Voodoo Glow Skulls are one of the most enduring bands of the third wave ska movement, they have spent time on two of the largest independent labels around and even have found themselves as part of punk rock mythology. Break The Spell is their ninth new LP and their first for the small indie Smelvis Records. Honestly, there isn’t much new here if you are already familiar with the band; Break The Spell is a consistent blend of punk, ska, Latin influence and hardcore.
The biggest thing holding back Break The Spell is that the album mix tends to push vocalist Frank Casillas to the forefront. Frank's vocals are competent enough when he is working with a hardcore shout like “Police Knocking On My Door” or the verses on “Creep Tonight” but when melody gets involved things are a little flat. The fast paced “Haunt You” is a great example. It is a poppy number somewhat resembling some of Rancid's mid-'90s output but Casillas' performance is somehow even more ho-hum than Tim Armstrong’s. The "na-na na-na-na-na na-na-na-na-na-na" would likely be annoying under anyone’s pipes but here it sounds like an annoying child’s taunt; I think there is a difference between taunting and haunting but that's just me. On another record these shortcomings might not be as big of an issue but since the production highlights them, they become extremely obvious.
There is something to be said for covering a wide range of lyrical perspectives and themes throughout a record to match musical diversity but a lot of it seems forced on Break the Spell. “Police Knocking On My Door” is an appropriately frantic third wave ska song narrating a fugitive’s journey. The problem is that the lyrics retain the same first person perspective with such a literal style that it becomes monotonous and little in the way of sudden mood changes, humor or literary nuance that a good story can use to avoid that. A moment that gets your heart racing like a police chase seems like it would be a tad more confusing and exciting. Perhaps a few more musical twists and turns would aid it but “Police Knocking At My Door” is pretty much locked in the same mode throughout. "Bro Truck” deals with, well, bros. I find it hilarious that fashion elements like generic tattoos and flat-brim hats which get disparaged here are things that seem to typify style quite common at a 21st century ska show. Maybe VGS are trying to intentionally antagonize a portion of their potential fanbase? I think it just comes off as obnoxious. Even when the band takes a more serious approach on “Dead Soldiers,” it is comes of as less than serious because while there is still war going on, there isn’t any personal perspective or new observations about the effects of war brought up. There doesn’t need to be anything contrived or pretentious to make the song feel less stale but as it stands, “Dead Soldiers” sounds like a song that might be relevant six or seven years ago.
Break the Spell is far from Voodoo Glow Skulls' best work but there are some decent moments instrumentally that somewhat make up for the bad stuff. With a different recording Break The Spell would probably fair a lot better. Perhaps the move to a new label provided a different recording budget than an Epitaph or Victory. Either way, the band seems a little out of it and needs more time to flesh out their ideas.