Review Summary: What 10 albums and 20 years can do to a band? This album can explain it.
"Multilateral" is Kekal's 10th full-length album that was recently released at the same time the band, or to borrow Kekal's own word: the 'institution', reached 20 years in the music scene. For most bands, 20 years is a quite long time, and within 20 years there could have been ups and downs, better and worse times, happier and depressed times, et cetera. To say the least, any band who have reached 20 years will definitely have more experience in terms of 'knowing their own shit', but only, only if they have their own shit and not borrowing other people's shit all the time. In this case, Kekal is known as a band who has their own style and sound to begin with. They know what they do, and within the past 15 years or so, also keep evolving and discovering new things along the way, a very nice welcome.
The album also comes with thought-provoking series of artwork made by their former bass player Levi Sianturi, which can be found on either CD sleeve, or digital booklet.
Musically, "Multilateral" has more in common to the 'metal' side of Kekal than the 'electronic' side. Most of the songs have more or less traditional structure that is normally used by metal bands, even down to the breakdown sections and guitar solos, with exceptions of a few quirky songs, like "Heyday (Unlike Today)", "By Means of Survival", or the title track. It is Kekal's most accessible release since probably their 2005 album "Acidity", and I can see that this album can have a potential to 'win back' some of their metal fans in the past, without completely abandoning their highly experimental, avant-garde touch. Every song sounds different and sometimes even produced differently, and every instrument has its own distinct sound and playing field. But yet, you feel that strange cohesiveness throughout the album, maybe the vocals of Jeff Arwadi (listed as a producer now, but the band no longer list any names for musical contribution - Strange? it is. But whatever....).
The album starts with the track "Token Discontentment", an almost typical progressive modern metal with some 80s hardcore punk influence thrown into the mix. This song is very dynamic and it is a perfect opener, it gives you the idea and expectation about the melody, groove, and energy of the entire album. The rhythm guitars are crunchy, and have some tones of post-black metal and heavy-shoegaze to it, but the song is a typical Kekal with tempo changes and great riffs in-between unexpected breakdown section and emotional/gut-wrenching guitar solos. The next couple tracks give you the idea of the 'modern meets vintage' style only Kekal can deliver. Some sort of 80's and 90's rock/metal/punk structure and sound colliding with modern musical elements in forms of electronic experimental music. They can have both blast-beats and d-beat drumming styles placing in between dub/dubstep groove, bass drop, and insane digital glitch parts, but at the same time without getting too much into the over-hyped trend of 'cut-paste and djent' kind of music.
Other highlights include "By Means of Survival", "Neutrality", "Crossroads" and "The Unwritten".
"By Means of Survival" begins with the deep, dirty, droning bass synthesizer (Moog Taurus?) and the haunting Theremin kind of sound, giving the quiet ambient atmosphere for only less than a minute before the chaotic glitchy rhythm section and the wall of post-black metal tremolo guitars come into the surface, overlaying the same deep electronic bass pattern from the very beginning. Before we can grasp what's going on, then all of the sudden everything stops at around 2:50 mark, only to be blown again with the dark yet soothing trip-hop/nu-jazz/shoegaze section that can either make you weep or having a goose-bumps throughout. The guitar tone during the solo on this section is so precise in giving you that kind of painful atmosphere. This is the blues of the 21st century, baby! The song is then closed with the dark ambient reprise of the glitchy part we heard in the beginning, but only the post-black tremolo rhythms and vocals (and a very haunting ambient sound in the background), without the bass and rhythms. Clever! This track alone is worth having the entire album! So insane, yet so beautiful. So painful yet so cathartic.
"Neutrality" (according to Jeff) says something about net neutrality and open access to information and knowledge. It delivers a very strong political message not uncommon with Kekal. A good, fast and loud 'Kekal-styled' metal track indeed, with really fast blast-beats. The song changes its tempos and keys, and even it switches over to the entirely dub (metallic dub) closing section along with that 'almost too-fun' wobbling bass. This section is so emotional and groovy it made me want to go straight to Jamaica and have an authentic reggae experience!
"Crossroads" has an almost 'pop-oriented' song clothed in metal/shoegaze/rock/dub/whatever mishmash of styles, but strangely it works! Thanks to the equally strange Vocaloid female character called Megurine Luka, lending some of the singing parts alongside the noticeably tired Jeff. What the hell is vocaloid, you may ask? It is a software, a singing synthesizer that can mimic almost a human singer. Well, 'almost' is the emphasis. It (she) doesn't sound like robot, but it is still far from what human singer can achieve in this case. Production is raw and hurried, but it is catchy enough to steal a person's attention, especially with that sexy voice of Megurine Luka. Sadly, this song has some of Jeff's weakest voice, and even he had to add a rather annoying auto-tune effect in the middle of the song. There is an alternate mix version of the same song though, which I think is much better because it doesn't have Jeff singing the verse parts.
Lastly, we are served by the eleventh track, the closing chapter of "Multilateral". This song, aptly-titled "The Unwritten" is another strong one with Megurine Luka, the sweet Vocaloid sister found on "Crossroads". This time, she sounds even better and more pronounced. I wouldn't even think it is a machine singing if it wasn't mentioned, honestly! Good job to the company who made the software and good job to the one inputting it to the song (which is much likely Jeff the producer). The music itself is very dark, not very 'Kekal' in terms of style, but the choice of adding the constant blast-beat drums and black metal guitar wall of sound on top of (or underneath) a calm ambient guitar is nothing but magic! It is certainly a Black Metal tune without all the "hey look at me I'm evil" kind of usual BM cliche, or the "hey look at me I'm depressed" DSBM cliche. This is more like "hey look at you, you're all fucked and broken", and it is. It's like a revelation that us the human race is indeed fucked and broken, talking about the world in global scale.
As a conclusion, "Multilateral" is an excellent album on its own merit, even arguably the strongest Kekal material since 2007's "The Habit of Fire". While not a perfect album (there are some weaknesses - like the inconsistency of Jeff's vocal quality, or the too hurried production found on "Crossroads", to name some), this album easily displays what 20 years can do to you: maturity, and elongated pain. A must have for any music enthusiast out there, not just limited to metal fans. I give this 92 out of 100.
Genre: avant-garde metal, experimental rock, electronic.