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Electronica and Expanded Songs - 71%

psychoticnicholai, January 21st, 2017

Kekal was looking for new ground to tread after the release of Acidity where they softened their sound and became purer progressive metal. They go back towards experimentation and decide to focus more on the electronic aspect of their music that they've been building up since The Painful Experience. The Habit of Fire is a long, ambitious album that tries to touch the most upon Kekal's unique blend of influences. The black metal is gone though, but does the music still hold up? In a way, it does. Though less intense, The Habit of Fire is still ambitious and eclectic.

This starts off with its catchiest and most active pieces. The first four songs (excluding the intro) all have a perfect balance of metal and experimental electronic influences that make this feel alive. The blending of styles is relatively mellow compared to older Kekal albums, but they still have their riffing and their quirkiness that they've relied upon for years now. The songs on this album go for long, episodic compositions and frequently near 6 minutes in length. The songs vary their palate frequently with metal riffs, electronic beats and effects, and soft guitar sections that often shift in prominence for dynamics sake. Though it's one of the longer pieces, "Manipulator Generals" is a mellow track that manages to keep up an image of impending oppression in a cyberpunk future. Later songs tend to drag somewhat with longer lengths and the quirkier riffing and blends of earlier songs fading away. There are cool moments there, but you often have to wait until mid-song to hear it. The metal fades out, the electronica takes over and things become less interesting, you really have to either be relaxed or have a lot of patience to enjoy the later parts. Overall, it's decent, but The Habit of Fire is only just so.

With less intensity than before, this album isn't as good as its predecessors, but complex songwriting and well-blended experimentation do help to make this at least a bit interesting. If you want something more metal, go for their earlier stuff. After this album, Kekal would dive completely into the realms of electronic experimentation. If you want to hear a blend of those styles, this isn't a bad album to pick up.

Continues To Break The Habit. - 85%

Perplexed_Sjel, September 14th, 2009

Having only recently just branched out and listened to the Kekal debut, a record I had previously no information about and thus no expectations, I have found myself returning to latter day Kekal faster than expected. Though I do enjoy the debut for what it is - an inspired hybrid of numerous genres that rarely touches upon a dull theme - the last days of Kekal were where most of the bands best material has come about. The debut, as previously stated, is a successful hybrid and, in that way alone, this record can relate to its older brother as it too is a hybrid record, spanning across several interrelated genres and numerous unrelated styles. Though the debut stuck to a strict formula of providing an overriding black metal base, with tinges of extreme metal here and there, and a gothic undertone in the gliding darkness that flittered beneath the aggressive overtones, records such as this one, ‘The Habit of Fire’ are increasing the pressure on the experimentation, causing it to sweat as it feels the heat of the transition from primitive beginnings to accessible endings.

The discography history of Kekal reads like a novel which is presented by an unreliable narrator who, at first, appears to be all knowing and trustworthy. Not much of the story fits as he begins to unfold the tale of anger, inspiring the listener to question the mannerisms and motives of the narrator as he lies to both the listener and himself on the subject at hand. As the story transcends, the pieces begin to place themselves in the right order as the lies become known to everyone, like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The story manifests itself into a divine truth and is in stark contrast to the openings of the novel as it nears completion. This can be equated to the story of the Kekal discography as the debut tells a tale unlike that of the this era. To begin with, Kekal were a distressed band with a sound accessible to those of a more extreme nature. As the discography progresses into the modern era and beyond the aggressive beginnings which now look like a bout of teenage angst in comparison to this mesmerising and mature unfolding, Kekal have transformed into a beautiful band who’s heart aching story is one of much skill, but little recognition for their efforts.

As the band have recently decided to call it a day, listeners who have discovered this gem have taken it upon themselves to draw conclusions from the strange goodbye Jeffray left us with. His lack of anger fuelled him to leave the band as Leo wanted no part in the act anymore either. Some suggest that the sheer lack of recognition, despite the overwhelming experimental nature of the music which has seen it rise from inaccessible to accessible throughout the years, was the final nail in the coffin. As the band members disappear into infamy, the name of Kekal lives on as a monument to the almost fifteen year journey of the band from the anger of the rasping led debut, to records such as this, with its clean vocal portrayal and outside influences from genres like electronica and jazz. As a huge black metal fan, this record probably shouldn’t appeal to me more than the debut, which had a black influence, but it does. This record doesn’t contain many elements of the debut which saw rasping vocals and a really hateful texture to the content which didn’t afford much room to genres like electronica, despite a minimal keyboard influence, and jazz.

