The metal genre has a history of speaking out against injustices and oppression. Bands like “System of a Down” and “Rage Against the Machine” wrote songs that condemned violent institutions that beget police brutality, war, and genocide, as well as more uplifting songs that reminded listeners of the power of love and the human spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Bloodywood, an inventive folk metal band from New Delhi, continues this tradition, providing hard-hitting, emotionally charged songs about topics ranging from mental health and sexual assault to political divisiveness. Their self-made documentary “Raj Against the Machine” makes a clever nod to the aforementioned band in its title, and it traces Bloodywood’s journey from their humble beginnings to becoming internationally acclaimed artists and a formidable force for positive change. The title of their debut album, Rakshak, translates to “protector,” and the release speaks to their desire to protect those who have been wronged and speak out against injustices. This commitment to their message extends beyond their lyrics or the music videos and is demonstrated through actions like gifting mental health counseling sessions and raising funds for causes.
Their command of the stage and their overflowing energy belied the fact that the band only began doing live shows in 2019, a shift propelled by their invitation to Germany’s renowned hard rock festival, Wacken Open Air. Since then, the band has held several international shows, dropped their official debut album, Rakshak, and now are embarking on a worldwide tour by the same name. Joining them on tour is UK-based thrash metal duo WARGASM and ferocious five-piece American band Vended.
True to their name, WARGASM’s songs mix the primal instincts of violence, rage, and lust, and their gritty, chant-like vocals and teenage angst were on full display in songs like “PYRO PYRO” and “Lapdance.” In “Rage All Over,” their anger is directed towards a society in which “We’re generation misinformation / Destined to fail from the moment of creation.” There’s a line from their single “Backyard Bastards” that captures their attitude: “Peace was never an option,” and their stage presence reflected that. Sam Matlock had seemingly limitless energy and was bouncing off the walls, and Milkie Way taunted the audience and aggressively flipped her shock of bleached hair.
Vended lined up at the front of the stage like a battalion ready for battle, their face paint and intense glares adding to the intimidation. The five-member band has often been compared to metal heavy-hitters Slipknot because there are not one, but two sons of Slipknot members in Vended’s roster, namely Griffin Taylor and Simon Crahan. While the band has yet to release a full-length album, they have been forging their own sound and performed several of their newest songs at this show, including “Ded to Me” and “Overall.” Frontman Taylor led the crowd in powerful fist pumps and hair-flipping head bangs. By the end of the set, he’s topless and, like his bandmates, glistening with sweat. “Asylum” features some fantastic technical guitar passages, and “Antibody” lets Crahan show off on the drums.
Aside from the drumset in the back, the stage for Bloodywood’s set was empty, allowing the rest of the band to move freely across the stage. Red light and atmospheric flute sounds bathed the stage as the audience waited eagerly. Sarthak Pahwa strode onstage carrying his dhol, a double-headed folk drum, joining drummer Vishesh Singh, and motioned to the audience to stay quiet. As the percussionists started playing, Karan Katiyar (guitar) and Roshan Roy (bass) entered the stage, continuing to build the song from the ground up. Last to join the stage are Jayant Bhadula (vocals) and Raoul Kerr (rap), just in time to plug into their parts. With the full ensemble onstage, they spared no ounce of energy; they were bounding across the stage, hair was flying everywhere, and the crowd responded in turn, jumping and shouting along with the band. Their opening song, “Gaddaar,” translates to “traitor” and deals with political divisiveness and separation of church and state. Jayant’s harsh vocals and Raoul’s undulating raps made a unique but hard-hitting combination, and the instrumentals exploded and subsided with devastating impact.
Between songs, they shared inspirational messages in a way that felt like they’re speaking directly to you. “We risked it all to chase one impossible dream. But right here, right now, with every one of you, every risk is worth it. Your dreams are not meant to be seen right before you go to sleep, your dreams are not meant for tomorrow. They’re meant for today!” There’s something so incredibly empowering about their unwavering commitment to their dream and their belief that you, yes you, have the inner strength to make a difference in this world. While Rakshak means “protector,” it’s not because they have a savior complex, rather, they see their role as one that creates an environment safe enough for people to realize their true potential. And the audience responded wholeheartedly to their invitation, singing and clapping along to “Aaj.” The rap and drums created an immense surge that released into ethereal, melodic flute and vocal lines.
“Dana-Dan” is a gritty song about the insidious phenomenon of sexual assault, and in introducing the song, Bhadula and Kerr emphasized the importance of difficult conversations and more effective systems of justice, but as we move towards this future, “if that line is still crossed, we show no mercy, because enough is enough!” This is one of their harshest and busiest songs, but despite the (at-times) graphic lyrics, it channeled primal rage into a call for everyone to join in to put an end to the unacceptable behavior. One felt compelled to chant “De de de dana da / De de de” at the top of their lungs, and in doing so, everyone in the venue became an ally in the fight for justice.
In “Jee Veerey” and “Zanjeero Se,” they dialed down the rage and made space for more personal, introspective themes of battling depression and living a full life. And while the sound retained a heavy, heart-pounding core, these songs leaned more on the melodic, folk side. “Even though we may be born with limits, we want you to promise us that you will live your life to the fullest, love yourself to the fullest, and that these chains will never, ever, put out your fire,” urged the band, fists held high. The delicate, melancholic guitar lines and the soaring vocals of “Zanjeero Se” and the crowd waving their arms to the beat created an atmosphere of transcendence and unity. Deep down within each of us lies a core of compassion, a core that craves connection, but often, it’s buried under layers of fear and cultural conditioning. Bloodywood’s music speaks directly to that core of shared humanity and shines a light to the issues that dampen the light within all of us. They offer respite and revolution, reminding us that we all have “a fire that won’t be extinguished by the weight of these chains” (Zanjeero Se) and that each and every one of us can help forge a more just and compassionate world.
The band ended their set with high-octane tracks “Machi Bhasad” and “Ari Ari,” and the crowd was amped up even more when Pahwa joined the mosh pit on the floor with his dhol. “Ari Ari” celebrates diversity and encourages unity despite our differences, and it’s a message further reinforced on Kerr’s sleeveless shirt. The “No Flag” logo reminds us that our shared humanity transcends our national or political differences. Even though the set was only an hour long (including a remix of “Gaddaar” for the encore), every second of the show was cathartic and inspiring. It’s fantastic seeing a group that’s so genuine, down-to-earth, and committed to their message, in addition to being incredible musicians. They’ve only just gotten started, but they’re poised to take their music and their movement to the next level. The only question is–are you in?