Let’s get right to the point: The new album from Singapore’s Rudra is brilliant. From beginning to end, it’s one of the most engaging works of metal we’ve heard this year.
In the ancient Indian collection of Sanskrit hymns known as the Rigveda, Rudra is referred to as a god associated with wind, storm, and lightening. Rudra was also known as the archer and is associated with the hunt and with terrible power.
As noted, Rudra is also the name of a metal band from Singapore who released their first demo way back in 1994 and their debut album in 1998. Five more studio releases have followed, with the last two forming the first installments of a trilogy called Brahmavidya: 2005’s Primordial I and 2009’s Transcendental I. The trilogy is now complete with Rudra’s release on March 3 of Immortal I.
We will come to how these three albums tie together conceptually, but we’ll focus first on the music, as we hear it, on Immortal I. (more after the jump . . .)
The bells toll in the prelude to the album’s first song (“Now, Therefore …”), and an ancient horn calls out to signal the onset — just as the horn is heard again at the album’s end (“Advaita Samrajya”). What this band succeed in doing in between, in every song on the album, is to create music that is resonant and interesting, and also emotionally powerful. It’s dramatic without being pretentious, serious without being dull. It’s both mentally engrossing and physically commanding.
On the genre map of metal, the album stands at the dividing line between melodic black metal and death metal, though there are prog metal tendencies, too. I was reminded at different times of Behemoth, Rotting Christ, God Dethroned, and even Mastodon — but none of those bands are exact fits. The excellent mid-range vocals follow the caustic style of black metal, but the often intricate instrumental music is heavy on the low end, and the production brings the clarity and sharpness of modern death metal.
The generally fast-paced songs share certain characteristics: They’re built around dominant bass and low-register guitar lines that thunder and groan, and that together inscribe memorable dissonant melodies. The drumming is phenomenally good, working seamlessly with the bass and guitars to accent and enhance each song’s development. The drums drive the songs forward irresistibly, but the patterns and progressions are interesting; it’s not all relentless blasting, and the timing and use of cymbals is particularly effective as a counterpoint to all the thunder.
The lead guitar sometimes creates a swarming turmoil, sometimes follows catchy harmonic patterns, but typically uses a variety of tones both high and low, and in almost every song there are attention-grabbing solos, some of them entering the fray subtly and some jetting forward like a burst of white-hot phosphurus.
There’s an almost symphonic quality to the music despite the absence of keyboards. The melodies are dark but often soar skyward like the blaze of an anthem. Usually in subtle ways, but sometimes more overtly, they have an exotic timbre, what I think of as an Eastern influence — and on many of the songs, the vocals include baritone chanting (of what I assume are Vedic mantras).
How does this album connect to the first two in the trilogy, and what do they signify together? We put this question to the band, and here is the answer we received:
“Brahmavidya means ‘Self knowledge’. The knowledge of the Self according to the ancient Vedic tradition relies on three fundamental bodies of Sanskrit literature. The following would help understand the trilogy better:1. The first body of literature are texts that are revealed to ancient seers. These texts are called the ‘Upanishad’. ‘Brahmavidya: Primordial I’ was based on ten such Upanishads.2. The second body of literature are texts that are composed by seers. These texts are broadly called ‘smrti’. These texts help in explaining the first body of literature in a more elaborate manner. ‘Brahmavidya: Transcendental I’ was based on fourteen such Smrti texts.3. The final body of literature is a single text called the ‘Brahma Sutra’. This is a text that uses logic to prove that the Self is Immortal and non-dual. Normally commentaries on this text take a polemical stand and refute all dualistic doctrines. Similarly, ‘Brahmavidya: Immortal I’ takes the perspective of a modern day polemic. The album features the refutation of nine modern dualistic doctrines and two other songs that establish the sovereignty of the Immortal Self.”
I think it’s fair to say that most metal albums aren’t designed with this much thought in their conceptual construction. I don’t pretend to understand most of this, but maybe some of you will.
I’ll tell you what I do understand: This music has wormed its way into my head over many listenings. I get a fucking charge out of it every time I hear the songs. It’s the kind of music I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing. I don’t really have a favorite song, because I like all of them. But here’s one that will give you an idea. It’s not as raging/rampaging as some on the album, but it well and truly hooked me.
Brahmavidya: Immortal I can be ordered from Sonic Blast Media (here) or downloaded from Amazon or iTunes. To learn more about Rudra, their official site is at this location. And now here’s a ReverbNation widget with one more song from the new album (“Ravenous Theories of Deception”) plus previous songs:
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