Band: Kekal | Album: Quantum Resolution | Genre: Progressive metal, Avant-garde metal | Year: 2020
From: Jakarta, Indonesia | Label: Independent (digital), Eastbreath Records (CD)
For fans of: Krallice, Atheist, Kayo Dot
I’ve been a fan of Kekal since about 2008 or so. I don’t recall where or how I ran across them, but they were promoting themselves by offering free downloads of four of their albums. (That offer still stands on their site, by the way.) Three of those albums are varying degrees of good, with 1000 Thoughts of Violence perhaps being my favorite of their releases. On the other hand, Audible Minority is simply bad. And it’s that inconsistent track record that always makes me a little apprehensive when Kekal release new material. I absolutely loved their 2018 album, Deeper Underground, but the album which preceded that—2015’s Multilateral—was inconsistent and muddled.
When I first heard Quantum Resolution, I was a little nervous, as it just wasn’t quite clicking with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but this did not feel like one of Kekal’s better efforts. After giving the record a few spins, though, it has grown on me substantially. I’m used to certain artists’ releases growing or wearing on me. That’s bog-standard for me with Inter Arma, Steven Wilson, and Enslaved; but I usually know how I feel about Kekal after the first listen. That’s why I’m glad I decided to give this album another chance.
Quantum Resolution opens with the sinister, John Carpenter-esque synth of “Quiet Eye”. Once we get to the meat of the song, the main riff and verses feel almost Rush-like between their strange chords, reggae-ish guitar pattern, and Lifesonian effects. The second half of the song sags somewhat with a minimalistic electronic-percussion-and-vocals interlude, but it closes on a furious guitar solo.
“Spiritual Anarchism” is about as straightforward a song as Kekal ever does. The jazzy, electronic outro, though typical for this band, comes across as tacked-on. “Inward Journey”, meanwhile, features one of their better electronic integrations. This is a slow-moving dirge, and the percussion and synths add to the disorienting atmosphere. The synth brass tone they chose is terrible, though.
“The Sleep System” is the first of four consecutive songs that clock in at exactly five minutes. (I thought that tidbit was interesting and wanted to mention it.) This is not one of the better tracks on the album. Clean vocals have never been Kekal’s strong suit, but they’re especially weak here. The different pieces of the song range widely in quality, and none of them fit together all that well.
“Testimony” is almost metal-free, consisting primarily of imposing electronics, and “Driven” is one of the best songs on the album. Built around blistering black metal, the electronic and synthesizer embellishments fit in perfectly on this track.
“Hidden No More” is another mostly-electronic song, but when metal takes the lead, it’s some of the best on the album. “Apocalypse: Quantum Resolution” is another strong entry, featuring surprising structural twists and a good balance between Kekal’s metal and electronic sides. Unfortunately, the album closes weakly on “Pneumatic Union”, a droning synth piece which doesn’t land.
In addition to the weaker tracks mentioned above, I’m not wild about the mastering on this album. I believe most of my initial coolness toward Quantum Resolution sprang from this issue. A lot of the guitar parts sound surprisingly lo-fi and echoey. The growled vocals occasionally blur into the surrounding instruments, making things feel muddy.
Once I adapted to the mastering, I found I quite liked Quantum Resolution. It’s not quite up to par with Deeper Underground or 1000 Thoughts of Violence, but Kekal continue to demonstrate that they are one of the most distinctive voices in the extreme metal scene. They’ve been fusing electronic music and black metal for a quarter-century now, making them pioneers. Their twelfth full length album is a solid addition to their legacy, with some of the individual songs being among the best the band have recorded.