Review Summary: Johan Galtung meets Megurine Luka in an unusual form of synchronicity
It has been almost 3 years since I wrote a review of any Kekal
album, and it was "Multilateral", their previous album released in 2015. That time, I wasn't sure enough if Kekal would come up with another album in the future that could top "Multilateral" for its uniqueness and high dosage of "Kekality". Just recently, a new album called "Deeper Underground" came up and even before the release date it already generated more positive buzz than what I heard during the release of "Multilateral". I was ready to test my skepticism, so I grabbed a digital copy from the band's Bandcamp page as quick as I could. They offer various formats: CD, digital download, and of course streaming for you Spotify sheep. My digital download comes with a really cool digital booklet (I've heard it's identical to the CD booklet, minus the paper and a couple staples) and also a bonus essay written by Jeff "who else" Arwadi, the main lyricist and producer of the album. Jeff is listed as a producer of the album, but he wasn't listed as the musician because the fact that nowadays Kekal runs as a member-less band with anonymous contributors.
The album opens with the song "Root of All Evil", a good opener for setting the pace and atmosphere of the album. The song is neither too fast nor too slow, and neither too metal nor too electronic. You will get an overall impression of the album just from listening this song, even down to the lyrical theme. Don't let Johan Galtung's voice sample frighten you. Kekal is not a left-wing political band, even this album has its fair share of anti-fascism, anti-totalitarianism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and anti-religious-dogmatism political undertones—all that can be understood as left-wing anarchism. So what kind of band Kekal is" you may ask. I am convinced that Kekal is and has always been unmistakably spiritual, and reading from the bonus essay, it is clear that spirituality was the focus of this album's lyrics.
Comparing back-to-back with "Multilateral" doesn't give "Deeper Underground" any justice it deserves, as this is a whole different album. The music is more constrained and focused, and every song almost uses the same formula throughout the album, with the exception of the dark experimental trip-hop tune "Triple Evils". Songs like “Sanity Away from Sanity” or “The Many Faces of Your Face” can be examples of how familiar or typical these elements of extreme metal (death/black metal) can be perfectly blended with other familiar elements from electronic music genres without losing the connecting atmosphere. This what makes Kekal unique: they know what they're doing and have mastered both extreme metal and electronic. They can use both elements comfortably without sounding cliché. Heck, even they have mastered the use of Vocaloid! Listening to "Speed of God", I can't help to imagine Megurine Luka enjoying her role being the singer of Kekal. Too bad there aren't much of them.
The main keyword I would tag on “Multilateral” is diverse, while “Deeper Underground” is more multi-dimensional than being diverse in the sense of broad variety. Listening to this album is parallel to go hiking and sense all the nature’s beauty as you walk along, as opposed to walking through the alleys of a huge supermarket with many items to choose from. You may get overwhelmed sometimes, but not because of all the sensory overload from hearing too many things within 2 minutes, but because your emotion is being twisted and your mind being knocked by the spirit of sound.
Musically, “Deeper Underground” is also more defined and accessible than “Multilateral”, and it makes perfect sense to see it being accepted better by anyone who isn’t familiar with Kekal, or even by the band’s first-time listeners. I would not hesitate to recommend this album, along with “1000 Thoughts of Violence” or “Acidity” as the introductory Kekal albums for any rock and metal fans out there who never heard any Kekal music. While albums like “Multilateral”, “The Habit of Fire” or “Audible Minority” are more feasible for the ears of the music explorers who always look for something unique and unusual.
That being said, however, I do not accuse the band of selling-out or even try to compromise in the slightest. The music is still very much “avant-garde” and “progressive”, even the album’s most pop-oriented songs like “Revealment” (which features a singer/songwriter called Voxlucis as guest) and the mid-paced title-track, both have their own share of twistedness. It is just the level of offensiveness in the music that seems to be lower now, and the craziness is now very much under control.
Still, Kekal is Kekal and they (the band has zero members now) are an example of an oddity in the music scene. The kids can play together in a playground, but Kekal is like one kid who chose to play outside the fences of the playground and would prefer risking himself being struck by a car than blending in with the rest of the pack!
I give this album rating slightly lower than “Multilateral” but that was my subjective appraisal based on my personal taste, not based on the quality of music. I'd highly recommend to try this album. Listen it on Spotify, then buy the album on Bandcamp if you like it.