On a purely conceptual level, compared virtually any other UK band, Vodun are basically untouchable. There’s such a rich well to be drawn from by combining the modern brand of groove-heavy garage-rock and post-punk with elements of traditional African spiritualism and voodoo, and their debut Possession in 2016 won over plenty of people by doing just that. Couple with the fact that Vodun were getting the same targeted but not insignificant push as bands like Turbowolf at the time, and there was a very real possibility that they could’ve become a very real underground force.
But that would be ignoring the factor of the music itself, and while Vodun have never been particularly bad – they’ve always had a knack for bringing out a feral roar in their instrumentation that’s much closer to metal than a lot of their contemporaries – there’s always been the niggling feeling of potential that isn’t being fully realised; the spiritualistic texture is noticeable, sure, but it tends to feel like an afterthought rather than a crucial piece of foundation. And on Ascend, not a lot has really changed; Vodun continue to make a great deal of noise, but also marginalise the elements that would help them stand out the most.
For what is here though, it’s definitely not bad and shows a band well and truly working to their own beat without the need for compromise. That particularly shines brightly in the guitars, with the sort of wall-shaking tone on the likes of New Doom and the title track to effectively capture the dark and mysterious essence that Vodun are aiming for. It’s a similar case for vocalist Oya; even if her higher, more soulful tones aren’t always the best fit for the crushing power around them, there’s no doubting how well they work on a level of primal power like on Providence Of Ancestors and Time Honoured. In that regard, it’s easier to see the throughline between Vodun’s concept and execution, and given the imagery in the lyrics and various spoken word pieces peppered across the album, the acknowledgement of that end goal seems to be there.
But where Vodun fall the most is in their reticence to fully embrace it. Of course the brief snippets of tribal percussion on a track like Ogun’s Fight go some way to remedying that, but Ascend ultimately feels caught between the two worlds it wants to inhabit with no easy way to conflate the two. It’s decent on its own, but more could be done to accentuate the concepts of mysticism and spiritualism within the songs; for once, a more superficial approach to this would’ve been better, but it rarely happens. It’s almost like the comparison between the last two Zeal And Ardor albums, and how the work improved by leaps and bounds when two seemingly disparate elements played off each other. In Vodun’s case, they’re testing the waters when they need to jump right in.
Now granted, Ascend is definitely a better album that Zeal And Ardor’s debut, but it’s telling that what’s holding it back from greatness is the exact thing that that album failed to do as well. There are interesting ideas and concepts packed in here, but they’re not given the chance to develop into a more cohesive whole instead putting a bit of one with the other. And it must be stressed that what’s here already is definitely good, and Vodun are bringing a sense of heaviness to a garage-rock and post-punk scene that definitely needs it at the minute. It’s just that what could be there is so obvious, and it’s too tantalising of a prospect to simply look past.
For fans of: Turbowolf, Black Moth, Haggard Cat
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Ascend’ by Vodun is out now on New Heavy Sounds.