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Among fresh and finest 2020's experimental/avant-garde metal albums - 90%

eM Z, August 2nd, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

25 years! That was the highlight of the year 2020 according to the Indonesian metal experimentalist, and they happened to celebrate such occasion with a brand-new album called "Quantum Resolution", specifically designed for the "beginning of the end of the Age" as what they said. What's the band name, you may ask? It's Kekal; one of the most underrated and overlooked bands in the metal music scene today, and one of the weirdest and quirkiest as well. "Quantum Resolution" is their 12th studio album (13th if you count their 1996 full-length demo as an album as listed here in Encyclopaedia Metallum), and the 2nd concept-album after "The Habit of Fire" (2007). As a concept-album, "Quantum Resolution" has a unified main theme around Gnosis, enough for the entire lyrics being written first before the music - so that the music of every song would follow the mood, temperament, and the story explained in the lyrics. The lyrics seem to be very serious and deep, they talk about everything from Spirituality, Quantum Physics (holographic universe, simulation theories), the Cosmos, Matter, Humanity, The Matrix, Gnosticism, suppressed history of the world, the birth of civilizations and empires and their rulers, and down to the coming (now already?) endtimes, collapse of civilizations and human species extinction, and then the appearance of the New Earth in which they explained as the same one but operates in a higher frequency, a different rate of vibrations than we currently operate. I found the lyrics to be very interesting, and have also read the in-depth and extensive behind-the-lyrics discussions on their Facebook page, which I was informed, are only part of the whole discussions that are also published as a separate 117 pages document. From the lyrics alone, this album put Kekal on a different level of seriousness, but I will not review the lyrics here.

In comparison to their agitating previous album "Deeper Underground" (2018), "Quantum Resolution" sounds more relaxing, wider, cooler, less angry and less intense, even though there are still many typical extreme metal elements being used on the songs, like blast-beats and harsh death/black metal vocals for example. But the atmosphere is more varied now, even they used pretty much the same elements between the two albums. There are fast sections, mid-paced groovy sections, electronic-jazz sections, and ambient sections both with and without beats, all of these are inter-mingled with each other, creating the textural uniqueness and richness of the overall album. No song sounds similar, but all songs have lots of things going on each one of them that you may find only after several spins. Even one of the most blast-beats-dominating songs on the album, "Spiritual Anarchism", also has that almost dream-pop-like chord progression and atmosphere. Imagine Cocteau Twins decided to go 'blackgaze' and hired extreme metal drummer and screamer/growler, to give an idea. The slower-paced, 'stonier' song "The Sleep System" has a surprising, albeit rather unnecessary, blast-beats ending. "Zoe" is a trippy and quirky acoustic-guitar type (un)pop ballad that quickly morphs into a very un-ballad apocalyptic industrial/ambient/rock mash with pulsing synth while keeping that same acoustic-guitar hovering until the end. The proggy "Apocalypse: Quantum Resolution" has its breakdown mid section that literally breaks everything down in a chaotic electronic-glitch madness, like a black-hole sucking everything down during the brutal event-horizon, reduce to singularity and then spit out the main particles again to form the whole new holographic realities. But maybe that was the idea, because the music follows the lyrical narrative —quoted here: "See the spacetime collapsing, forms be met with dissolution. Entropy leads to the process of quantum resolution".

