Monday, April 03, 2006

ALTERA ENIGMA - In Depth Interview

ALTERA ENIGMA , what a cool name for an even more cool band!
This Australian-Indonesian self-proclaimed "progressive experimental metal" band consists of Jason De Ron (ex-PARAMAECIUM, Aussie doom/death band), Jeff Arwadi (Indonesian avant-metal KEKAL) and Kenny Cheong (a jazz fusion bassist). All of the musicians above have been playing music for over 10 years, and they have been together as ALTERA ENIGMA since 2003. Their debut CD "Alteration" is released in 2006, and to be honest, displays their maturity in songwriting and musicianship.

Here's the chat with NeKroblog! Read on! (I'll post the "Alteration" CD review soon)....

Jason DeRon

• Nekro: You call your band as “progressive metal”, but yet your music is different (and way better) than most of progressive metal indie bands around. Are you satisfied with the current “progressive metal” movements filled with countless silly unoriginal boring DREAM THEATER wanna-be’s?

Jason: Altera Enigma is really only “Progressive Metal” because it is the closest description that we can use. I usually try to use the term “Progressive Metal Fusion” or “Fusion Influenced Progressive Metal”. As you said, we are very different than a lot of other Progressive bands, as a lot Progressive bands are influenced by power metal, and that is something I do not listen to or like. I draw more from Jazz Fusion than anything else. I'm not interested in doing what Dream Theater do; None of the members of Altera Enigma want to. Dream Theater do what they do very well, but I would rather try to do something different.

• Nekro: What metal music means to you?

Jason: Metal is a style of music I have listened to since the mid 1980's. It is still a great genre, and has some incredibly talented musicians playing it. However it can be narrow minded and self focused. And I think the genre suffers for it. The range of emotions that metal music can convey is very limited; it is really only anger and sadness. There are bands that are breaking this mold (Opeth comes to mind), and in Altera Enigma we made a deliberate decision to try to explore different emotional colours and sounds. I think metal has a lot of potential to grow still, but is often constrained by commercial considerations. A band that sounds like Slipknot is going to sell a lot more albums than a band who tries to do something different. The independent scene is so important. It contains bands that are really exploring their music and their creativity rather than trying to get on 'Headbanger's Ball” on MTV. So to answer your question; I think metal is in many ways limiting to a musician, but also contains a lot of potential.

• Nekro: Do you consider your music modern? Why?

Jason: I don't know. I have never really thought about it. It was never a consideration when we were writing the album. It avoids sounding like 1980's metal, which a lot of Prog Metal can do. The keyboards are used in a more modern way, and we avoid the static harmony of a lot of metal bands, and have brought the harmony of Jazz Fusion into a metal context. Fans are tell us that the way we blend Jazz Fusion and Metal is something new. I honestly don't know if our music is modern or not. I hope so.

• Questions about guitars to Jason and Jeff:

• Nekro: What a solo guitar means to you, Jason & Jeff?

Jason: A guitar solo is an opportunity to express emotion, to explore harmony and ideas in real time and to play what I feel the song needs. I never write guitar solos ahead of time, they are all improvised. A solo is a vehicle to express emotion. If it doesn't do this then, in my opinion, it shouldn't be included in the song.

Jeff: For me, solo guitar means that you can freely express your own emotions using a guitar as the main instrument that stands out from the rest.. It’s the same thing as doing lead vocals..

• Nekro: Is there any philosophical meaning when you play a guitar solo?

Jason: The main meaning behind a guitar solo for me is expression of emotion. For me this is more important that perfection; I would rather an emotional solo that has some small mistakes in it than a carefully rehearsed solo that has taken so many attempts to record that by the time it is done is it cold and emotionless. “Perfection” in a musical sense can be a dangerous thing. This is especially true in Progressive music where everything is expected to faultless. A “Perfect” solo can be cold, sterile and not move the listener. A solo where the player truly expresses themselves is a great thing. With todays digital technology, in the studio just about every single mistake can be removed from any recording, but this is often at the expense of the song. On “Alteration” there are a few small errors in our playing that I deliberately decided should be there because they were part of a great take and I did not want to ruin the energy or emotion by cutting it up or doing another take. A lot of Progressive Fans would probably disagree with this, but I think that it is important that a recording sound human and not like a machine. Even in Progressive music . . . perhaps especially in Progressive Music because it has a tendency to be very cold and sterile.

Jeff: The melodies created from the guitar solos that can have some certain philosophical meanings, but they do not appear when/while I play.. They appear after I play.. You know what I mean..

• Nekro: How important technical skills, especially speed, needed for making a great guitar solo?

