February 22, 2022 — Few bands can weave a sense of culture and space as coherently and forcefully on a first effort as Bloodywood has. Distinctly at odds with a genre that is settled between the cultures of Europe and the steppes, the Indian folk metal fusion of Bloodywood’s Rakshak debut album.
Rakshak is Hindi for “Protector” or “Saviour” and its soundscape is an amalgam of both traditional and bleeding edge, modern metal — that instantly shatters any genre expectations you may have going into this record. To dissect Bloodywood’s constituent elements into an intense and powerful integration of traditional Indian music in the midst of slickly progressive, and at times electronica-tinged metal leaning towards nu-metal vocal tropes would be to ignore the fire and the fury that comes from the full concoction.
“Bloodywood and their commitment to being a force for good is clear for all to see, with the band determined to forge a path for Indian metal on the world stage.”
Meshing folk instruments, ferocious metal, cutting lyrics, impressive vocal range, adept rap flow, though spotty at times, Rakshak culminate into something that for an overwhelming majority is impressive and infectious.
Skewing toward modern themes, Bloodywood’s vocal rapport is a back and forth between East and West, soaring and punishing vocals against sharp, cutting rap bars that on both sides of this split throughout are defined by the band’s powerful beat-driven backbone, the work of producer Karan Katiyar (Twitter) — the multifaceted heart of Bloodywood. Behind the heavy as hell guitars, inventive composition, and seamless production, Karan is more than connective tissue and is responsible for the effective fusion of sounds that Bloodywood delivers — to compelling effect.
Karan has been producing music as Bloodywood with various collaborators making covers and reworking old video clips from the band’s early roots as a parody project, but the promise of the group’s musical skill and unrelenting chug has been there since the very beginning. Current lead singer Jayant Bhadula (Twitter) was one of the earliest to record vocals with Karan, with Raoul Kerr (Twitter), an experienced voice in the world of Indian Hip Hop who initially joined as a guest collaborator.
Expect A Riot
The vocal pairing of rapper Raoul Kerr’s sharp, predominantly English bars with the impressive range, technique, and face-melting screams of Jayant Bhadula’s Hindi/Punjab vocals maintains a consistent strength but changes gears throughout.
At times Kerr’s vocals are more muted, but with a gravelly coarseness to their depth and a flow akin to Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda on ‘Jee Veerey’, or merciless volleys more in the realms of Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha on the likes of ‘Dana Dan — a track that is a savage metal burst set atop the beating of the folksy dhol beats (a double-headed drum widely used throughout the Indian subcontinent), punctuated with flutes and brutal riffs that match squarely the aggressive retribution at play in the song’s lyrics.
“Justice for women, particularly rape victims is a familiar topic for lead rapper Raoul Kerr, having explored this on ‘For Her’, a track inspired in part by the brutal assault and murder of Nirbhaya in 2012.”
Justice for women, particularly rape victims is a familiar topic for Raoul Kerr, having explored this on his solo track, ‘For Her’, which was inspired in part by the brutal assault and murder of Nirbhaya in 2012. In Bloodywood’s take on the topic, Kerr and Bhadula’s breakneck vocal torrents are utterly ruthless, and all the more gratifying for it, in a mutual threat of violent retribution.
Bloodywood offers this same level of commitment and energy throughout; taking aim at divisive hate and political corruption on the surging album opener ‘Gaddar’, the personal resolve needed for change in the soaring ‘Aaj’, a call to revolution with ‘Machi Bhasad’, calling out sensationalist journalism through ‘SDK.exe’ and the wealth and class divide on ‘Chakh Le’. While Bloodywood rails all guns blazing against these ills, the band takes more emotive looks at loss in ‘Yaad’ and struggles with mental health in ‘Jee Veerey’.
For all the impressive elements and undeniable passion, some of Kerr’s lyrics seem less dynamic in a few scattered spots throughout the album, which is a shame considering their performance is fantastic.
Generally speaking, there is a sense of incredulity to the whole thing. Rakshak, as a debut release in an underrepresented or potentially newfound niche subgenre in the form of Indian folk metal, should be a more risky and uneven proposition than it is. The band even put their money where their mouth is with Raoul Kerr’s outspoken activism and social enterprise work with the No Flag movement raising funds and awareness of socioeconomic and environmental issues as well as producing environmentally responsible, fair trade certified merchandise,
While Bloodywood as a whole gave away pre-paid online counseling sessions with the music video launch of ‘Jee Veerey’ (literally translating as “Live Brave One”) and donated the earnings from their 2019 European tour to animal welfare NGO Posh Foundation, allowing it to purchase a new ambulance.
Beyond Bad Or Good
The scale of the band’s devotion, talent, and kind-heartedness is all the more impactful when you consider Bloodywood began as a parody act. Bloodywood’s slow and steady transformation from short comedic clips to full covers and eventually, original material (with ‘Jee Veerey’ marking their first piece that was wholly Bloodywood as we now know it), has seen a wealth of personal growth in production skill and vocal approach.
The band’s formative DNA does raise its head in the shape of lyrics like “Hey there Hi! I’m ready to die” on ‘Machi Bhasad’ (Initially recorded for the long-gestating Ubisoft sequel Beyond Good and Evil 2) followed by a rubbery squeak, which doesn’t detract from technical competence, but as we see from other acts of an ostensibly comedic nature like Twelve Foot Ninja, skill and silliness do not necessarily cancel each other out.
Another major realization from this release is how difficult it is to draw a satisfying pallet of comparative artists, as understandably, other bands that fuse ethnic traditional sounds into rock and metal are as disparate and different as the cultures that inform them. The band, their skill and their commitment to being a force for good are all clear to see, with Bloodwood determined to chart a path for Indian Folk metal on the world stage.
Out of 10
- Deftly stitches together traditional instrumentation and thoroughly modern metal.
- World-class production that makes this feel far from a debut affair
- Raoul Kerr’s rapping, while competent, is uneven in lyrical strength
- Still bears some hangovers from the band’s more comedic origins
The rhythmic groove and blast genre fusion sound of Rage Against The Machine have been cited as a core influence by both Bloodywood and rap vocalist Raoul Kerr, and it certainly shows. An outspoken and socially motivated act in the same vein, Bloodywood’s rhythms, grooves, and instrumentation are undeniably drawn from the band’s home city of New Delhi, embedding distinctive traditional percussion, flutes, and soaring vocal highs that are mixed with skillful modern production expand into a potent sense of space and culture with a universal bite.
Bloodywood’s Rakshak is available now and can be found on all major streaming platforms and Bandcamp.