Band: Kekal | Album: Deeper Underground | Year: 2018 | Genre: Progressive metal, Black metal, Electronic
From: Jakarta, Indonesia | Label: Hitam Kelam Records
For fans of: Agalloch, Atheist, Kayo Dot
Kekal have been around for two decades, but this may be their best album yet. The band’s signature sound of complex black metal, catchy pop sensibilities, and wonky electronics comes together in a way more balanced than anything else I’ve previously heard from them. This is a huge improvement over their last release, 2015’s Multilateral, which was an uneven effort. Throughout much of this band’s discography, they’ve often had a hard time getting the black metal and electronic influences to meld effectively.
Here, however, Kekal have dialed back the electronic elements of their sound. Bloops and bleeps are saved for interludes and building texture and atmosphere. It’s rare for synthesizers to take the spotlight for any extended period of time. This isn’t some purely black metal shredfest, either. Yes, a lot of the metal here is extreme, but the band also mixes in gentler sounds, ample interludes, and surprisingly accessible moments.
The lyrics are highly political, as they always are with Kekal. The band addresses topics such as wealth inequality, religious hypocrisy, environmentalism, and anticapitalism. They’re unsubtle as hell, so Kekal won’t win any awards for wordsmanship, but that just means there’s less room for ambiguity. If the point is for the listener to hear what they’re saying, they’ve accomplished that goal.
The opening track, “Root of All Evil”, is one of the best songs on the album. It starts with thunderous drums and crushing walls of guitar before transitioning to a slower, jazzier verse with heavily-phased vocals. The chorus is massive and ominous, an excellent choice for a song addressing the social ills of capitalism. The electronic interlude starts off awkwardly, but it recovers quickly. Warbling synths eventually give way to a twisting guitar solo before closing with a reprise of the heaviest part of the song’s opening.
“Sanity Away from Sanity”, the second track, is a better example of how Kekal fuse black metal with electronics. The song opens with synth loops, and the harsh, blastbeat-laden verses are supported with synthesizers that effortlessly glide over the chaos.
“The Many Faces of Your Face” offers perhaps the fullest integration of the two genres. The first two minutes see slashing guitar lines atop a drum loop with pulsing synths. The song’s conclusion reverses this formula, with the metal elements coming to the fore and keys taking on a supporting role.
This wouldn’t be a Kekal album with a seemingly out-of-place pop song. “Revealment” features a wave of distorted guitars throughout the song, and the middle eight is undeniably black metal. But this is not a metal song. It’s a damn good pop song with a black metal interlude. This piece is an absolute earworm.
“Triple Evil”, the album’s penultimate track, is the weakest one here. It’s a moody, atmospheric interlude. It’s material like this which has frequently bogged down past Kekal records. It’s a necessary palette cleanser, but it could have been shortened or given more focus.
“End of Hegemony” is a fantastic closer and in some ways acts as an encapsulation of the album as a whole. It careens from tremolo-picked riffs underpinned with honking synthesizers to polyrhythmic electronic breaks and back to metallic shredding at a moment’s notice.
If you’re a fan of weird, experimental, extreme metal; political music; or both, I cannot recommend this album enough. This was my personal favorite metal album of 2018.