Jason: Speed and technical skills are only tools that can help a musician express themselves. However. often the overuse of them leads to the complete opposite. A shredding solo often loses it's emotional content, even though speed can express emotion too. One of my favorite Jazz musicians is the saxophonist John Coltrane who could express himself equally well through one or two notes or through a wall of blisteringly fast notes. My favorite guitarist is Larry Carlton who hardly ever plays fast, but is the most emotional player I have ever heard. The same can be said for BB King. Both these players can express a whole range of emotion through a few well chosen notes. The most important thing is that a player expresses themselves. If technical skills aid this, then great. But they are not required for a musician to create a solo that says what the player intended.

Jeff: It depends.. It is important if you want to express some anger into the music.. Fast solos with whammy bar helps a lot.. But if you want to express some relaxed feelings, that doesn’t important..

• Nekro: Tell me your ideal electric guitar; if you were endorsed with a guitar company for a custom-made guitar, what kind of guitar do you wish to get? If so, also with the details……

Jason: It would be a semi hollow body; that way it would allow a wide range of tones, from high gain to a nice rich smooth jazz tone. Something along the lines of a Gibson ES-335. It would need a nice comfortable action, with the strings nice and close to the fretboard, and have a high gain pick up in the bridge position and a rich Vintage Gibson Sounding PAF pick up at the bridge position.

Jeff: My dream guitar is the one who can have the nice warm clean tone like a hollow-body jazz guitar, and at the same time the powerful clear crunchy tone if I use metal distortion and hi-gain amp.. I am thinking like putting a hi-gain Seymour Duncan humbucker pickup, at the bridge of a semi-hollow jazz guitar..

Gibson ES335 with humbucker??? Would sound nice.... It looks nice already! ;) -nekro

• Nekro: For a band that is mainly instrumental, what kind of message do you wish to share with your listeners? Do you think instrumental songs can be as strong as the ones with lyrics in order to get the message out to the masses?

Jason: The message of Alteration was that human being change, that change is inevitable.
Music without lyrics won't ever be as clear in the message it conveys; but it certainly can express just as much. It's message just isn't as obvious; the listener needs to be involved in the music in a deeper way to really get the most out of it.

Kenny Cheong

• Nekro: On, you posted a black metal song. Can you tell me what black metal means to you; and what do you think is the most interesting point of black metal?

Jason: Black metal is a statement against the mainstream. Or at least it used to be. It is so mainstream now that any 'shock value' it had is gone. You can see Black Metal on MTV now. I am not a fan of Black Metal and never really have been. The song we posted was not really Black Metal in my opinion - I mean after all it had political lyrics - but because Jeff used his old vocal style and there were blast beats in it it came out sounding a little like black metal. I just wrote music that would go with the the lyrics, which were very angry, I didn't set out to write a black metal song.

• Nekro: “NGC3370” is a damn good song, and it’s my favorite instrumental from “Alteration”. What does the title stand for?

Jason: NGC 3370 is a Spiral Galaxy that is similar in size to the Milky Way and about 100 million lights away. The photo of it taken by the Hubble Space Telescope is absolutely amazing. I had it on the desktop of computer I was recording the album on. NGC 3370 was actually the working title for the song, but it just stuck and we ended up keeping it as the title.

• Nekro: Jason, you seem to be very comfortable writing songs in 2 or 3 chords. Can you tell us why?

Jason: I really enjoyed exploring what could be done with a single theme. I like the idea of taking a melody, or chord progression and expanding it, playing with it, stretching it and seeing all the different things that can be done with it. NGC 3370 is great example of this. The whole song developed from a single idea and a simple chord progression. I wanted to see how many different musical ideas I could get from a simple idea, and a two-chord chord progression. Limiting your choices when you are trying create something often makes you think in different ways and helps you to break out of what you would normally do. I often write this way, and have since my days back in Paramaecium; it ensures that a song evolves organically and fluently rather than sounding like a bunch of separate ideas crammed together into one song.

• Nekro: If you have to choose one chord for a song, which chord do you want to play?

Jason: It would be a Lydian based Maj9#11 Chord. I love the tonality of the Lydian mode. Lydian Chords are beautifully ambiguous and are very rewarding modes to explore: It contains the beauty and consonance of a Major Chord, but also the darkness of the #11. It is a great scale to explore because you are free to develop the light or dark side of the mode or both at the same time.

Jeff: E-Tritone (E, A#, G), I don’t know the real name of that chord.. I’ve heard this one was forbidden to be played or used in the past because it sounds “evil” or “devilish”, but it sounds good to me.. Not that the evil sounds good to me, but this tritone is.. I use lots of Tritone chords in my songs..

• Nekro: If you can only have 1 bar for a song: which signature do you prefer, 4/4 or odd-time?

Jason: 4/4. It allows for greater flexibility. It can be as simple or complex as s needed. Listen to anything by Return To Forever to see just how crazy 4/4 can sound when needed.

Jeff: 4/4 signature but with free beats inside it.. That would sound “extremely chaotic”..