The inspirations behind the music have almost become entirely from outside of the metal scope and this has actually increased the accessibility of the band to a die-hard metal fan like myself. The progressive content still has a metal edge, but the content is far too varied to be simply lumped into one genre, or sub-genre that is supposed to sum up the record as a whole. No genre description would do this diverse piece justice because, as I said, songs like ‘Free Association’ indicate the outside influences well as the electronic sound builds slowly alongside a heavy bass section. Songs like this give me a feeling of familiarity and I remember the days I discovered records like ‘Perdition City’ by Ulver, which incorporated electronica and jazz also. In that way, Kekal’s ‘The Habit of Fire’ is similar to Ulver’s moody piece, but Kekal definitely draw upon a metal influence more so than Ulver did on ‘Perdition City’. This record actually contains two of my three favourite Kekal songs, ‘Isolated I’ and ‘Escapism’, a song divided into five separate parts. The wonderful lyrics, accompanied by the weird content makes for a blissful, euphoric song. Though the aggression of the rasps may have gone a long time ago, these lyrics still display what Jeffray meant when he said he just isn’t angry enough anymore to produce Kekal records;

“What on Earth am I here for?
Trapped in this piercing circumstance
With no sign of hope to pull through
A nation full of parasites
And you don't know how much I hate this place
With countless sad stories of failed survivals
Every step is a miracle”

Though each part is clearly divided into different sections (which also occurs on another song), each segment is as pivotal as the next. The way in which the vocals has evolved is a leading part of why Kekal have become such a success. The vocals are honest sounding and passionate. Though the rasps clearly displayed the anger, there is more emotion to the cleaner style as songs like ‘Escapism’ highlight. Whilst guest musicians did perform on such songs as this one, it is the performance of the regular members which takes most of the plaudits, especially Jeffray and Leo. The keyboards, bass and other subtle elements are favoured by the cleaner style because the rasps took a lot of energy away from the instrumentation because they were such a strong, inaccessible member of the machine. The way in which the production is now tailored to the cleaner style, too, is important. The jazzy bass can work its magic in swift processions of avant-gardé joy and the electronic elements of the keyboards can altered to textures far more easily than previously. The evolution of this band is important. Though the debut was indeed good, efforts like this truly pinpoint why Kekal have such a strong following, despite the small numbers of fans who have actually found them.

Thoroughly enjoyable, effectively cohesive. - 100%

HaXxorIzed, October 27th, 2007

Kekal.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing avant-garde bands to come out of any country, Kekal is a pleasurable combination of experiences for me. Coming from Indonesia, a country rich in it’s own heritage and musical assault, Kekal proves to be every bit as complex and unpredictable as their country of origin with the musical assault, The Habit of Fire. It’s an album that manages about 75 minutes, and assault the listener with a wide range of musical experiences.


For starters, I’ll be blunt. The Habit of Fire is a piece that jumps through a number of musical extremes, jumping from distinct sounds through both a track by track basis as a well as a thematic one in each of the songs. The Guitar instrumentation and it’s combination with the electronica in my mind, serves as a key proponent which can be observed for this. Kekal’s guitar instrumentation is both powerful and effective on both a technical and a compositional level. The Axemen weave in and out of complex guitar lines, playing unusual chords which take the listener’s attention with a stranglehold, all the while accentuating the electronic and melodic layers Kekal adds to their music. A clear example of the latter can be found on Isolated I. This piece begins immediately with series of electronic effects (and it’s clear that Jeff hasn’t lost an ounce of his skill with programming the drums, either), those drums leading the beginning of the piece from electronic and harmonic interplay into a perfect, slightly thrashy series of riffs. The end result is the listener is barraged with waves of cleverly constructed riffage, drum instrumentation and electronic effects. The varied and constantly fluctuating nature of the styles even on tihs track alone, should by all rights be contradictory. Kekal’s triumph comes in taking these distinct elements and meshing them together so they enhance the album instead of detraction from it, and the finisher 'Escapism' serves as a perfect example of this. The uplifting, focused and thoroughly emphatic conclusion of 'finding a way to stand up again' ends with a searing moment of electronic noise, clean vocal harmonization, and thudding drumming.


