By Jason Jordan
While Indonesia is mostly known for its rubber, Kekal are doing their part to make the chief export avant-garde, black metal. This year has seen the band pass into their 10th anniversary as a unit, and their new album Acidity is as fitting a commemoration as any. I had a quick chat with Jeff Arwadi (vocals, guitars), and was ecstatic to be interviewing such a commendable group of musicians. We last talked with them in 2002Ö
Hello. Jason from UltimateMetal.com here, and itís great to talk with you! Iíve been a fan for a long time.
Hi Jason. Iím Jeff. Nice to talk to you. Iíve been in touch with Russell of UltimateMetal.com since about 3 years ago, and I think the webzine is cool as a lot of interesting things are going on.
Since you guys formed in 1995 Ė making the band a decade old Ė youíve had a lot of line-up changes over the years. Why do you think Kekal has been such a revolving door? Is the line-up on Acidity Ė a homecoming of sorts Ė going to carry over to the next full-length?
Well, I think Kekal
is one of the most compact and stable bands around if you compare us with other underground metal bands who have been together for 10 years. Three of us: Levi (bassist/vocalist), Leo (guitarist), and myself have been in the band since 1996 and we have become the core members of Kekal
. If you see on the CD cover of Acidity
that we have 5 members listed, itís because we tried to make this a special 10th anniversary ďreunionĒ kind of album. On our next album, hopefully, we will be a trio again. This line-up is the same as Embrace the Dead
and The Painful Experience
. Leo left the band in 2001 because he moved to Australia for about 4 years, but he returned to Indonesia and then became a permanent member once again.
Iím sure that assumptions about your religious views follow you around at all times. Are there any labels you care to tag the band with, or would you prefer Kekal to be affiliation-free?
Yes. The only thing Kekal
is affiliated with is the real passion for music. Kekal
doesnít fit with any subgenre of popular music, musically nor lyrically. Metal is fine with us, but we have traveled so far and sometimes we left the borders of metal itself. I donít know about any religious view. We donít believe in religion ourselves, and we donít think our lyrics on the last 3 albums have anything to do with religion and ideology. But, since our lyrics talk about life, most of them have some philosophical tendencies. On Acidity
there are quotes here and there, ranging from the Christian Bible to Nietzsche. You know, it is a bit risky to say Acidity
is a Christian metal album, because it has a Nietzsche quote on one song, and many so-called Christians are against Nietzsche at all costs.
Throughout your career as a band, youíve utilized several different types of vocals on each record. What motivates you to include so many kinds of vocals? Do you usually prefer groups with one type of vocals, or numerous?
Everything is about expression. We use different vocals to capture the mood needed, and the only way to express it is by using certain kind of vocals. Itís similar with how we use different guitar tunes, or a different kind of mix on a song. I prefer music that has the most freedom in it. It can use only one type of vocals or 1000 types of vocals, but the most important thing is: the vocals successfully capture the mood of the music.
Itís no secret that Kekal blend uncountable styles (perhaps black metal and electronica most notably) to achieve a unique sound. But, I want to ask about a term thatís been used to depict the band. What does it mean to be avant-garde, and how do you think you came to be described as such?
For us, avant-garde is not a classification of music. It is a state of being, and a state of becoming. A band can be progressive even when they are not in a ďprogressiveĒ genre. In contrast, a band can be just plain stagnant, even though they are known as a progressive rock or metal band. So once your music can be classified easily, I donít think the word progressive or avant-garde fits. So thatís why we mention in our bio that ďavant-gardeĒ is an ideal state for us, and not a classification.
Do you believe youíre on the cutting edge of music, or would it be haughty of you to say so?
I believe that music is art. And art is about the product of expression, not fashion. Art cannot be art in the purest form if itís being put in a frame. For me, all music should be at the state of ďcutting edge,Ē as it should not be limited at all. If there is no limit or edge, there is no need to cut it. Speaking about expression, most of it is spontaneous when the music is being created. I mean, expression doesnít have limits and boundaries, so logically it canít be prophesized.
In my opinion, if one traces the audible history of Kekal, it seems like you guys moved from a strict black metal sound to BM infused with an emphasis on electronic effects. What led to this progression, and what do you foresee Kekal doing in the future as far as recording techniques are concerned?
We are saved by technology. I mean, our music would not be able to progress without the help of digital recording technology. Our first 2 albums are very primitive in sound because we recorded in a 16-track analog studio. The studio is very expensive and it would not be possible for us to enter, like, a 48-track studio to accommodate the music. But in 2001, we started using digital hard-disk recording on PC, and we have software that can accept unlimited recording tracks, and we can use loops etc. attached to it, sample this, sample that, copy this part and paste to that section, and also manipulate the sounds, and itís not too expensive because itís all done on a PC, and the PC was in my bedroom space. And then I started to use digital amp-simulator. Thatís like having 32 different guitar amps in one box. I couldnít afford Marshall JCM-800, but now I can ďhaveĒ it as well as Soldano, Peavey, etc. for less than the price of one real amp. Isnít that crazy? At that point, we thought that technology is now able to make room for unlimited expression, so why we should limit ourselves?
Youíve been releasing albums on a steady basis since 1995. When do you do most of your songwriting?
On the last 3 albums, we wrote the songs as we recorded them. Most of the songwriting is done in pre-production, and as I have a small studio at home, it is not a problem as I can write on the computer at night..
Has it been difficult balancing the group with your everyday responsibilities?
Yes, it has been very difficult. We donít have time to rehearse music together, but we have a way out. We practice and write music separately at our own places, and we exchange CDís of our recorded material. At this point, we are not a band that jams together.
Back to AcidityÖhow would you suggest approaching it? Is there one song that you feel encapsulates the album to a tee?
There is no song that represents the whole album. The only way to experience the album in full is by listening to it wholly, from the first track to the last track.
Tell us about some of the tours youíve been on. Where have you not yet been that youíd like to go, and when do you think youíll be able to embark on a tour of the U.S.?
We had our first European tour in 2004. It was not really a tour, but more like a series of shows. It went great, despite some technical problems and that we only had one guitar, but the tour overall was great. In Indonesia, we only play shows randomly. I mean, these shows are not booked together as a part of a tour. Our band is still too small to have a real worldwide tour base, with steady schedules, and we still have our own day-job commitments. Itís hard to get on a real tour.
Any last words for our readers?
To anyone whoís never heard about Kekal
or hasnít got our new album, please check out Acidity
. You can buy directly from the record label Fear Dark, or ask about a distributor near you. Donít forget to check out our website where you can download some mp3ís. Thank you for reading the interview. Thatís appreciated.
UltimateMetalís Review of Kekal Ė Acidity
Official Kekal Website
Official Fear Dark Records Website