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The 5-track EP that may offend die-hard metal fans - 92%

emazapher, May 21st, 2013

Kekal needs no introduction. While they are known more for their extreme metal music, right now it is probably more synonymous to ‘experimental’ or ‘avant-garde’ than ‘metal’. This ‘band’ (mind you - there is no official band members in Kekal since 2009) has been around for almost 2 decades and has released 9 full-length albums so far. “Unsung Division EP” is their second EP or mini-album, with 5 new studio tracks clocking just over 25 minutes, recorded after their last year’s full-length album “Autonomy”. I was not familiar with their earlier music, only discovered them in 2007 when they released “The Habit of Fire”. I don’t dig much heavy metal music, let alone the extreme metal sub-genres, but I am a fan of cutting-edge bands within the metal scope such as Godflesh, Mr Bungle, etc. I didn’t want to review earlier Kekal releases mainly because my appreciation to the music could have been biased, same thing a metal fan may have different appreciation to the music on Kekal’s later releases, including this “Unsung Division EP”.

So let me start with this EP. The band offers this (currently) as free download, it means you will not feel bad if - upon finding out - you just can’t get the music. 4 out of 5 tracks on this EP are not metal at all, they are mostly generative electronic soundscapes akin to the works of British electronic duo Autechre. But Kekal added some distorted guitars, some harsher noise, glitch, and their own ‘trademark’ breakdowns, buildups and interludes, which, to me sound like a metal interpretation of the approach of music made famous by Autechre. In other words, Kekal tries to blend Autechre with heavy metal (same thing Godflesh tried to blend The Swans and heavy metal in the past). Now, what do Autechre and metal music have in common? Nothing! That is the main problem of this EP. For me, who is familiar with the later works of Autechre and some other “post-IDM” artists can actually enjoy this EP. This is an excellent release from Kekal, especially they came from such different musical background called metal. I believe at least 80% of current Kekal fans are still metal fans, and I can imagine how ‘hard’ for them to understand this EP in the first place, let alone appreciating it.

The first track “Dividend in Division” is a typical avant-garde metal approach of Kekal. Nothing extra-ordinary. It’s a groovy, electronic metal track, with some Moog Taurus bass synth, and a refreshing dubstep beats thrown in the middle of the song, before the metal kicks in again, along with the guitar solos, blast-beats and such and such. Typical metal fans will still enjoy it. Ok, so only after the first track, THEN the real sounds of the EP start. Track #2 (“The Other Side of Division”) starts with machine-gun-like electronic blast-beats sounds and after a few seconds, you’ll know you’re in a different territory. The sounds were so intimidating that you might get yourself caught off-guard. I instantly smiled and thought “Oh shit, is this Kekal?”. Lucky for me, I KNEW it was coming, because I knew that Jeff, the mastermind behind Kekal is a big fan of Autechre. I just didn’t realize that he dared to pull off that in a Kekal release, but it’s an EP, not a full-length album. The beats seem to be randomly generated, but in reality they follow the same time signature and tempo throughout the entire track. What most interesting on this track is the addition of an almost hypnotic, almost Gamelan-sounded, Indonesian ethnic music infusion. This sets Kekal apart from any Autechre-wannabe allegations just for doing the stuff that has been done a decade ago by the duo. Kekal brought some new vibe to the table, so this was not the case of ‘me-too’ music. Track #3 “Aku Menggila” is another interesting soundscape, it even blends “Kekal trademark sound” to all the industrial, heavy, ear-piercing feedback-induced electronic wall-of-sound, although I think they got lost somewhere towards the middle (I wished they cut the middle of this track just a little bit shorter). I sense some of the early Godflesh influence on this. The pseudo-harmony between the low-frequency bass and feedback noise tone (once again, I think this one is Kekal’s trademark sound) is nothing short of mind-hypnotizing. Google translate the words “Aku Menggila” it will give you “I Craze”. It is a crazy track that redefine what sound and what music is, and I am glad Kekal put this as track #3 as it is right in the middle of the EP. This track will make death metal to sound like Maroon 5 (and as Maroon 5’s fans will get annoyed with death metal, death metal fans may get annoyed with this track). Simply as that! Track #4 “For The Sake of Just In Case” is a laid-back, pokey, jazzy, modern slow-paced track that serves as a recovery tool for those of you that have just listened the ultra-heavy and ear-shattering previous track “Aku Menggila”. I enjoy this track a lot, but the highlight of the EP is actually the last track “The God Particle”: to me this is among the best songs from Kekal ever, well, if you CAN get past the intimidating electronic sounds. This track is capable of drawing listeners into the sonic adventure without really losing the momentum, and 6 minutes really felt like 3 minutes. You will get hypnotized by the sound. Jeff delivered his very emotional vocal lines, and rarely he sings like that. “The God Particle” is worth the entire EP alone, and I wished they put this instead of the metal track “Dividend in Division” on their next album (oh yeah I know, I’m not digging standard metal music - my choice may not be popular).