One of the most notable achievements on this album is it's sense of atmosphere and in no better place is this emphasized than album ender ‘Escapism’ and 'Manipulator Generals', split into several segments. Both manage to be subtly brooding, (which is appropriate, given the nature of the album) and manages to be distinctly dark and self-defeating as well as defiant and hopeful at times in both spoken and sung lyric, as well as instrumentation. There is talk of the ’40 years of freedom’ and the clear impression of doubt, dismay and disconnection from nature. Kekal’s unique blend of savagely unique and unusual chords go a long way towards achieving this affect, as the album is unquestionably guitar driven. Yet, the concept piece culminates itself in a clearly and far more hopeful sense of conclusion, the idea that no matter what, we must all ‘to find a way to stand up again’. Of the many exceptional facets of The Habit of Fire, this strikes me as one of the most distinctly moving in terms of a concept album. The interweaving of both sublime guitar instrumentation and electronic effects serves as its own foreshadowing to the direction of the album itself, a concept piece on the loss of spirituality and feeling when man retreats away from nature. While their vocals line (and I’ll get to them later) spin on about the electronic elements of the song perfectly intertwine with the ‘standard’ metal influences (if you can even call it that).


It’s through this effective blending of electronica, jazz, black metal, death metal and a assortment of other genres, Kekal develops a sense that the music echoes the intent of the album. Kekal prove their excellent in the fields of fusion by drawing upon a diverse range of musical fields, analog synths, jazz, beats of a distinctly Indonesian variety, electronica, black and death metal influences, as well as their strangely poppish vocal interplay (at times). Kekal brings in the progressive rock and metal influences and adds them to the varied musical approaches, resulting in one extremley diverse and enjoyable album. Pieces such as 'Our Urban Industry Runs Monotonously' introduce the ambient and electronic influences with an undeniable aura of beauty. There’s even elements of psychadelia and trip-hop, some of which I do believe hearkens back to Indonesia’s dangdut musical history. This all merges together with strong use of melodic layers and enhance in particular, the psychedelic elements of the album. For seemingly brief moments (such as on Our Urban Industry) far more melodic elements surface just long enough to register as a tonal or style change, before retreating back into the background.


Key changes, drum rhythms, effective recording quality and excellent riffage are all brought together on this album. Kekal manages to keep the approaches they take original each and every time, so the record never dissolves into the tedium of many supposed ‘experimental’ metal bands. By far the strongest example of this on the record is the vocals themselves. Jeff, Leo and Azhar combine a number of vocal techniques perfectly, without ever falling into the traps posed by such approaches. The Habit of Fire showcases effective vocal harmonization combined with terse shouting seconds later, gasping and screeching with a subdued and soothing (almost narrator-like) vocal delivery (particularly present on Escapism, movement II). Likewise, the drum patterns are impressive. How on earth Jeff could program this level of success into the drums is beyond me, as they go through a wide range of techniques. I can only say that it is a smörgåsbord of odd time signatures, and mixes perfectly with the distinct baselines, adding texture and depth to the music without detracting from the cohesiveness of the album. Guitars lead the album, and its host to a number of brilliant passages. These are wonderfully composed and always feel appropriate, be it the faster, aggressive approach of solos on Isolated I, or more restrained work on Free Association. Likewise, the riffing goes through a number of influences while still paying homage right back to their days of earlier, more black/death metal and always managing to feel powerful and appropriate. It is testament to Kekal’s compositional abilities that these don’t feel restraining or tiring to the reader in the slightest. Ultimately, all the compositional elements serve only to enhance the music, to drive it forward.


There are many concluding statements I could say about Kekal’s ‘The Habit of Fire’, yet it’s one of those albums a listener has to experience to fully appreciate. Suffice to say it’s both a stunning example of what genre fusion has to offer if performed correctly and maintains a strong sense of magnetism to the listener, along the entirety of the album’s breadth. While I do feel some of the significance of the album, both lyrically and emotionally may be lost on those with little understanding of Indonesian culture and history, it is an impressive piece nevertheless.


I would be doing the album a disservice to award it less and perhaps more than any other album I can name in 2007, deserves the highest accolades.