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20 years can do magic & it certainly does to Kekal - 92%

emazapher, September 16th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

"Multilateral" is Kekal's 10th full-length album that was recently released at the same time the band, or to borrow Kekal's own word: the 'institution', reached 20 years in the music scene. For most bands, 20 years is a quite long time, and within 20 years there could have been ups and downs, better and worse times, happier and depressed times, et cetera. To say the least, any band who have reached 20 years will definitely have more experience in terms of 'knowing their own shit', but only, only if they have their own shit and not borrowing other people's shit all the time. In this case, Kekal is known as a band who has their own style and sound to begin with. They know what they do, and within the past 15 years or so, also keep evolving and discovering new things along the way, a very nice welcome.

"Multilateral" is available in physical forms, as a limited edition digipak CD and also cassette (so strange that cassette has made a comeback recently). For most of us who don't have much room and money (myself included), we can opt for the digital download version that can be obtained from their Bandcamp page http://kekal.bandcamp.com including a 12-page digital booklet contains thought-provoking series of artwork made by their former bass player Levi Sianturi, which can be found on either CD sleeve as well.

Musically, "Multilateral" has more in common to the 'metal' side of Kekal than the 'electronic' side. Most of the songs have more or less traditional structure that is normally used by metal bands, even down to the breakdown sections and guitar solos, with exceptions of a few quirky songs, like "Heyday (Unlike Today)", "By Means of Survival", or the title track. It is Kekal's most accessible release since probably their 2005 album "Acidity", and I can see that this album can have a potential to 'win back' some of their metal fans in the past, without completely abandoning their highly experimental, avant-garde touch. Every song sounds different and sometimes even produced differently, and every instrument has its own distinct sound and playing field. But yet, you feel that strange cohesiveness throughout the album, maybe the vocals of Jeff Arwadi (listed as a producer now, but the band no longer list any names for musical contribution - Strange? it is. But whatever....).

The album starts with the track "Token Discontentment", an almost typical progressive modern metal with some 80s hardcore punk influence thrown into the mix. This song is very dynamic and it is a perfect opener, it gives you the idea and expectation about the melody, groove, and energy of the entire album. The rhythm guitars are crunchy, and have some tones of post-black metal and heavy-shoegaze to it, but the song is a typical Kekal with tempo changes and great riffs in-between unexpected breakdown section and emotional/gut-wrenching guitar solos. The next couple tracks give you the idea of the 'modern meets vintage' style only Kekal can deliver. Some sort of 80's and 90's rock/metal/punk structure and sound colliding with modern musical elements in forms of electronic experimental music. They can have both blast-beats and d-beat drumming styles placing in between dub/dubstep groove, bass drop, and insane digital glitch parts, but at the same time without getting too much into the over-hyped trend of 'cut-paste and djent' kind of music. Other highlights include "By Means of Survival", "Neutrality", "Crossroads" and "The Unwritten".

One of the most experimental tracks on the album, "By Means of Survival", begins with the deep, dirty, droning bass synthesizer (Moog Taurus?) and the haunting Theremin kind of sound, giving the quiet ambient atmosphere for only less than a minute before the chaotic glitchy rhythm section and the wall of post-black metal tremolo guitars come into the surface, overlaying the same deep electronic bass pattern from the very beginning. Before we can grasp what's going on, then all of the sudden everything stops at around 2:50 mark, only to be blown again with the dark yet soothing trip-hop/nu-jazz/shoegaze section that can either make you weep or having a goose-bumps throughout. The guitar tone during the solo on this section is so precise in giving you that kind of painful atmosphere. This track alone is worth having the entire album! So insane, yet so beautiful. So painful yet so cathartic.

Many of the tracks show a mixture of extreme metal (with its blastbeat drums and fast tremolo riffing), shoegaze, post-rock, electronic rock, and dub (reggae-based groove) styles with some experimental twists, but strangely it works! Three songs feature an equally strange Vocaloid female character called Megurine Luka, lending some of the singing parts. What the hell is vocaloid, you may ask? It is a software, a singing synthesizer that can mimic almost a human singer. Well, 'almost' is the emphasis. It (she) doesn't sound like robot, but it is still far from what human singer can achieve in this case. The whole album's atmosphere is relatively dark,

Overall, "Multilateral" is an excellent album on its own merit, even arguably the strongest Kekal material since 2007's "The Habit of Fire". While not a perfect album (there are some weaknesses - like the inconsistency of Jeff's vocal quality, or the too hurried production found on "Crossroads", to name some), this album easily displays what 20 years can do to you: maturity, and elongated pain. A must have for any music enthusiast out there, not just limited to metal fans.