Singapore’s Rudra has been kicking around in some form since 1992, but it was really with the 2005 release of Brahmavidya: Primordial I (the first in a trilogy that is completed by the album currently under consideration) that the band garnered the attention of the international metal press. In the use of certain scales and the frequent shimmying rhythmic flair, Rudra often calls to mind Melechesh (albeit without most of the thrashy undertones), with a little touch of the classy death/black fusion of Akercocke mixed in for good measure. Still, the dominant approach throughout Brahmavidya: Immortal I is a very smooth, very late ‘90s kind of melodic black/death metal – think Naglfar, Dawn, or Old Man’s Child (without the wimpy keyboards). This means that while the drums frequently kick into blast-beat mode, they do so with an exceedingly light touch, providing a constant forward-leaning momentum without making too big a splash. As it so happens, that’s also a fair assessment of the album’s impact as a whole.
Immortal I dispenses almost entirely with the unorthodox instrumentation that has adorned previous Rudra albums, with only the album’s opening and closing tracks seeing any non-traditional metal sounds (which are sparse at that). This has the benefit of avoiding the appearance of some kind of ‘ethnic music gimmick,’ but it also means that the album is significantly less distinctive than past releases. The biggest problem with the album, however, is that the songs follow an unerringly similar pattern: a quick moody beginning yields to speedy blasting and controlled melodic riffing that eventually shifts down in tempo to introduce and underscore the croaked-vocal verses, which in turn give way to extremely fluid melodic death metal solo leads. Taken on its own, there’s nothing wrong with that pattern, but repeated more or less unchanged over eleven tracks means that everything bleeds into an undifferentiated mass of “Oh, that was pretty alright.” Beyond that, however, the extremely one-dimensional vocals are also holding Rudra back from making a more lasting impression. The fact that my impatient ears greeted the thoroughly pedestrian clean vocals that crop up in the midsection of “Harrowing Carrions of Syllogism” with a zeal approaching rapture is a fairly stinging indictment of mainman Kathir’s limited range.
Still, the tasteful lead work may be enough to pull in the casual listener, and the album’s sound is rich and pleasant (apart from the grating vocals). Because the songs never sink in with any measure of individuality, this is likely to remain one of those records for background music and occasional enjoyment. And that’s fine, as far as things go – there’s little that actively irritates about Rudra, and if the vocalist learned a few more tricks and they wrote some more memorable licks (feelin’ poetic, so sue me), it’s not hard to imagine them moving up to upper second-tier status, but since that sounds like one of the biggest back-handed compliments this side of “Hey, you didn’t screw that up nearly as hard as I thought you were going to,” let me also say this: Brahmavidya: Immortal I is a reasonably-accomplished album that struts and flails with enough booty-shaking grooves and finger-licking leads to satisfy a minor melodic black metal appetite. Here’s to hoping the future sees them serving up a full three-course meal.