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

MERZBOW PLAYES (in 2k's):
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!

===============================================


WHO IS MERZBOW?
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.

BIOGRAPHY:
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: http://www.audiostreet.net/kekal

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

Band Website:
http://www.kekal.cjb.net

Label Websites:
http://www.thtproductions.com
http://www.fear-dark.com

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......