All-in-all, “Unsung Division EP” is a very solid musical adventure, and it’s free! Of course, 5 tracks are not enough to make it as a statement that Kekal isn’t a typical metal band on the planet, but it is enough to make you realize that there are many ways to explore the music beyond the confinement of metal. Metal music is over-saturated right now, and I feel that there are less and less brave enough bands to come up to the scene and turn the cliche upside down by exploring possibilities and express themselves honestly. There’s a risk in doing this. Fans who don’t get the music may not appreciate it. Kekal is one of the brave bands out there, mainly because they never got popular enough to not afford losing the fanbase - and because they don’t do music full-time. For metal fans who read my review here, download this free EP at kekal.org and give it a few more listens to figure out (one listen alone won’t make you to understand the music), and if you still can’t get it, it may not be for you, but at least you have tried, and not just complaining and bitching after one listen. Hating a different music makes you look like a narrow-minded fool. However, this release is an excellent addition to your collection if you are a fan of bands like Autechre, or if you dare to take and appreciate something different than usual.

A Shit Sandwich... At Least The Bread Tastes Good - 27%

psychoticnicholai, May 9th, 2013

Kekal for me has always been a band big on experimentation and has flown above many other lesser known metal acts on golden, avant-garde wings. So what could make this album go so wrong? What makes it so bad? This album is rife with problems and is beyond boring. I skipped through 3 of the 5 songs on this album before they were even a minute through. They consist of little more than minor, boring, uninteresting, un-avant-garde, lazy, repetitive electronic beats that do nothing to either engage the listener, or at least provoke some thoughts from them. It almost managed to put me to sleep whilst listening to it. I expected an interesting amalgam of styles on this EP like the usual Kekal. You know, a mixture of electronica, industrial, progressive, black, avant-garde, and power metal that has crafted the band it's unique and respected identity among us here in the metal community. We got none of that, we got this embarrassing EP of bleepity-bloopity electroshit instead. It's not even good electronic music, so I can't even console them for that. at least I could've milked some enjoyment out of this had that been the case, but it's not. This EP is an ominous sign that the once brilliant Kekal may be falling apart and could be finished in a few years.

Now the first and last songs on this album are actually interesting and kind of cool with guitars and beats that make actual sense with interesting and inventive riffs coupled with sound effects that add to the odd, interesting, and occasionally ethereal sound effects. Electronic elements are prevalent but not dominant on these two songs and they actually flow well. The God Particle actually starts out on a beat that you can actually tap your foot to and fades into guitar play. These two songs, Dividend in Division and The God Particle are what saved this EP from permanent deletion from my computer as they are just good enough to keep me interested.

The rest on the other hand, sounds like mangled, broken malfunctions sans guitars that could only be made by a robot with it's head caught in a toilet. The Other side of Division doesn't sound engaging or interesting at all. The beat to the song is off kilter and broken. It sounds like what I'd imagine as someone trying to play xylophone on a busted Sega genesis. Aku Menggila is even worse. It sound like that same genesis that you played xylophone on is know sick to it's guts and has diarrhea. I'm serious, the notes and beats of this 16-bit diarrhea is all over the place and just sounds like the kind of music the Angry Video Game Nerd would mock in one of his videos. Worst fact is that this diarrhea goes on for almost 6 minutes. For the Sake of Just in Case sounds a little better as it actually sounds somewhat coherent. It's still a supremely boring track with far too little going on and moving too slowly to even be a good techno song. These botched, simplistic attempts at IDM do nothing but baffle me.

A band as complex and off the wall as Kekal would be the last people I'd imagine doing something so boring and simple. This betrayal of style which doesn't even meld well into the new style is a chief failing factor here. The two songs at the start and end are decent enough, but these three in the middle are nothing if not boring. They are broken experiments with no creativity or intricacy to them. This excess simplicity and lack of even catchiness or guitars from such a (normally) complicated and excessive band bothers me. That complexity and excess made Kekal great and they've moved FAR away from that. Leave this one alone. It's not worth your time.