about an album I know, or Queen or ABBA or Nirvana or somesuch, than it is to produce five hundred relevant words about a one-album gothic folk trio from Belarus that have never heard of social media or Wikipedia. It’s a strange juxtaposed attitude, in that I crave the new music but prefer reviewing the old favourites.
With Vodun, I’ve definitely found something fresh and new. It’s exciting stuff, and bears further listening.
Described as a heavy Afro doom band, Vodon are a London trio that steep their metallic thrash-tinged sound in African mysticism and magic. Named from a branch of West African voodoo that celebrates feminism and pure spirituality, the band perform in tribal paints and robes designed by the lead singer Chantal Brown. There’s a sense of theatre to the band, in both their approach and their music, but it’s never anything less that authentic.
My standout track is the opener Spirits Past, not because it’s the strongest song on the album – it is – but because it perfectly showcases what you’re getting. First there’s the frenetic yet precise drumming, which manages to drive the explosive action to the point of frenzy while also trilling the air with a piccolo cowbell. Then there’s the layered and crunchy guitars, which frames the heavy aspect so well you’ll be surprised to learn the trio don’t employ a bassist. And finally there’s the soaring and strident vocals, with Brown channelling both Skunk Anansie’s Skin and Aretha Franklyn at signpost spots throughout the album.
The band does heaviness well, but there are shifting plates of more than mere metal beneath their feet. The music feels raw and powered, giving itself to abandon and fervent self-expression, and this is best highlighted in the tracks that are tinged with more traditional African sounds, such as Rituals and For Your Kin. As for the lyrics? They’re as you’d expect for a band drawing from such a spiritual wellspring: they are passionate and serious and at times overbearingly earnest. The spoken word trail to New Doom feels like a tone-deaf misstep, but I guess if you’re going deep down this well then you play it to the hilt.
Ascend gets a fine 7/10, with its lucid prog-style metal leanings and traditional tribal underpinnings. And I’m sure it’ll be the only album tagged with the descriptor Afro Doom when this project is over.