Rock, metal and magic have an enduring relationship. Led Zeppelin and Rainbow drew inspiration from faraway fantasy lands while Cradle of Filth often recount tales of witchcraft in their songs. Even newer bands are jumping on the bandwagon – California’s All Hail The Yeti recently told Metal Hammer that they dip into the occult for inspiration. Satan is almost par for the course in metal, but voodoo? Not so much.
Until now, that is. London trio Vôdûn are delving headfirst into the mysterious ways of voodoo, both in their lyrics and their image. Their debut album – which they launched recently with a sold-out gig at London’s Lexington (see below) – is full of powerful riffs, almost proggy in places, topped with singer Chantal Brown, aka Oya’s, high and strident voice. They’ve been described as ‘Aretha Franklin fronting Royal Blood after imbibing ayahuasca’ and it isn’t hard to see why. Their songs tell tales of spirits from the other side and how to summon them, and they sing them while wearing African-inspired robes which Chantal makes herself. Oh, and they don’t have a bass player; their remarkably full sound relies solely on guitarist Marassa and drummer Ogoun. If you’re wondering about the names, it’s because each member channels a loa, or spirit, of voodoo.
“Ogoun and I have been working together for years – we used to be in a band called Invasion – and we’d been writing about stuff like spirituality, and getting away from consumerism. We were looking for something we could embody and embrace as a band, and we happened upon vodun, which is like the original ideas and practices behind voodoo [vodun originated in West Africa and is still practised there today]. And we looked into it a little bit further and I was like, this is my people, this is my stuff. It’s been completely demonised for thousands of years but it isn’t a bad thing. So we started to write about the origins voodoo and vodun, and were like, ‘yeah let’s call ourselves that!’ We want to shine a light on this amazing thing.”
Responsible in part for the band’s fascination with voodoo is Chantal’s old housemate, who she says kept a veritable library on the subject. Through reading the books, Chantal found stories she later worked into songs like Legba’s Feast, which tells of evoking the spirit Papa Legba. “I wrote it about trying to evoke that spirit and please him. It’s about creating a feast for him, setting out the drinks, food and alcohol that he likes, because you have to appease him. Then hopefully you get to speak to the other world. Then there’s another one about François Mackandal, who decided to try and create a massive slave uprising, and within voodoo he’s kind of a spirit, he’s completely revered and praised highly for the uprising he brought about.”
Chantal’s intense research means that the record embodies voodoo rather than appropriates it. Recording the album, though, wasn’t such a spiritual experience; she laughs when we ask if it was. “No, in reality it was much less poetic than that,” she says. “We spent a rainy couple of days in a studio in Dalston. There’s a guy called Wayne Adams who records lots of DIY bands.” Chantal also roped in an old pal for production duties: Tom Dalgety, whose portfolio includes Royal Blood, Killing Joke, Therapy? and Turbowolf. “I actually sang on Turbowolf’s last album [2015’s Two Hands]!” she says. “Two years ago they were like, ‘Hey, we’re in the area, we’re recording, you should come and be on one of our songs.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s gonna happen!’ We were recording with Tom, and we had a good old laugh and a good old time. When the Turbowolf album came out it sounded amazing – clear vocals, and the lower end was completely rocking. So then we asked Tom to produce us. He gave us a really professional sound, and it was exactly what we wanted.”
So, could another collaboration with her Turbowolf mates be on the cards? “I’d love to do something with them again,” she says. “We’ve been begging them to get on a tour with us, but they’re much bigger than us. We’ve played with them before; it’s kind of like we’re on their coat tails. Hopefully, now we’ve got a bit of attention from managers and label people they’ll be like, ‘OK, you can tour [with them]’.”
The roping-in-your-mates approach doesn’t stop at Turbowolf, either. The indie label that Vôdûn has just signed to – Riff Rock Records – is run by a friend of the band, who approached them to be the first band he released on the label. On the live side of things, there’s an appearance at Brighton’s Great Escape festival lined up later this month. At the rate they’re going, it shouldn’t be long before their ambition of touring with Turbowolf comes true, and it won’t take black magic to make that happen.
Vôdûn’s new album Possession is out now through Riff Rock. For more information on the band, visit their website.