I need to point out a couple "new things" that were introduced in this particular album: The first one is the 'trap music' elements. It is very natural for Kekal who already possesses all the harshness of both extreme metal and experimental electronic, to utilize some elements of bass-heavy trap into the new songs, because they also have already used reggae and hip-hop elements since almost 20 years ago. The song "Testimony" reflects the use of this 'trap' music elements to a more extensive level, as they built the song on it. I found that Kekal's incorporation of hip-hop/trap music may offend listeners who already dislike the music style in the first place, the same way like when they experimented with harsh-noise or Autechre's 'random blips' in past albums. So be forewarned! The second one is the overall guitar tones, although varied between the songs, but as a whole it was pretty clear they reduced the metal-standard heavy distortions to the level of almost 'clean' AC/DC-like sound. Bands like Gorguts or Oranssi Pazuzu, for example, use this similar approach on their guitar tones to make individual notes of dissonant chords more intelligible and pronounced, creating a unique dark atmosphere just from the guitar tone alone. This approach is also used even more commonly between the 'blackgaze' type of bands these days, although most of those bands don't really experiment with dissonant chords in the first place. Speaking of dissonant and 'jazzy' chords, Kekal is known for using them on their riffs for quite some time now (they're openly influenced by bands like King Crimson, Voivod, and Killing Joke), although not as encompassing as what we may hear in Voivod.

"Quantum Resolution" is a relatively 'safe' album from Kekal because everything sounds rather familiar to those who already know (and like) the band. No experimentally-excessive material is present here, unlike what they did in the past with loved/hated albums such as "Audible Minority" or "8". However, to the new and first-time listeners, it is still a potentially 'overwhelming' album that may be hard to understand and hard to be liked in first few spins, because Kekal doesn't sound like any other bands. Even in the experimental and avant-garde metal box, Kekal is still very much 'out-there' with its own distinct style and approach, thus making this album as 'risky' as the previous highly-experimental Kekal albums. But music fans should not be discouraged by the presentation. Let the music first affect you emotionally and spiritually even before you understand it. Take the album as a journey in which you may encounter new and surprising moments, then you may perceive the music differently. They released two music videos on YouTube: "Quiet Eye" and "Zoe", and these two songs can give us some good introductory examples to the album.

Technically, the unmistakable strength of Kekal lies in the songwriting; how they can play around with so many seemingly 'contradictory' elements (jazz chords, glitch, reggae, trap, noise, drone, blast-beats, etc.), plus all those insane abrupt changes in both keys, tempos, beats, and music styles within a song without losing the overall flow of the music, and this album has plenty of them! The downside is mostly on the production level that sounds rather home-made and cold, although far from being amateurish. Producer and (currently sole?) musical contributor Jeff, now live in Canada since 2006, admitted all the newer Kekal albums were mostly recorded and mixed in his apartment using his laptop computer with digital virtual instruments and amp simulators as main tools as he did not have a luxury of using organic synthesizers, acoustic drums, and real guitar and bass amplifiers that can get the recording a better sound. However, this album still delivers a much better outcome than the novelty of Burzum records, or countless artists today who follow Chelsea Wolfe's lo-fi/dirty sound for the sake of jumping on the aesthetic bandwagon.

Overall, "Quantum Resolution" is among the fresh and finest addition to 2020's experimental/avant-garde metal releases among albums like Mamaleek "Come and See" and the recently released (& highly promoted) Imperial Triumphant "Alphaville".

Simply put, Kekal is not for everyone's ears. One of the reasons why after all these 25 long years and 12 albums in their discography (and as the first Indonesian band who toured Europe in 2004), they have stayed in the underground, mostly unheard, ignored and overlooked by metal fans even in their home country, Indonesia. Many bands that are considered underrated, tend to fall into that category because their music cannot appeal to a broader audience even if it is highly influential to some, and Kekal seems to stay that way despite the musical quality and productivity. But I would challenge those who are open-minded enough to check out the music of Kekal, maybe starting from their 'easier' and more pronounced 'black/death metal-styled' albums like the 2003's "1000 Thoughts of Violence" or 2018's "Deeper Underground" and get settled to the band's style, before hopping on the more difficult ones like this album. Good luck and maybe you will end up becoming the band's new fan after 25 years not knowing who the hell Kekal is! Stream on Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music or wherever, then buy the album on Bandcamp if you like it. I heard the CD is also coming in late August 2020 for those who prefer physical format.

90/100

P.S. Find my older reviews here under username "emazapher".