Album: Enemy of Duality
Record Label: Transcending Obscurity Asia
Release date: 17 December 2016
1. Abating the Firebrand
2. Slay the Demons of Duality
3. Perception Apparent
4. Acosmis Self
6. Seer of All
7. Hermit in Nididhyasana
8. Ancient Fourth
Vedic mythology is one of the richer sources of inspiration for themes befitting blackened death metal – superhuman beings, massive conflicts, gods devouring worshippers… and that’s barely scraping the surface. Taking this into account, it seems odd that so few bands within the genre have embraced this source material: Absu and Melechesh have both delved into Sumerian and Mesopotamian mythology, but it wasn’t until Czech group Cult of Fire’s 2013 release, Ascetic Meditation of Death , that Vedic themes even entered my musical paradigm. Which is both a shame and an awful oversight on my part, considering that Singapore’s Rudra have been crafting quality Vedic metal for a quarter of a century. Their 2016 release, Enemy of Duality (their eighth full-length) not only marries ‘Western’ metal styling with their own Eastern traditions  and religion, it does so with an authenticity that only prolonged cultural immersion can provide.
Thankfully, immersion into this album is a far easier exercise. The soothing sitar tones and chanted introduction  (and coda) to ‘Abating the Firebrand’ may quickly give way to crisply produced, biting guitars, but the transition is tasteful and smooth. The usage of traditional instrumentation isn’t just a gimmick, or a novelty to promote interest: Rudra are, first and foremost, a blackened death outfit – and this album showcases their prowess in this arena, with a sprinkling of sitars, tablas and flutes to add depth to the overriding carnage. The album closer, ‘Ancient Fourth’ is in fact the only track where the more exotic sounds are fully meshed within the greater arrangement – especially where the percussion is concerned, as complex tribal rhythms and more straightforward time signatures interweave. An ironic juxtaposition, as this well-balanced ‘dual’ musical nature clashes with the album name, Enemy of Duality. The empty hopelessness and bleak atmosphere much of the music generates is, however, perfectly suited to Advaya non-dualism which posits no transcendent reality beyond the one we currently inhabit . Taking this into account, naming your band after the deity of storm, disease and destruction is entirely apt, given the current global zeitgeist of overriding despair.
One track that delivers the exact opposite of despair, though, is the lush ‘Hermit in Nididhyasana’. The shifting dynamic between the male and female vocal lines gives chills, while the repetitive, simplistic main riff that subtly evolves throughout the song more than satisfies black metal sensibilities. Ditto for the stunning Mark Riddick album artwork, incidentally. This track also feels the ‘roundest’ in terms of production, with solid high and low ends punctuated by a rolling drum line throughout. There’s even some very Jeff Hanneman-esque lead work to add to its moshpit potential – although if any one track had to be singled out for its mass appeal to metal fans as a whole, the faster pace, riff-driven hooks and groove of ‘Root of Misapprehension’ would probably be the winner.
The only area where Rudra may yet improve is in final production and mastering – ‘Acosmic Self’ feels a little loose around the guitar parts, while the drums on ‘Seer of All’ and ‘Slay the Demons of Duality’ feel flatter and fuzzy compared to the remainder of the album. The amalgamation of ancient and modern within metal circles may not be particularly original, and more so within the realm of black metal: Russia’s Jassa channel ancient Slavic myths while Middle-Eastern artists like Saudia band Al-Namrood or Iran’s Akvan  rely heavily on ancient Persian and Zoroastrian myth. Not to mention the large proportion of European folk metal looking to Celtic folklore for thematic inspiration, lyrical content and musical composition.
Questions of originality aside, Enemy of Duality is gorgeously – and respectfully – constructed. The Vedic history aspect is always acknowledged, never entirely discarded, but also never gets in the way of blistering blackened death metal that ticks all the right boxes.
1. This album, and in fact Cult of Fire’s complete discography, has been made freely available by the band from their website.
2. The band may hail from Singapore, but all the members come from South Indian ancestry.
3. Lead vocalist Kathir recently lent his vocal talents to Sakis Tolis on Rotting Christ’s last album, Rituals (see review here) on the track ‘Devadevam’.
4. Interesting parallels can be drawn between this philosophy and Nietzche’s views on the Übermensch, wherein the fully realised individual self supercedes any notion of other-worldliness or afterlife in much the same way that true gnosis is seen as the only true reality, or Brahman in many Vedic texts.
5. An excellent article on Akvan’s music and philosophy of ‘True Aryan Black Metal’ can be read on Bandcamp Daily.