Jeff Arwadi

• Nekro: Jeff, can you tell me the reason behind the song “Pasivitas Sudut Pandang”? Do you satisfied with it? It’s different from songs you usually write for KEKAL. To be honest, I can’t enjoy this song as much as the others you wrote.

Jeff: I am satisfied.. Yes.. The song was actually written back in 2001 when KEKAL was playing very “metal”.. Even though I played in Kekal and wrote most of the songs, I always started to write songs that basically far from metal.. Some songs can be “metalized” (or to borrow Jason’s term: “Kekalized”), but some cannot.. Songs that cannot be “Kekalized” remain at my own personal archive and never used in KEKAL.. “Pasivitas Sudut Pandang” was taken from my archive.. When I searched out for suitable songs for “Alteration” album, I found out that this one fits the most with the rest of the songs on the album..

• Nekro: Thx Thx Thx…… Any comments or insults to Nekroblog readers?

Jason: Thanks for the interview and review. Anyone interested can check out our website at, and download a brand new and exclusive MP3 from Altera Enigma at The track isn't on the album, and is only available from Audiostreet. Thanks Nekro!

Friday, March 25, 2005

KEKAL - In-depth interview #2

This is the 2nd part of interview with KEKAL.
Read the 1st part of the interview first

Nekro: You used a lot of guitar solos (played by 4 guitarists) in "Acidity". It will be considered "too much" by modern metal producers and music critics. Do you think that KEKAL will get critisized as "metal band of the past" instead of "metal band of the future" because using so many solo guitars?

Jeff: We have been criticized by few reviewers for doing everything too much.. You know, too much experiments, too much non-metal elements, too complex, too much electronic sounds, etc.. But, yet people see KEKAL as a unique band because of all of these "too much" aspects in our music.. We never follow trend so when we use something in our music, we never consider using it based on current trend in music.. We just do it because we love to do it.. People can love or hate our music I don't care, they have a lot of things in this world to choose.. Until today I haven't read any review who says that we use "too much" solo guitars on "Acidity".. I'm still waiting to hear all their opinions on the future reviews..

Nekro: Almost every band that falls in the category of "avantgarde" seems to be underrated. Do you feel KEKAL is underrated? Why?

Jeff: Well, the reason why a music can be considered as 'underrated', is because not so many people used to it.. It's not underrated I think, 'less appreciated' is the more appropriate word.. In this world, not many people dare to give a try to something new and different that they expected.. Not just music, but also food, clothing, etc.. Real progressive/experimental/avantgarde music never sells as big as normal music.. For example, I wonder how many people dig FANTOMAS, compared with SLAYER..? FANTOMAS has Dave Lombardo on drums, but I don't think even 20% of SLAYER fans would dig their music.. I once read an interview with Dieter Mack on a local newspaper.. He's a music professor and has made a lot of research.. He said that our society has been surrounded by instant things all the time.. And the mainstream music industry set the parameter of what "music is" and controls the society, like MTV and radios that always play short and simple music around 3 or 4 minutes.. We never used to hear any music beyond that limits or standards set by MTV and media.. And when they hear a music that is so different, they just think that kind of music is uncool.. They probably hate it.. As whether KEKAL is underrated or not, I have no idea.. I don't rate our music myself, But 90% of the album reviews I got, they all put them at the very good rating.. You can't say it's underrated, less appreciated perhaps..

Nekro: Who the hell is Dieter Mack? I checked the web and got one. Visit this URL

Nekro: Switch the topic to vocals. You once released a rather controversial album "The Painful Experience" (2001) due to the fact that it has you messin' around with so many different vocal styles, even some of these vocals you went beyond your own vocal range and natural tone, like those 'Rob Halford/King Diamond goes to hell' voice, know what I mean? Why must that album has those kinds of vocals?

Jeff: When the music is recorded, I found so many "hot spots" that cannot fit with any kind of vocals we used on the 2 albums before it.. Then I tried with few other things, and found 3 new vocal styles that's fit with the temprature of the songs.. One of them is the high-pitch raw clean vocals people always talk about.. I must admit I didn't have much time to practice my vocals for that kind of style, so they went a bit out of control.. But there are no other vocal styles that can fit perfectly with the certain part of the songs in order to create the right atmosphere for the songs.. I think that's still the best choice for us..

Nekro: Your debut album "Beyond The Glimpse of Dreams" uses 3 female vocalists. Have you ever think to get a female lead singer for KEKAL? You could be somewhere between the pop-metal of EVANESCENCE and the chaotic insanity of MELT BANANA!

Jeff: Not at this time.. Perhaps later on when I'm old, like 75 or 80, I would consider getting a 20-year old female vocalist, that would be cool.. But anything can be changed in a moment.. Don't take my words very seriously..

