The Singaporean band Rudra has made quite a name for themselves as the pioneers of Vedic metal, a mix of death metal and traditional Indian Carnatic music with Hindu Philosophical themes. This style of music works in a profound way, using the music as a vehicle to express the Vedantic view. This album, Brahmavidya: Transcendental I, is the second in the Brahmavidya triptych, a trilogy of albums that each focus on texts such as the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, and the Vedanta Sutras, all foundational texts for Advaita Vedanta. This album exemplifies Vedic Death metal, with Sanskrit chanting, and Indian instruments found throughout. Each song is painstakingly produced, a labor of love and devotion to both the music and the philosophy.
The album starts off with “Bhagavatpada Namaskara.” This song along with the 5th and 13th songs are the most conventionally Carnatic-styled on the album, reflecting the band’s South Indian heritage. The title translates to “Homage to the feet of the Gods.” In many Indian endeavors, and certainly all spiritual ones, one pays obeisance to the gods to ensure an auspicious start and a smooth performance. Rudra’s homage sets the stage for the album before blasting off with “Ravens of Paradise.” It is here where the metal in “Vedic Metal” comes in. Dissatisfaction with maya is the theme of this song, providing the motivation for the philosophizing throughout the rest of the album. As a lyric in the song states: the karma of worldly existence “ushers realization that these swans are indeed ravens.” For even the most beautiful creations of maya are impermanent and illusory, ultimately a source of suffering. This theme bleeds into the next song Amrtasyaputra, which laments the dualism of mortality brought upon by dualism which contrasts with the Immortal Self, which is beyond these dualities of birth and death, pleasure and pain. This song finishes up with prayers to the gods Dattatreya, Avadhuta, Vishnu, and Shiva delivered with harsh vocals. I find these harsh renditions of Sanskrit chanting most interesting, and they play a significant part of the later songs in the album.
The 4th song, “Hymns from the Blazing Chariot,” is in many ways the jewel of the album, accompanied by a spectacular music video. This modern rendering of the Bhagavadgita; starts off with Sanskrit chanting from the original text before blasting off with heavy riffing and blast beats. Arjuna’s self-doubt and remorse on the battlefield and Krishna’s lectures are presented in an amazingly concise and modern form, especially the last half of the video where Krishna reveals his universal form. The most famous quote from this text in the West is probably “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” quoted by the nuclear physicist Oppenheimer when he witnessed the destructive power of the first atomic explosion. This line is quoted from the eleventh chapter, the very chapter in which Krishna reveals his theophany. I say that it is no exaggeration to say that the power of an atomic bomb can approximate the majesty and power of Krishna’s theophany, as both are awe-inspiring and frightening looks into the inner working of the universe itself. Stylistically speaking this song has much of what we have come to expect from previous songs such as Sanskrit chanting with both traditional and harsh singing styles and heavy guitar riffing
The following song, “Meditations at Dawn,” is a classical-style Carnatic song that would fit with any Bharatanatyam dance performance. Much like the first song it features Sanskrit chanting amidst a backdrop of sitar and mridangam work, which at around 2:45 leads into a phenomenal mridangam solo before returning to the rest of the sitar and chanting. The next two songs continue with more riffing, chanting, and philosophizing about ultimate reality. In “Natural Born Ignorance” Rudra ties the violence and horror of organized religion to the beginningless ignorance which causes man to attach labels to the absolute, and then unleash violence to defend those labels. The song features superimposed clean (traditional Sanskrit) and harsh chanting that showcase the amazing compatibility between these two musical styles emblematic of Rudra’s music.
This next song “Immortality Roars,” is an interesting song, with blast beats, tambora drone and harsh Sanskrit lyrics. It functions as a more “metal” traditional South Indian stotram (devotional/religious song). Existential confusion is the theme of the next song, “Reversing the Currents,” whereas the following song “Venerable Opposites” discusses the male/female dualism in Indian philosophy. Ethnic drumming starts off the song before the alternating homages to both male and female aspects of reality. The next song focuses on the male side, praising Shiva as the Lord of the Universe with harsh Sanskrit chanting amidst riffing and drumming.
The next song “Not the Seen but the Seer,” switches gears ideologically speaking, praising the goddess as “the Unseen Seer,” the ground of reality. The lyrics recount the tale of the goddess giving birth to a war god to defeat an evil demon, a sign of her grace. The song is also interesting stylistically for the unique drums that start at 2:05 and grace the rest of the song. The following song, “Adiguru Namastubhyam,” is another classical piece, and the fact that this song doesn’t feel out of place further drives home the essential congruity between the two styles of music that Rudra’s drives home. The concluding song, “Majestic Ashtavakra,” drives home that you are intrinsically free, your own nature is identical with the nature of the universe, and in the end meditation and yogic practice are ultimately futile once you have this realization.
This album is easily my favorite out of all of Rudra’s albums. While I admire many of the songs on their other albums, this one has the best overall presentation and balance of death metal and Carnatic styles. Rudra has repeatedly mentioned in interviews that the somewhat repetitive styles of Carnatic music and Sanskrit chanting merge well with death metal music, and here on this album this is shown quite masterfully, reaching a pinnacle on songs such as “Hymns from the Blazing Chariot,” “Immortality Roars,” and “Not the Seen but the Seer.” While there are certainly many bands nowadays that incorporate Asian themes and instruments to add spice and inspiration for their work, Rudra succeeds in producing an authentic and sincere expression of musical genius without the Vedanta and South Indian influence feeling tacked on. This album is truly an expression of this elegant philosophical worldview, an elegantly intermingled work of Art that spans both worlds. While death metal may not be within the horizon of mainstream Hindu and Vedantic practice, this album serves as a beautiful expression of this philosophy, one I would argue is as valid and authentic as any other Hindu and Vedantic work.
Label: Trinity Music Hong Kong
Avantgenre: Vedic Death Metal
Official site: http://www.rudraonline.org/
Review online since: 11.02.2013 / 09:42:29
01 – Bhagavatpada Namaskara
02 – Ravens Of Paradise
03 – Amrtasyaputra
04 – Hymns From The Blazing Chariot
05 – Meditations At Dawn
06 – Advaitamrta
07 – Natural Born Ignorance
08 – Immortality Roars
09 – Reversing The Currents
10 – Venerable Opposites
11 – Avidya Nivrtti
12 – Not The Seen But The Seer
13 – Adiguru Namastubhyam
14 – Majestic Ashtavakra