Some bands carve their own path in this world and very rarely one creates a very own style and genre. Rudra from Singapore does, with their unique sounding Vedic metal music. Blending thrash, death and black with folk elements to create a unique sound from their small city-state in Southeast Asia.
Singapore has quite a scene, but Rudra seems to set itself apart musically and aesthetically. The city-state is also extremely densely populated, with a high life quality and a vast influx of world cultures. I asked Kathir, singer and bass player a couple of questions about their music, the meaning behind it and their 25-year existence and more.
Thanks to Kunal Choksi from Transcending Obscurity, for helping realize this interview. This is Vedic metal. This is Rudra.
Rudra: Vedic metal from Singapore
Hello! Could you kindly start by introducing yourself? Can you tell us how the band got started and how you guys got together?
Kathir: I am Kathir, the bassist, and vocalist of the band. The band was formed in 1992 and since then the line-up has gone through a couple of changes. The drummer Shiva and I have remained in the band since its formation. Shiva and I met back in school in 1991 and we immediately got along for our common love for rock music and metal.
What bands influenced your music? I understand that you sort of carved out your own niche, but what metal acts inspired you.
Kathir: As much as we have created a niche for ourselves, it has been the usual suspects that inspired us. Slayer has been the single biggest influence in our early years as well as early Sepultura, Obituary, Bathory, Megadeth, Death, Black Sabbath, Kreator, and Destruction.
So how is Rudra doing? Your last full length came out in 2016. Can you tell us about the album ‘Enemy of Duality’?
Kathir: We just crossed our 25th year of existence. We are currently busy recording our next release which is going to be an EP of covers of six bands that inspired us. We are also releasing a compilation of tracks from our first 5 years which will be entitled ‘Past Life Regression’ and a third release called the ‘ Black Isle Sessions’ which will feature tracks that were played live and re-recorded in the Black Isle Studios. The year 2018 will be a year of renewal by consolidating our past and preparing for the future.
‘ Enemy of Duality’ is another concept album based on a very old Sanskrit text ‘Mandukya Karika’. It is really a special album because it brings back the fusion of Indian instrumentation and modalities into our music. It has been very well received. Having existed for 25 years, it is pretty difficult to incorporate new songs into our live setlist. But a couple of songs have emerged to be crowd favorites from this album.
How do you guys approach the creation, writing and recording process of your music? Does everyone have separate roles or is there a clear order and set of tasks?
Kathir: It has become pretty organic. Everyone contributes to the song writing. With the recent albums, we became more emergent in the song writing process allowing our ideas to emerge in the studio. We stopped walking in prepared with riffs and ideas.
You guys have been around for 25 years, congratulations. Can you tell me what has changed in your music and world as a band over this period?
Kathir: Thank you. One big shift that took place in the 5th year was the clear niche we created for ourselves via Vedic Metal. Since then we have been consistent in playing our brand of Death/Black Metal. With the sole exception of ‘Rta’, our 7th album, every album is of the same vein with varying production value. We have worked with different producers at times to renew our sound and sometimes produced it ourselves. Rta is the only album that brought an epic feel to our music and stood out from our other albums.
Your style has been labeled as Vedic metal. Can you explain in your own words what that means and also what it means to you?
Kathir: We came up with this term to denote the fusion of metal with ancient Indian philosophy and Indian classical music modalities. Our lyrics also revolve around the theme of ancient Vedic philosophy as well.
Can you tell me more about the Vedic mysticism and sacrifices, particularly what you bring into the music? Like me, many listeners and readers will be rather unfamiliar with its meaning and content, so can you offer an explanation? A little historical background would be very interesting too.
Kathir: The Vedas are very ancient texts in the Sanskrit language. They primarily deal with four subjects which are hymns, rituals/sacrifices, meditations, and philosophy. These texts go as far back as 2500 BCE. Rudra’s lyrical themes revolve around the fourth subject which is philosophy or also called the Upanishads in Sanskrit. The philosophy deals with existential topics such as the source of the universe, nature of the world and the Self-knowledge. We have primarily focused on Self-knowledge as the theme of most of our lyrics.
Now, I know that Hinduism, which is your main theme, has many faces. How in your own view does it match with heavy metal music? Where is the click for you?
Kathir: Hinduism is a big word and it does not have a monolithic set of beliefs or philosophy. It has evolved over thousands of years and at times quite unrecognizable from its ancient roots. However, it is the philosophical aspects of Hinduism which clicks for us as a band, in specific the philosophy of non-dualism. We find non-dualism radical enough to be presented via metal.
I hear some traditional instruments in your music, also some interesting structures. How do you put the two things together?
Kathir: These are instruments we have listened to since we were kids. So it was quite natural for us to imagine these ideas before even fusing them with metal. But what made it easy was working with expert musicians.
