The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Story online since:  24.08.2007 / 16:44:58

Despite having a leading role in their native scene, producing six albums of highest quality extreme avantgarde metal in over ten years, Kekal is still one of South East Asia's most well-kept secrets, having yet to conquer the West. Intrigued, aVoid and Chrystof hunts down mainman Jeff Arwadi, now residing in Canada, to shed some light on this obscure Indonesian trio...

A: KEKAL have released six albums over the last decade. Still you are a tip for insiders within the metal scene. So maybe you could start with a brief introduction of KEKAL to our virgin readers. How did it all begin? What does the name Kekal mean?

Well, Kekal has been around for 12 years now.. We just celebrated our 12th anniversary, silently and quietly.. We came from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, entered the scene in late 1995 and released our first official demotape in 1996 to spread our name and music locally and regionally, then we recorded our debut full-length album independently in 1997 and licensed it to various labels.. After 2 albums then we got some exposure within the European underground scene, first within the Eastern part of Europe, and then in Germany and BeNeLux after Fear Dark released our 3rd album, and we continued to record another album in 2003.. We toured Europe in 2004 as the first Indonesian band who played shows outside Asian territory, and our 5th album was released in 2005.. We just got our 6th album out few months ago, called "The Habit of Fire" which is also our first album who entered the North American market.. So far, we've been known as an independent band who never want to get signed by record label, to maintain our independency and control over our artistic freedom, and also to own our recording masters and copyright.. Instead of band signing, we always prefer to license our finished albums to record labels.. One of the reasons why we haven't been known that well.. As far as our band name goes, Kekal means íimmortalí or íeternalí in Indonesian language..

A: Over the last five years or so, you have become less and less traditional concerning composition and concept. How has this progression been received by the press & the audience?

We started to switch into the new direction when we recorded our 3rd album "The Painful Experience" in 2001.. We lost many of our old fans back then, especially those who were into melodic black and death metal.. We got mixed responses, they were either love us or hate us, nothing in between.. But we moved on and continued to do music like this.. However, since our 4th album "1000 Thoughts of Violence", people were used to the fact that Kekal is no longer the band they knew from our first 2 albums, and we started to gain new enthusiasts from many different musical backgrounds..
As for the press, mostly we get very positive reviews, despite a very few reviews who told us that we suck because we're not metal enough in the eyes of these reviewers, but we always ignore that kind of reviews.. I think if people are open minded enough to accept different musical styles, then they will like Kekal.. Right now, our enthusiasts and loyal supporters came from many musical backgrounds, not only metal but as broad as jazz-fusion, punk, hip-hop, experimental, and electronic-dance music backgrounds..

A: Was there any particular circumstances that made you leave the metal behind? A growing boredom with the genre, or just a desire to break free and find new listeners? When you're stuck inside the metal genre, I suppose it's hard to reach outside of it.

We didnít leave the metal behind.. Our decision was intentionally to break its limits.. Metal music was not originally invented with the vision of creating a tight box with exact size, let alone to create walls inside the box called sub-genres.. But then when it was established as a part of the genre and moreover as a part of rock subcultures, people then tried to put limits and now it seems that it can no longer be expandable if we donít try to tear down these walls.. It happens in electronic music as well, it happens even in jazz too.. Music styles become genres and then genres becomes subcultures.. I hope you donít see music in genres, because itís how 95% of people see music nowadays, and itís not an avantgarde way of seeing the music.. Itís the MTV and pop culture way of thinking.. That was a part of major labels and MTV campaign, to create boxes so they can target the music to the specific audience and build the number of audience in each box, because it was a lot easier to control and manipulate when they were pooled.. What we are tired with is the limits, like all these tags and sub-genres that people always associate them to us.. Kekal has a unique position, that if we are being promoted and marketed only to music fans within one or two sub-genres, we wonít survive.. So what we do nowadays is to find more and more new listeners everyday, while continue fighting to tear down all these limits.. It is beyond boredom.. Itís a method of survival..

A: How has the KEKAL sound evolved throughout these six albums? How much has been "forced" to reach a set idea, and how much has come naturally?

