Beginning life as a duo in 1995, Indonesian band Kekal have released three albums since their conception; "Beyond The Glimpse of Dreams", "Embrace The Dead", and most recently “The Painful Experience”. Their avant-garde music can best be described as an combination of all types of extreme metal (death, black, progressive, symphonic, traditional, thrash, technical, and melodic), with some ethereal/ambient, industrial, rock, electronica/goth and jazz elements. I have recently had the opportunity to interview guitarist and vocalist Jeff via email concerning the band’s history, sound, inspiration, and future. A review of their latest album can be found here
First of all, can you tell us something about the band’s history, and why you chose the name Kekal? (I believe it means "Eternal" or "Immortal" in Indonesian?)
The name was chosen by our former member Newbabe.. I haven’t officially joined Kekal back then, so I don’t know exactly why he chose that name.. The thing I know is that we wanted to have an Indonesian name over an English one..
Was there any reason behind that?
Just to avoid the same name that might already been taken by other band.. You know, there are many bands in Indonesia that have the same names with the overseas bands and if they got signed with overseas labels, they had to change the band names.. For a band, changing a name after 4 or 5 years is almost like starting a new band from the beginning again, because people won’t recognise you..
What inspired you to become a musician, especially considering you studied psychology at Atma Jaya University?
I’ve been playing in a band since high-school, and my choice to study psychology was a personal one and nothing to do with the music.. I think the only link is that in fact I love art and science, and I want to further my knowledge in both areas.. Psychology and music are art as well as science.. They are either abstract but measurable.. Also I taught myself to study graphic design and sound engineering through books and Internet, and now I work as a graphic designer for living, as well as a semi-pro sound-engineer.. Those things are also connected with art and science..
Having such a diverse sound, do you find it hard to ensure your music is coherent and despite the variety clearly has a single source?
I believe the “diverse sound” is coming from our broad range of musical influences.. We like anything that interested us so basically when we wrote the music they all just popped up in our minds.. We don’t want to limit our music as well as putting it into a specific box, yet I am really sure that this is Kekal’s music because we wrote, arranged, and also performed it ourselves.. I mean we were not ripping-off a polka’s band riffs on this part and a typical jazz lick on that.. We're more unifying the elements of music into our own signature style in each every song and that's totally Kekal style.. I know some of the listeners might have few ‘problems’ listening to our music on this album, especially the ones who want to listen only to specific and known sub-genre based musical styles..
I can see how fans may like to avoid your music if they are scared of eclecticism!
Haha.. That’s it.. Sometimes people want to hear what they want to hear and not always ready enough if they find it to be different from what they expected..
In your opinion, what makes that Kekal style?
Well, to tell you the truth, it just flows over our minds through the years.. It’s like a consequence of not limiting ourselves listening the music as well as writing ours..
Who do you consider your biggest influences?
We grew up listening to metal back in the 80’s, so consequently our “metal heroes” were mostly 80’s metal bands for sure.. Our early influences were bands like CELTIC FROST, BATHORY, SODOM, IRON MAIDEN, DEATH, TROUBLE.. But as time goes by we found out that there are many interesting and good music outside metal realm, so we started to dig other territories as well.. Nowadays our biggest musical influences beside 80’s metal are 70’s progressive, jazz-fusion, and also electronic, ambient, post-rock, and indie rock.. I can’t list all the bands because they need at least a full-page space..
What was the last CD you bought?
The last CDs I bought were the remastered enhanced CD of IRON MAIDEN “Seventh Son of A Seventh Son” to replace my old one, and DEEP FOREST “Boheme”.. And I just got some extreme metal CDs like SIGH “Imaginary Sonicscape” and about 5 other titles through trades with my overseas friends..
Which groups are your personal favourites?
My all time favourite bands and musicians are RUSH, IRON MAIDEN, CAMEL, KING CRIMSON, Alex Lifeson, the late Criss Oliva, Dave “The Edge” Evans from U2, and Bill Bruford of KING CRIMSON / YES / EARTHWORKS fame..
Where else do you draw your inspiration from?