Nekro: I always see metal music more as "entertainment" rather than "art". People come to metal shows to get themselves headbanged, moshing, slamming, stage-diving, and having fun with their body movements. It is more similar to dance/house/rave music or hip-hop. The presentation of "art" in most metal bands are very different than the presentation of art in industrial/noise bands. Some metal bands utilize theatrical performances and sometimes happening art, but the response in the audience are different. As a metal musician, where do you think you stand between "art" and "entertainment"? And do you think metal music limits your freedom to express yourself?

Jeff: To me, the art itself always have an aspect of entertainment in it.. It has never been like "art" versus "entertainment", they actually walk hand-in-hand.. "Entertainment" is a very common term.. "To get pleased with", is a synonym of "to get entertained with".. If something pleases you, you can also say that it entertains you.. Whether an art is entertaining or not, it only depends on the impact to people, but how many people..? That's the case.. The definition of "entertainment" for today's society is when something is appealing to the masses, to a large number of people, to society.. A piece of art, like a painting or a song, sometimes only pleases very few people, sometimes only pleases the one who made it and no one else.. It is an entertainment, but yet not enough statistically to be labelled "entertainment" because only very few people who can get pleased with.. I think KEKAL music should please ourselves the band, if not we wouldn't record it anyway.. haha.. But does our music entertaining enough for today's standard of "entertainment"? I cannot say, because if we use today's standard, I don't think KEKAL music can appeal to so many people and can please the masses.. But I wouldn't say that I don't want my music to be entertaining, because it does entertain..
I don't think metal music limits my freedom to express myself, as long as I don't get stuck with its tradition and "rules".. I don't care whether people would consider our music as metal or not.. And I don't care if the audience would get themselves headbanged or moshing to our music, or just stand up, sit down, sleep, whatever.. I don't really into headbanging on stage myself when playing music, sometimes I do a little but it's just for counting the beat, you know.. And we don't interact too much with the audience during our set.. That's our own expression.. Typical metal bands do shouting to the audience like; "How are you people, are you hot yet..? Now we'll make you hotter than hell.." as you might expect from rock n' roll band playing at the prom night.. But we're just play our music and that's all.. We don't follow the rules and tradition in heavy metal.. We're musically anarchists.. I have enough freedom to be myself when I write music as when I'm on the stage, even though we play metal music..

Nekro: Yea I got your point. I watched KEKAL European Tour video few times, duriing your show I could see how the audience bang their heads and slamming when you played your older metal songs like "Embrace The Dead" and "Mean Attraction", but the reaction was quite cold to your very progressive songs like "Default" for example. They were just watching you play, staring at the stage, but almost no body movement. How is your perception to KEKAL music? Do you think it is important to write songs that could please metal audience and let them bang their heads when you play them? Because you can't write very progressive songs to make them bang their heads.

Jeff: The most important thing is to make good music, whatever kind music it is, and play as good as possible as in the album.. If the audience is listening and watching carefully, even though they don't get themselves moshing or headbanging, it is ok.. Extreme doom metal bands don't make their audience moshing because the music is so slow, but these bands still entertain them if they play good, right..? The audience will understand.. If I don't care about how the audience would react to our songs, that doesn't mean I don't care about them at all.. I have to play the best I can in every show, that's our appreciation as a band for the audience.. Making your audience headbanging is not the only proof that you are pleasing them..

Thursday, February 24, 2005

KEKAL - In-depth interview #1

I publish my first "official" interview with Jeff, the guitarist/vocalist of Indonesian avantgarde metal wonder KEKAL. This is the first part. Enjoy!

Jeff of KEKAL

Nekro: What "Avantgarde Metal" means to you?

Jeff: The term "avantgarde" is a common term.. It's like "being at the front line".. In music, it is something to do with creating something new, something that has not been done by others or already becomes a trend.. Avantgarde metal is something to do with being avantgarde inside a metal music, I guess..

Nekro: What is the meaning behind the album title "Acidity", if there any?

Jeff: It is related with "urban stress" created by our urban lifestyles and the way we work everyday.. The term "Acidity" is actually a medical term, and it is a state when your stomach produces acid in an excessive level, when you are in a highly stress level (the stress level which most who live and work in a huge city like Jakarta have), your stomach tends to produce a high amount of acid, that's why you always feel hungry when you're in stress.. Also if you eat fast-food, the chemical in there can make your stomach to produce an excessive amount of acid.. So the more stress you have and doubling with the heavy consumtion of fast-food can make the acidity level to be very high, even could be deadly.. Ironically, our urban lifestyles leave no other options.. It's killing you softly.. You will face daily job-stress each day, and you only can eat at fast-food stores because you have a short lunch-time and an almost empty pocket..

Nekro: I've noticed some changes in the production of Acidity, one example the drum sound. The new album has the snare sounds louder and it is set in a higher pitch, also the kick drums lack some accentuation. Is that because you used the real drums, or because you guys decided to make exactly what it is as a part of the album concept?

