By Prarthana Venunathan
Hails and welcome to the second edition of this column, where I dig deep into the underlying obscurities, mysticism and esoteric nature of extreme, black and death metal. The subtle yet powerful connection between metal and subjects of study such as mythology, history, religion, philosophy, etc has always left me quite astounded. The ability to breathe life into such topics through the power of heavy music is something that has fueled this fascination of mine. Last week, I expressed my rather general views (given the introductory nature of the post) on how extreme metal not only embraces the concepts of Satanism and the occult but also throws light on religion and other theological ideas. There is a fine line, almost invisible when it comes to differentiating between music that is blasphemous, that centers around matters considered taboo and of course the music which harbours religious ideologies. Continuing in this vein and given my heritage, this time I look into the inculcation of religion into metal, namely Hinduism. Said to be the oldest known religion in the world, the Hindu culture is more so a way of life than a religion, as it is often labelled. The stories of our numerous Gods, Goddesses, demons and Devas were recited to us as kids, in the hope of our elders teaching us, albeit somewhat using the vehicle of superstition, life lessons that we require. As I have come to understand and constantly research, this connection between metal and religion has led to me discovering quite a few bands that have made their mark in the metal world, carving a niche of their own, which is otherwise known as Vedic metal.
1. Dying Out Flame (Nepal)
As many of you may or may not be aware, fire is one of the most sacred elements (literally) in Hinduism. It is used in most ceremonies, rituals and even to signal sunrise and sunset by lighting an east-facing lamp. It refers to diminishing light and heat of the fire lit. It represents life and death, a way to cleanse and renew. It signifies the release of a person’s soul from their body after death and remains, as it did thousands of years ago, an integral part of the religion.
That being said, from the breath-taking, scenic lands of Nepal, which boast cultural magnificence and a tryst with ancient beauty, comes Dying Out Flame, a band that combines the majesty and wisdom of Vedic literature and philosophy as well as elements of Indian classical music with the ferocity of extreme metal. Exhibiting a very unique approach to heavy music, this band inoculcate ritualistic chants from the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, all of which are sacred and holy scriptures of the Hindus. In addition to a very heavy, musical history lesson, they seek to spread the power which lies behind ancient Hindu philosophy and mythology. While there are many bands which dip in to Hinduism and related aspects, Dying Out Flame have established themselves as a group that take inspiration from spirituality, religion and the Hindu way of life, portraying their gained knowledge through their music.
Their debut album Shiva Rudrastakam had me captivated from the very beginning. Literally translated, Chants on Shiva, the Nepalese metallers dedicate their very first record to The Destroyer, Lord Shiva or Rudra as he is also known and also refer to themselves as ‘instruments of Lord Shiva’. Throughout this album, you find yourself drawn in by the band’s dedication exhibited through raspy, deep gutturals and relentless blast beats that give you instant visuals of Lord Shiva’s Thandava (dance when in anger). A total of 35 minutes, Dying Out Flame’s release serves as a metal version of liturgical music. It will hold you in a trance with its elegant brutality, courtesy of Indian instruments like the Veena being strung along in perfect time and sync with the harsh vocals and fierce bass lines. But I’ll leave you to discover your own path if and when you listen to the album.
2. Rudra (Singapore)
In constant awe of my own religion and it’s intricacies, this next band has always made me feel proud of my religious heritage. Named after Lord Shiva, Rudra‘s music and lyrical themes also take inspiration from Vedic literature and ancient Hindu scriptures focusing on aspects of the Mahabharatha and Bhagvad Gita, the holy texts of the Hindus. In fact, Rudra has been around much longer than Dying Out Flame and are considered to be the pioneers of the Vedic death metal style. Characterised by tremendous double bass drumming, blast beats, groove-laden riffage and fierce vocals to say the least, the band also pay ode to Indian music, by incorporating traditional Indian instruments such as the tabla (percussion), sitar and flute to name a few. What makes this band even more authentic, and in a league of their own is their use of ‘stotras’ (holy mantras or chants) in the ancient language of Sanskrit, sacred chants that they fall in perfect timing with. It’s enchanting to say the least, how the band have masterfully combined the sublime nature of classical Indian music and it’s spirituality with extreme and black metal.
