BLOODYWOOD – India’s Premier Headbahngras Invade The Alamo City

May 17, 2023, a year ago

Words by Ann-Jinette Hess and Gonzao E. Pozo | Photos by Gonzalo E. Pozo

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Combining crunchy metal and traditional Indian instruments with rapped lyrics might sound like a wild amalgamation, but Indian folk metal band Bloodywood delivers a primal experience that inspires both headbanging and bhangra dance. Their debut album Rakshak (the Hindi word for “protector”) weaves meaningful issues into their aggressive heavy metal tapestry, addressing corruption in journalism, sexual assault, mental health, and bullying, among other topics. Bloodywood creates a well-received and needed addition to the folk metal genre, infusing their culture into the long-established heavy metal scene. Leaning into socially-conscious messages, their performances are nothing short of explosive, showcasing intense Indic beats and emphatic rhythms that leave their audience both fatigued and frantically wanting more. 

Let's be real. Bloodywood is a band that metal has desperately needed for a long time, even if the odds of them even existing were questionable. The more metal bands take this decidedly western sound and inject it with non-western traditions, the healthier the genre becomes. And Bloodywood's completely natural sounding mish-mash of metalcore, rap metal, prog metal, and Indian folk music has given them a broad enough appeal to earn them fans from across the expansive metal spectrum. This highlights one of the most beautiful things about metal itself: you can do damn near anything with it without it sounding insincere. 

The Bloodywood story itself is pretty unorthodox. They went viral on social media a few years back with their metal treatments of Bollywood songs. It was a fun idea, but most wrote them off as a novelty act that would fizzle out. That's a big part of why Rakshak was such a stunner – like the adult-born Hindu goddess Durga, Rakshak showed Bloodywood skipping the gestational phase altogether. To call this debut “mature” would be to say that the Pacific Ocean is modestly sized. It is an expansive, fully realized vision made sound. Even folk metal titans like Orphaned Land, Myrath, and Eluveitie required more than one album to grow into themselves. Bloodywood did that with their first. 

Sarthak Pahwa was the first to emerge at Bloodywood's San Antonio set on May 15, 2023, brandishing an almost threatening dhol, that double-headed Indian drum that is strapped from the shoulders. Weilding a dagga and a teeli (the curved and thin sticks traditionally used to play the dhol), Pahwah wasted little time in welcoming his bandmates. The band kicked off with album opener “Gaddaar” (“traitor”), and as frenetic as that song is, the pit that immediately opened up was cyclonic enough for the band to pause when the song ended, with screamer Jayant Bhadula refusing to continue performing until the band was reassured that no one was hurt. It's not terribly uncommon for bands to urge their crowds to watch out for each other, but sets generally only get halted when really bad shit goes down. For Bhadula and crew to suspend their performance is one of many ways these guys demonstrate that they give way more than a single fuck. 

Another way this shows is by the onstage banter. Rather than just “how y'all doing tonight” types of greetings, Bhadula and co-frontman/rapper Raoul Kerr offer sage advice to the downtrodden, giving practical guidance without ever sounding like they're sermonizing. Tying their tidings to their lyrical content is also nothing revolutionary, but the nature of both their music and their beings offer a reassurance that this isn't just talk. Bloodywood has rightfully earned a diverse fanbase; there were more South Asians in the audience than there are at most metal shows in this region, and more gender expressions were represented in this crowd than I've seen at any metal show short of a festival, and not one of these individuals was given any reason to feel like a living target. Given that a large chunk of the population here view these folks as a plague, for them to feel welcome and loved at freaking metal show is kinda huge. Bloodywood are absolutely progressive in more ways than one. 

It's also important to note that Bloodywood is a completely independent band with no label support. They noted on stage between songs just how unlikely it is for a group of Indian metalheads to not only exist as a unit, but for there to be a demand for them to travel several thousand miles to fully tour the United States - as headliners - on the strength of a single album. Even a city as legendarily sleepy as San Antonio gave them a turnout of a few hundred fans, and holy fuck was that crowd thrilled to see these guys. 

Bloodywood hammered through most of Rakshak for the voracious crowd, with dhoti-clad bassist Roshan Roy raging amok nonstop as if running on overcharged batteries. Guitarist Karan Katiyar often took his hands completely off his main instrument to focus on his venu flute, as he does on “Jee Veerey” (“live, brave one”). The band even demonstrated their commitment to being one with their audience during their rendition of the Bollywood song “Ari Ari” by hopping off the stage entirely and running in line among the crowd. For a band whose music is straight up ferocious – see their merciless screed against domestic violence, “Dana-Dan” (Bring the Beatdown), or “Machi Bhasad” (“expect a riot”) – they unquestionably have cultivated a culture of love and respect. Kerr insisted multiple times that the crowd make some noise for themselves, and Bhadula went so far as to introduce the band's tour manager, sound guy, and tour photographer before introducing the band members themselves. This band isn't just aggressive. They're aggressively uplifting, and their interpretation of tough love echoes in the final words Bloodywood left their audience with last night: “Stand with us and we’ll change the world, one metal show at a time.” 

Raj against the machine indeed.

Setlist:

“Gaddaar (traitor)”
“BSDK.exe”
“Aaj (today)”
“Dana Dan (bring the beatdown)”
“Jee Veerey (live, brave one)”
“Zanjeero Se (these chains)”
“Machi Bhasad (expect a riot)”
“Ari Ari”

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