Jeff: All of the drum production is intended, as a part of the whole production for the album.. You can hear the different mix in bass and guitars too, right..? If you ask me for the reason.. The main thing is because we wanted to sound more "rock" and "groovy" again.. As you know, in our previous album "1000 Thoughts of Violence" we wanted to get all those dark sounds, so I bring in the kick drums up in the mix until the level that you cannot really feel the groove of the songs.. The bass guitar mixed quite low and distorted a lot at "1000 Thoughts..." because that's the good way to get the eerie feel of the song, I had to make some hollow at the middle-low frequencies, and you can feel the sound reflects the emptiness in your heart.. But in "Acidity" we didn't want to make a whole dark album, so we changed back to the general production like our first album "Beyond The Glimpse of Dreams", while the snare drums should sound more "alive" and the bass-drums kept at the low frequency and aren't very "clicking".. And bass guitar sounds more "in-your-face" as you can hear all the basslines.. This is the ideal "rock" mix I guess, the best way for us to get the good groove..

Nekro: What's your current playlist Jeff? The albums you dig much.

Jeff: THE MARS VOLTA "De-Loused in The Comatorium" -> The best prog-rock album of this decade.. I haven't heard any album that is as magnificent as this one in the last 3 or 4 years..
TYPE O NEGATIVE "Life is Killing Me"
BJORK "Medulla"
DURAN DURAN "Astronaut"
MASSIVE ATTACK "100th Windows"

Nekro: Now switch to guitar.... You used Floyd Rose or up-down bridge system for your guitars, how do you feel about playing with that kind of bridge? Do you think it is necessary for your type of guitar playing?

Jeff: I started to play electric guitar in 1989, before I had my own guitar I tried some guitars at the rehearsal studio, from Strat, Telecaster, some Gibson's, but I never thought they were cool enough until I found a "metal" guitar with double humbuckers and Floyd Rose system on it.. I thought just "Wow, it looks great, it looks real metal".. I couldn't play guitar in 1989 so my impression was entirely based on the look rather than sound, you know.. When I got a chance to get my own guitar couple years later, I chose the one with humbucker pickups and Floyd Rose bridge.. And then I developed my playing from that guitar.. I don't think Floyd Rose system is good enough to maintain the tuning.. If you use it too much, like playing some evil screamin' metal solos, you will need to tune your strings again.. It's not very recommended for live shows unless you bring more than 1 guitar and have your own guitar technician..

Nekro: Jeff, I think your solo is very unique, it has a character, it is hard for me to expect all the notes and melody lines you choose. I know you never took guitar courses and you said you can't even read music and guitar tabs. How do you learn to play guitars?

Jeff: Thanks.. The way I teach myself to play guitar is not based on guitar techniques and scales.. I hate reading tablatures and I don't know about "this scale" or "that scale", so I just play something that sounds cool to my ears.. Some people said that I have more freedom to play because I don't need to re-evaluate my playing in a theoretical sense.. Maybe they're right.. Like I remember you said a while ago, that the spirit of progressive music is freedom, and not a theoretical knowledge.. KEKAL is a street-progressive kind of band, we took our energy from the punk movement or early metal bands who were influenced directly from punk.. We play metal, but aestetically we are closer to bands like SONIC YOUTH or THE MARS VOLTA than bands like DREAM THEATER..

Nekro: Yea you freakin right! The true spirit of progressive music is freedom, not a theoretical knowledge!! To me, Dream Theater is not progressive metal. It's a "metal clinic".

Jeff: Yes.. It is a musical anarchy that triggers a band to experiment.. Anarchy comes from punk movement and punk music in general..

Nekro: Still talking about guitar, who do you think you are inspired by, and why?

Jeff: I think Alex Lifeson, Eddie Van Halen, The Edge, Robert Fripp, Gary Moore, some Syd Barrett, some Thurston Moore.. And also some metal guitarists like the late Criss Oliva of SAVATAGE and Piggy of VOIVOD.. I don't know why, just like them very much.. haha.. And now I admire the playing of Omar Rodriguez from THE MARS VOLTA..

Nekro: What is the best guitarist for you? (not who but what)

Jeff: For me the best guitarist is someone who can successfully translate all his/her feelings and mood into his/her guitar playing.. Everyone can play fast if he practice a lot.. Everyone can play many complex scales if he knows much about theories..

Nekro: You use laptop computer on-stage. What is your opinion of laptop-music in general? (I am writing an article about well-known noisician MERZBOW changed his direction and use only laptop computers on-stage nowadays. Read my article about MERZBOW here ). Do you think laptop computer helps you to re-create all the elements you need live (by playbacking all the samples and beats) or it lacks some live interaction between performer and audience, as live-concert means you need to perform entirely live to get some "live feel"?