Mostly from life..
Hehe, good answer! You have a very different religious viewpoint from the majority of extreme metal bands. Has this ever been a hindrance (especially considering I read there has been some animosity towards Christianity in certain areas of Indonesia)?
No, not really.. Everyone has their own right to choose his/her spiritual leaning and to respect others with different viewpoints as well.. If people hate us because of what we believe I don’t care because that will never stop the band.. I always think that what we believe is nothing to do with any religious movement..
If only all people felt the same way! Do you personally avoid listening to satanic/heathen metal?
No, I listen to all kinds of bands.. There are some certain “satanic” bands that I don’t listen but it’s because I don’t like their music at all, not because the nature of the lyrics.. I read books from Nietzsche, for example, and also studied the history and principles of Satanism (both LaVey and Crowley) when I was in a psychology class..
How integral to your music do you feel your religious views are?
There are always some positive messages in the lyrics, but I don’t think they are religious, and we’re not a religious band for sure.. But however, though we are not a religious band of any kind, we consider ourselves as a spiritual band.. So we would write any about life and its values rather than about fantasy topics or things that are not representing our innerselves.. I mean we wanted to be true to our heart when writing the music, so consequently the music reflects our own feelings, beliefs, and opinions.. The fact that we believe in God and it reflects on our lyrics as well..
How big is the Indonesian black metal scene?
It’s not big as the scene is more and more into brutal death metal in recent years.. But we have some good black metal bands here..
Would you care to name a few?
There is one band that I just got their promo few days ago: NEUROTIC OF GODS.. They play fast black metal like DARK FUNERAL and IMMORTAL and they did it very well on the album.. Their debut CD will be released soon by a metal label from Hong Kong.. Other band worth mentioning is TRANSCENDUS.. It’s a pretty new band but they have a quite original music, mixing haunting dark ambient with raw and simplistic BURZUM-like black metal..
Is there a lot of demand for your music in Indonesia?
Not really a lot of demand because we play extreme music.. But our albums sell quite good within the extreme metal market.. We don’t have a major distribution here, everything is underground-based and all the promotion, marketing, and distribution are done independently by our label..
What do you like to spend your time doing other than playing music?
We have our own dayjobs.. I work as a graphic designer for living.. Azhar is a mechanical engineer, and other guitarist Leo works in Melbourne Australia as an assistant manager in McDonalds..
I was under the impression Leo had left the band?
Leo did leave the band officially, but in fact he is not really out of the band.. I mean in the next few months he will join us to record our next album.. He will record his parts in Australia and the rest of us here in Indonesia.. I am currently talking with him about the possibility that he will join us again as a permanent member or at least he will still be able to play with us for the next recording sessions..
Do you find it a challenge fitting in Kekal around day jobs?
For the rehearsal and recording schedules there’s no problem at all, we can do them at night because I have a small home studio at home.. But of course we can’t tour because our dayjobs are a steady 9 to 5 thing, you know..
Congratulations “The Painful Experience”, an excellent release! I have read several reviews in which people didn’t like the falsetto, King Diamond-influenced singing. What inspired you to use this style?
Thanks..! I have to tell you that it was the first time we used that kind of vocals, so you can only find them on “The Painful Experience” album.. Well, we actually needed some more aggressive vocals but yet melodic ones because the nature of the songs and the lyrical themes.. So we thought those kind of vocals were suitable in some of the songs.. I really like the Rob Halford and King Diamond approaches on vocals because they have variations of styles and each style has its own “personality”..
I agree, one of my favourite aspects of your music is the huge variation in vocal styles. Are you glad you used the falsetto?
Yes, particularly for that album, the use of those vocal styles is the best one..
Will you be using them in your next release?
I don’t know.. I can’t say yes or no at this stage..
How do you choose which of your multiple vocal styles to use and when?
We just tried to put the most suitable vocal styles to the “schizophrenic” nature of music.. It’s not too difficult if you’re already familiar with your own vocal ranges, timbres, and types.. We have 2 vocalists (me and Azhar) to mess around with more than 10 different vocal styles..!