I particularly like how you guys have records with a distinct look and feel. The artwork really promises a new experience, something unknown and at times even a bit unnerving. I really enjoy that aspect. How much work goes into that and how does this whole vision come together?
Kathir: We spend a great deal of time finding the right fit for the music and the cover art. It needs to make sense to us. And there is much interpretation that goes into the choice of artwork as well as its final form. For example, the artwork for ‘Enemy of Duality’ presents an ancient form of the Indian drum and a trident is tied to it. The three spokes of the trident represent the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. The base of the three spokes is a singular rod which represents the fourth state of Self or non-duality. Together it indicates the causal relationship between the three states and the Self. The drums attached to it represents the sound of the Vedas which become the means to know the Self. This is a typical example of how we come up with design and artworks.
As I understand it, your band has even become a topic for scholarly interest and academics have started noticing you. Can you give some examples and what does it mean for you to get such recognition?
Kathir: It definitely means a lot that we have gotten the attention of musicologists as well. Although as metalheads we do not look for acceptance or mainstream appeal, this attention we got definitely shows that metal, as well as Vedic metal, is worth a deeper study from a musical and anthropological sense.
I’d like to ask you about playing metal music in Singapore. How did the metal scene, in general, get started there? Which bands next to yourselves really pioneered it and is there (in your view) a distinct sound for Singapore bands?
Kathir: The metal scene started in Singapore with bands like Rusty Blade in the mid-80’s. After which a new wave of underground metal bands emerged in the late 80’s and early 90’s which inspired us. The bands from this period that inspired us were Martyrdom (RIP), Silent Sorrow (RIP), Stomping Ground (RIP), Lycanthropy (RIP), Morbific (RIP), Opposition Party, Global Chaos (RIP), Savage (RIP) and Anesthesia (RIP). I do not recall any of these bands had a distinct sound but they sounded just like the bands from the western worlds. And that was what precisely impressed us.
From online sources, I understand there’s a vast metal scene in your country. What does the metal scene in Singapore look like? Is it divided by genre or regions in any way? Are there plenty of venues and rehearsal spaces? Also, is there any form of censorship or public dislike towards extreme metal music, as there is in many places around the world?
Kathir: The current state of the metal scene is pretty good. There are perhaps more serious bands in the scene than perhaps ten years ago. This could be due to the fact that recording and releasing music have gotten a lot less expensive these days. This had created more serious bands that went on to record their music. The scene is pretty united but just that the metal scene hangouts vanished in the 90s. There used to be hangouts where bands used to gather to talk about what’s happening in the scene as well as new discoveries. That’s how we discovered new bands. These days, the internet has replaced this purpose. The metal scene is here is not split into genres. Bands from different metal sub-genres share the same stage. The censorship to has lightened since the 90’s, as well as national funds, have been created for bands to support their music creation. Perhaps we are at the most opportunistic time in Singapore’s music history.
I understand most of you guys have side projects. Would you be willing to tell something about those and how they fit in with playing in Rudra?
Kathir: We do not get too involved in side projects as we did ten years ago due to priorities such as business and family. However, Vinod and I play in The Wandering Ascetic currently. That’s about it for now.
What bands from Singapore should people really check out (and why)?
Kathir: Witchseeker cause they play good old Thrash. Assault because of their new album rocks. Wormrot needs no introduction.
You’ve released an album, titled ‘The Aryan Crusade’. Now, I know that this term has various different meanings, but since people from various places might read this, can you comment on what that means for you to prevent misunderstandings. Also, is there any political element to your music?
Kathir: Firstly there is neither any political nor nationalist element in our music. Secondly, I want to thank you for asking this question. In around 2004-5 one of our fans was confronted by a couple of guys for wearing the Aryan Crusade t-shirt. The bunch of guys assumed that he was a neo-Nazi. At the time of releasing the ‘Aryan Crusade’, we deliberately named the album so, to educate the metal world about the usage of the word Aryan. The word Aryan is explicitly a Sanskrit word, used in Vedic, Jain and Buddhist traditions. The word was not used to denote a race but people of a certain character. The early Vedic definition of an Aryan would be someone who led a highly structured life performing sacrifices to be in harmony with a universal order called Dharma. Therefore, the Vedic perspective refers to a noble quality born out of an appreciation of this order and not something inherited genetically. That’s how we used the word for that album as well as the opening song on that album, ‘Aryaputra’.
What future plans does Rudra have?
Kathir: We will be spending the second half of 2018 writing the next album and hopefully release it in early 2019.
If you had to compare yourself to a dish (a type of food), what would it be and why?
Kathir: This is the most difficult question. I can’t think of any.