Jeff: Very good question! I am not against the use of computers onstage.. But that's true if you said that in order to get the "live feel", you should perform entirely live.. In case of KEKAL, we had no choice, we just have no time to rehearse together with 3 additional musicians who can handle drums, synthesizers, and samples for our shows.. Not only the time for rehearsal, it is not easy to look for the right persons.. As a band, KEKAL is not considered "big" enough to ask (and to pay) professional musicians to play with us in our shows.. Basically, we use computer because there are no other choice at this moment..

click here to continue on the 2nd part

MERZBOW - the King of Noise is going digital (article)

You probably know about MERZBOW. Yes, until these days, Masami Akita, the "King of Noise" under the MERZBOW name is still making a lot of recorded noise: albums, collaborations, split's, ep's, 7"s, film scores, etc. As one of the most productive artists ever exist, his ambition is to have 1000 titles released before he dies.

Most extreme metalheads, like me, got to know him from his works on the CDs released by Relapse Records ("Venereology" or "Pulse Demon"). But gone are the glory days of extremely loud harsh feedback droning noise that made him famous in the early 90's. His current works are into loop-based, dub, ambient soundscapes, sometimes incorporate sampled melody-lines and rhythms.

During the 80's and 90's, he never used any computer to create his noise. He sounded like he was against computers.

I quote from his older interviews:

"Most Japanese noise artists never use computers or very high-tech equipment. We tend to be very low-tech and analogue, so our actions show the effects of expanded noisehands, muscles...the body's movement." - Masami Akita (Interview with Arthur Potter)

"My first motivation for creating sound was anti-use of electric equipment; Broken tape recorder, broken guitar, amp etc. I thought I could get a secret voice from equipment itself when I lost control. That sound is unconsciousness, libido of equipment. Then I tried to control them with more powerful process." - Masami Akita (Interview with Dixon Christie)

Now something bugged me, from the early 2000 he started to use computers to sample and process all the sounds, and now if you see his live shows, he only used 2 Mac laptop computers and nothing else! All sound sources are pre-sampled (he sampled his own pet-birds so often!). Gone are the days where he used A LOT of organic instruments to create noise in the analogue way.

MERZBOW PLAYED (in 80's to 90's):
Porta Two 4 Track cassette recorder
DAT Recorders
Cassette Recorders
Filter Bank FB3 Mk 2
Maxon DM 1000
Korg DRV 1000 Reverb Unit
Roland SDE 1000 Delay Unit
EMS Synthi 'A' Synthesiser
Moog Rogue Synthesiser
Therematic Theremin
Ishimashi Theremin
Novation Bass Station Synthesiser
Various contact mic units
Ring Modulator
Various Junk Metallic Tools
Various Effects Pedals
Leader High & Low Frequency Generator
Relaxation Alpha Wave Generator
Stargazer Mind Expansion Sound Visualiser
Novation Synthe Rack

2 Apple MacIntosh Powerbook laptop
A mixer
everything else is in software.

Yes, sure as hell, today is the digital world. Every studios I know got rid of their analog reels and started to install pro-tools. Everything is simplified and minimalized. Even MERZBOW traded his old pile of his noise generators and sound manipulators for a couple of Mac laptop computers.

OK, computer!


Merzbow is mainly Masami Akita, with his wife Reiko A. helping out on occasion, and other people, such as Bara the butoh dancer who helps out as needed live or on record.

Born 1956 in Tokyo, Japan
Graduated Tamagawa University, Art Department; majoring in Painting & Art Theory
Worked as an editor of several magazines
Became a freelance writer for several books, magazines
Favourite area of writing is: Art; Avant-garde Music; and Post-Modern Culture
Formed Japanese premier noise group MERZBOW in 1981
Released over 50 records and CDs, to date
Continues to perform and record as MERZBOW
Has worked with many different media: Butoh Dance; Performance; Art
Installation; Video; Film; CD ROM etc

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

KEKAL - Acidity (album review)

KEKAL is back with another album called "Acidity", the album in which the band leader/vocalist/guitarist Jeff said as "the most stressful recording in the last 5 years". After 2 albums recorded without problems, now it seems the problems were back at them when they recorded this album, from the technical difficulties (computer crashed and pre-production data lost) to the other problems as well. With almost eleven months spent in the making, "Acidity" without a doubt takes the longest production time in KEKAL's recording history, so far.

To celebrate KEKAL's 10th anniversary in 2005, "Acidity", as officially said by the band, is designed to be a special reunion album with all their former members (plus their additional/live guitarist) contributed in the recording process, making KEKAL as a 5-piece band with 3 guitarists. Yes, they have 3 lead guitarists that all play solos, harmonies, and melody-rhythm interactions. Guitar takes the most dominant role here. "Acidity" is a guitar-based metal album. They also have the additional human drummer too. Gone are the machine-based drums, processed sounds and lots of synthesizers, samples, and effects as we hear in their previous album.