Are you completely satisfied with the album?
From the songwriting, recording, until the final mix, yes.. The only small disappointment was the mastering result of the U.S. version (the CD you have).. The European version of the same album has a much better sound/mastering.. You should go to the label http://www.fear-dark.com
and order a copy to compare with, and you will agree with me..
I may just well do that ;o) Why did you choose to have “Voice From Heaven” as a secret track rather than part of the album?
It’s a sort of “marketing trick” you know.. We put different bonus tracks in different versions.. So if you are a collector you can buy more than 1 CD and yet you will find different bonus tracks.. The album is licensed to and released by 3 record labels: Clenchedfist Records for North America, Fear Dark Records for Europe, and THT Productions for South East Asia..
How do you go about composing the music?
There are no specific method we use in composing the music.. Sometimes we just recorded the basic riffs to a boombox and would collect and use them later on.. Sometimes there are lyrics or lyrical topics ready so the music follows the lyrics.. Sometimes the music and lyrics are built together..
Do you think your lack of formulated music writing helps add diversity to your sound and keep it fresh then?
Yes of course, if we stuck in only one way to write music and keep it over and over again we would be ended up sound the same in each album, and that’s what we want to avoid.. We don’t want to get stagnant..
My favourite tracks on “The Painful Experience” have to be the title and hidden track. Which are yours?
My fave tracks are all except the hidden tracks..! I mean we have 3 tracks that being put to hidden tracks because there are not really new Kekal songs.. All the hidden tracks are just a remixed versions of our original songs.. The hidden track on Clenchedfist Records version (“Voice From Heaven”) is actually a remixed version of “From Within”, a song from our previous album “Embrace The Dead”..
Cool! I really liked the almost dance/ethereal feel on the remix... Did you find any tracks harder to write than others?
Yes of course, for example the title track which needed more than 2 months to build, and the 2nd half of the music on that song was actually written and recorded after the first one was recorded, then they got mixed together.. You can hear different guitar tones between the first half and the 2nd half.. But in the other hand we have a song that was entirely written down in about 30 minutes, like “Like There’s No Other Way To Go”..
As your main inspiration is life itself, do any have stories/specific experiences behind your songs?
Not specifically.. But every title tells a story as an illustration.. On “The Painful Experience” album, we address more topics from the current socio-political situation in our country.. We took that as illustrations and brought them in words..
Your 4th full-length album is currently in the writing/recording process, how is this going?
So far we have demoed few songs, and about 40% to 50% of the music is written.. Everything is going very well.. I think this might be our most extreme material yet..
That’s something to look forward to then! Will it be similar in style to “The Painful Experience”, or will there be changes?
There are some new elements there as well as the atmosphere might be different than “The Painful Experience” because we never wanted to do a “part 2” of our previous albums, except it’s a continuity of a concept album.. And in fact that “The Painful Experience” is done already, and better to leave it alone and make it as a classic of itself.. hahaha.. However the new album is still very much Kekal..
Hehe, cool! How do you think the atmosphere will differ? Will it still be relatively dark (as I felt “The Painful Experience” was)?
I think in general it will be even darker than anything we have done before.. We are using different sound settings for guitars and drums right now, and I believe they help to make the whole atmosphere a bit different than “The Painful Experience”.. But as we did before, once again each song will have its own character and atmosphere.. You will get some mixed feelings after listening the whole album..
In closing, do you have any messages for the Ultimate Metal readership?
Check out "The Painful Experience" CD.. Visit our label's website www.clenchedfist.com
or e-mail email@example.com
for info about the CD and where to get it.. I just got the info from Clenchedfist that it will be available soon at some major online retailers like CDNow, Amazon, and some others.. We also have a new split CD out entitled “Chaos & Warfare” which released by Fear Dark Records (Holland) few months ago.. Don't forget to visit our website: www.kekal.cjb.net
and sign-up for our newsletter.. Thanks for your support.. Stay Metal..!
Thanks very much for taking the time out to answer my questions, and good luck with the recording of your next album!
Thank you..! Nice to talk to you..