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3. Kartikeya ( Russia)
Holding the name of the Hindu God of War (also Lord Ganesha’s brother), this Russian black/death metal outfit embrace Hinduism and the culture in a way that seems almost natural. Quite simply, the vocalist of this band Roman ‘Arasafes’ Iskorostenskiy, spent a large part of his childhood in India and thus arose the brilliance of Kartikeya, a band that combines atmospheric elements with black and death metal along with significantly folk-sounding sections. While there are many other influences in their music, it is primarily this style which is attributed to the band, further consolidated by their lyrical themes and track titles. Their 2011 release Mahayuga, for instance, is a perfect depiction of how the band imbibe the various concepts, ideologies and morals of Hinduism into their music. Yuga refers to a time period or more specifically the ‘ages’ in which we live. It is a recurring cycle and ties in with the belief in ‘karma’ as well. With tracks such as ‘Moksha‘, ‘Fields of Kurukshetra‘ and ‘Exile‘ point in the direction of various events taken from the Mahabharatha, the last four tracks are, in my opinion, the highlight and proof of Kartikeya’s outstanding ability to translate these hinduistic concepts into metal. If you listen to each track, that is ‘Satya Yuga‘, ‘Dvapara Yuga‘, ‘Tretya Yuga‘ and ‘Kali Yuga‘, you will hear the progressive transition from a calming, ambient atmosphere and instrumental harmonies to the thunderous, haunting and somewhat capricious nature of the last two tracks, symbolizing perfectly the perception of each Age. It is amazing to listen to this band deliver their majestic compositions while enlightening the listener with powerful components of Vedic literature and the Hindu culture.
4. Purvaja (India)
A one man black metal project that brings forth the dark mysticism of the Hindu tradition with his 2012 EP Dark Goddess Divine. Ma Kali is an incarnation, and considered the destroyer, of all evil forces, her darkness representing the world which emerged from darkness itself. The music portrays the force of Kali, her frightening yet kind heart and her will to protect. For a solo project, it is a strong release as it is a culmination of various musical styles ranging from black metal and hints of melodeath to vedic and death metal. Purvaja, which in Sanskrit means ‘Primordial’ perfectly captures philosophies of the Vedic tradition, with the focal point being the Goddess and what she represents through the edgy and riveting sound on this EP. Rahul Das, the mastermind behind it all is currently working on a full-length album titled Aghori which is definitely a release I’m looking forward to.
5. Cult of Fire (Czech Republic)
To further elaborate on the intensely strong connection between Hinduism and black metal, I bring you Cult of Fire, from the serene and obscure land of the Czech Republic. What is incredibly fascinating about this band is the emotive, hypnotic and powerful journey you find yourself on, guided by their eerie, melancholic soundscapes that complement the more dynamic and pulsating rhythms present in their music. Three years ago, Mrityu Ka Tapsi Anudhyan was unleashed into the world, which translated, means Ascetic Meditation of Death. A significant number of tracks on this album are a tribute to, once again, the Hindu Goddess Kali who is considered to be the Goddess of Time and Death. But the overall concept, that is so effortlessly and perfectly tied in with the music, is the importance of rituals, death, and the much darker side of Hinduism, one that by many is considered the Tantric. Also the fact that this band features the drummer of Lykathea Aflame is reason enough to listen.
Vedic metal is in a league of its own and I say this without any bias: it is a unique take on the genre itself, and defies all norms. In a way it contradicts itself, being a style of music that exposes religion in a very different way, while at the same time, can be considered completely unorthodox and sometimes even blasphemous, given its use of sacred, religious context. However, it is an awe-inspiring form of heavy music that displays stellar musical arrangements, meaningful themes and of course, an ardent passion for beastly music balanced with more traditional sounds.
Until next week, give these bands a listen and take from it what you will, for there is a lot they have to offer.