Musically, I can see the significant RUSH influence in "Acidity". They do not sound like a RUSH clone band and they never tried to sound like RUSH either, but they hold the same spirit as RUSH once had during their golden era. Like those Canadian grandfathers of prog-rock, KEKAL always make a big step forward in every album and they never look back. They never afraid to take a risk. They always have something new to offer, something beyond our expectations. That is the true progressive spirit! "Acidity" is still a very metal album, but you cannot tell what kind of metal it is. This is not black metal, not death metal, not even progressive metal (if progressive metal means for bands like DREAM THEATER or SYMPHONY X), not nu-metal, not metalcore, and definitely not power metal. There is a term called "avantgarde metal" to refer to metal bands that don't match in any metal sub-genre because of their broad range of influences. KEKAL now falls under "avantgarde metal" term, but this is not another sub-genre of metal as the music style can be very very different between one avantgarde metal band and another.

Compared with their previous album "1000 Thoughts of Violence" (2003), the music of "Acidity" is not miles away from that one as there are still influences from jazz, electronica, and 80's new-wave, BUT...... this one has a different approach to the songwriting and production. Almost a completely different approach. The recording is far more organic and live-oriented. It is different than the clinical/processed sound of "1000 Thoughts..." as this time the production has the power and energy of a live performance. Musically speaking, "Acidity" has more elements combined in the music, they have more metal in one side, but yet more jazz and rock elements in the other sides as well, and all those elements are mixed together into the songs that generally are not as complex as the previous album. So how could this be possible?

The answer is in the feel of the songs. "1000 Thoughts..." has a lot of violent, dark and brutal feel. If you have all the brutal and violent songs, the room for other emotions are closed because the only thing left for is anger and pain. "Acidity" is not as brutal and violent as "1000 Thoughts...", and it is not near as dark too, so the room for other emotions are still open wide. Now you get songs that are easier and pleasant to listen, but still it's hard to study and to play them (once again, it's like RUSH formula, easy to listen, hard to play). That makes "Acidity" to be richer than "1000 Thoughts of Violence" even without the plenty of synthesizers, electronic beats and effects, and if you think "the richer the better", then "Acidity" is the best you can get.

Now I go into the songs:

1. Characteristicon
This song opens by the short ambient guitar feedback drone for a few seconds before the music blasts. The chords are beyond weird, they use complex and unusual jazz chords in this psychotic "progressive black metal" song. When the vocals start to scream "yeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!" you will know that this is KEKAL! Here, the 3 guitars are totally intense and amazing. You hear 3-guitar harmonies, amazing polyrhythmic interactions, and the blistering solos of all 3 guitarists are served very well. What an awesome heavy and intense opener! They left you with your jaw open wide and you will start to drool.

2. Strength in my Weakness
After torturing me by the crushing progressive metal on the first track, these guys are now taking care of my wounded soul and say "you have to lose your mind!". Yes, in contrast with the technical insanity of "Characteristicon", this song has a kind of strange "happy melancholia" feel. When you hear this song, you will feel both sad and happy at the same time. It is manic and depressive at the same time. It is schizophrenic. Your emotion will be altered. So be forwarned! As always, there are intriguing guitars and unusual chords here and there, and a few odd twists in the time-signatures as well, but they don't focus on those aspects! A great song with a strong emotional content.

3. Thy Neighbor's Morality
This song lasts for over 7 minutes, but you never feel that long, it feels like it's only 4 minutes because it is really really adventurous. You have everything from electronic beats, modern (almost nu-metal) riffs, fast blasting symphonic orchestral black metal, industrial beats, death metal riff, jazz interludes, well, you name all of them!!!! Another great song indeed!

4. A Dream for A Moment
Their first choice for a single. This song is rather mellow and leaning on the emotion. It is very catchy and easy-listening. I dig the cool basslines during the chorus. I think this song is the lightest and catchiest song in the entire album. Rock is the keyword. Download the mp3 at:

5. Broken
Actually, this isn't a brand-new song. "Broken" is an older song originally from Jeff's solo project EXCISION, but this re-arranged & re-recorded KEKAL version is far better than the EXCISION version. I didn't like the EXCISION version, but I do like this one! The sound is superior, Jeff voice is more emotional, passionate and strong, and the guitar solos totally smokes!!!! It is a slow-paced, melodic and catchy song within an industrialized dark progressive gothic doom metal body.

6. Envy and Its Manifesto
Only one word to describe it: Weird! If you need two words, then it's "fucking weird!". They incorporate some chanting like those on the voodoo rituals (perhaps) and a semi rap-styled talking into a minimalistic downbeat trip-hop music a-la MASSIVE ATTACK with a metal distortion guitar. But that doesn't stop there! Halfway through the song there are some modern-rock clean vocals come out in harmony, and then going straight to a mid-tempo prog-metal section with a riff a-la OPETH, then a strange blastbeats part with RUSH kind of riff, then a classic-metal riff to backup the strange-sounded solo guitar. It's a weird, very avantgarde song, but it works well. You should listen it with an open mind. This song is only for the true KEKAL fans, like myself ;). Sorry for the close-minded!

7. The Way of Thinking Beyond Comprehension
Another experimental song. This song is probably the most freaked-out, schizophrenic, insane, progressive, technical, avantgarde (or whatever you might want to call it) in the entire "Acidity". This almost 9-minute song is comprised by 3 'parts'. It's like the trilogy, but not really a trilogy. First part is a brutal chaotic extreme jazz-fusion metal (or jazz-core!). On this part you can hear anything from black metal riffs, screaming vocals, clean vocals, odd-time signature math-metal, hardcore jazz riffs (what???), and all those weird chords and beats. Oh, and also the interaction between free-jazz guitar solos and a keyboard solo you will only hear on a jazz-fusion band. And then comes the second part, a nice acapella choir of 10 to 15 people, but actually only Jeff vocals get multilayered/overdubbed into 15 times something (Jeff said it's using 22 tracks for this vocal part), performing some kind of scary ritual chanting and say "think hard and think again" over and over for about 2 minutes and closed by uncontrolled screams and howls, sounds like 15 Jeffs got possessed by different evil spirits! HA!! The last part, is another 2 minutes of intense guitar solos doing in a straight metal way. That's right, 2 minutes of blistering guitar trading solos performed by 3 guitarists (Jeff, Leo, and Didy) in a JUDAS PRIEST way! Extremely intense and insane! I've never heard any metal band doing a song as crazy as KEKAL guys here. I think "Acidity" is worth buying because of this song alone!

8. Romantika Destruksi
A nice ambient instrumental guitar backed up by scary synth and ethnic percussion.

9. Blessing in Disguise
Another catchy, melodic, and emotionally-driven tune. A great epic symphonic-progressive metal song indeed. Once again, the guitar solos are extraordinary.

10. Empty Space
They close the album with this depressive and dark tune. The music is quite simple and in-your-face, but it touches your emotions at a point that it could make you cry. Very very emotional song. I can compare this song with "The Painful Experience".

Overall, "Acidity" is a damn good album. Some will say this one is far better than "1000 Thoughts of Violence". A combination of advanced musicianship and the emotional content of the songs is the strong point of "Acidity". However, there is something missing for me, I miss all the strange effects, computer beats and analogue synthesizers, as they are not using those as much here as in "1000 Thoughts of Violence". But I do like the return of the screaming guitar solos, and now even to the MAX!

Despite of the easy-listening tendency in most of the songs, "Acidity" doesn't always mean to entertain us in the first place. They have some songs that make us to think rather than to dance or to bang our head. If you look for only an entertainment, then go for something else. KEKAL creates ART with their music. So you have to see their music as a piece of art to appreciate it, not something that can entertain you in the first place.

Rating: 95/100

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VOIVOD - Nothingface (album review)

I got this album back then in 1989. Before this one I already have "Killing Technology" and "Rrroarrr". I thought VOIVOD were doing thrash metal at best like thos albums, but I was totally wrong. "Nothingface" is nothing but AMAZING metal at its best! I dig quite a number of technical metal albums already (back then it's so called techno-thrash, stuff like WATCHTOWER or DEATHROW, to mention a few), and twisted riffs and odd-time signatures are used so often there. But not until I found "Nothingface" cassette and played it! This album should be cited among of the most important Progressive Metal albums ever! I was totally surprised by the excellent (if not perfect) songwriting. Songwriting is beyond normal for a metal (even within the progressive-metal) subgenre. Piggy's guitar playing and its sound/tone is the key signature to all VOIVOD music, and they are get strengthened in this album (thanks to producer Glen Robinson). Every riff is a jewel to my ear (because of its strange chords that are uncommon for the use in metal), and his strong blues and jazz influences are solid bonus. The other VOIVOD's key signature is, of course, Snake's unmistakably unique nasal tone of vocals. His voice is so unique that I don't think there is other singer in this world that normally has the similar tone with him. But that does not stop with the tone, his vocal melody is also unique and sometimes weird, but it can interact very well with the weirdness of Piggy's chords. Hey, not to mention his untrendy sci-fi lyrics! Songs like "Unknown Knows", "Into My Hypercube", "Sub-Effect" and PINK FLOYD's cover "Astronomy Domine" are very catchy, but yet very complex at the same time. Welcome to the wall of weird sounds! This is a must BUY album, not only for avantgarde/progressive metal freaks but also for fans of bands like THINKING PLAGUE, or maybe even KING CRIMSON! But I heard the album is out-of-print. Well......