Everything comes out naturally.. We just don't want to limit ourselves whether in listening to music as well as writing the music.. We listen to any kind of music, and most of our favourite musicians and bands nowadays are outside metal.. And since we don't want to limit ourselves in writing and playing it, these influences would come naturally when we write the music.. We never want to become a unique band.. Uniqueness must be genuine, must come from the heart, otherwise it would sound fake.. Also, our instrumental and songwriting skills have progressed throughout the years, so right now we are able to write and play more complex music, in terms of musical structure and arrangements..

A: Is there any band or artist that have influenced you more than others throughout the history of Kekal?

When we just started out until we released our official demotape in 1996, I think Bathory and Iron Maiden influenced us more than others.. But after the guitarist Leo came in, he brought his influences to the band, and I started to listen to prog rock and electronic stuff..

A: You are one of the few bands I have come across that actually place themselves in the avantgarde metal genre. Why is this an appropriate tag for KEKAL?

I really don't know.. Honestly, while I don't mind with the term avantgarde metal, but I think this term should not be used to establish a sub-genre.. I believe these kinds of bands try to make fresh music by putting many of their outside metal influences into their music, with the idea of limitless creativity, but when another sub-genre has become established, it would create nothing but limits, and I don't think it's wise if we try to establish sub-genre that limits creativity and expression.. Back in the early 80's, when thrash and death metal weren't established as sub-genres, I heard many original bands came up with their own interpretation of what is fast and brutal music, but during the 90's when all these stupid sub-genres started to emerge, we saw more and more bands copying each other, because there are no space left but they had to conform to the scene, so they could not get away from limits.. I believe that music should not be limited at all when it comes to an artistic expression..

C: Your latest work "The Habit of Fire" has been released some months ago. How have the reactions been so far?

It is still hard to tell at this stage, as not many album reviews from the media showed up yet, especially in Europe.. Perhaps we arenít important enough, I just donít know.. Last album, it needed about 6 months or so for the review to appear in a printed magazine.. But so far, we've got very positive responses.. Same with the individual responses from listeners that we've received through e-mail and myspace.. Mostly they told us that they had to give ĒThe Habit of FireĒ some more spins before they got hooked by the music, but once they got hooked by it, they told us that this is the best Kekal album, or at least one of the best..

C: For "The Habit of Fire" you also changed label. Your last 3 outputs have been released by "Fear Dark Records". Now you have licencing deals with "Whirlwind Records" (Germany) and Open Grave Records (USA). I've heard you aim to reach people outside the extreme metal scene with this approach. Are you still satisfied with this strategy?

I guess you read that from the Fear Dark website..? Actually, we left Fear Dark because of various reasons, that is one of the reasons, but not the main thing who made us to switch label.. The licensing deals with 2 record labels came out because it was the best thing to do, unless the album being licensed to a bigger label who operates 2 offices in both USA and Europe, it is better to have 2 smaller record labels who release the album to their own separate markets.. Our friends told us that we should release the album through a U.S. record label too because there is a growing trend for the kind of music we do and more and more new listeners being introduced to it.. So we took their words seriously, while maintaining the European market that we already had.. Fear Dark as a record label is very strict to the extreme metal territory, but Whirlwind Records has somewhat more diverse as they have non-metal bands as well.. It is better for us to be placed into a more diverse field because of the nature of our music..

A: "The Habit of Fire", is a conceptual album, dealing with the urbanized modern world. What are your opinions on the state of our World?

What we always believe is that human tends to corrupt.. It is in our blood, our hedonistic human tendencies who control or influence us to make decisions, but by doing that, the result is that we are always heading to something called destruction.. I do believe that what we do is always to gain short-term benefits.. I don't have all the answers to those problems in the world, but first thing we need to be aware, that when we make a choice, the tendency is always been hedonistic rather than altruistic.. It is becoming more and more complex when these things are done in the name of security, nation, God, and religion.. People should be aware and critical of this, otherwise they would be easily being deceived by those who have power or who are in control..

A: If you had the power, how would you turn this hedonism towards altruism? Is there any "magical solution", or is it up to evolution to sort things out?

I would say that better to leave the Ēif I had the powerĒ words to all those politicians who are running their campaigns.. I will keep continue making music.. I mean there are different ways to create awareness to all these wrongs that happen in our world.. Michael Mooreís documentary movies are good example of creating awareness, and they get huge impact on the society, but heís not a politician himself, well at least for now.. He is doing that in capability as a documentary filmmaker.. But I must add that creating awareness doesn't always have to be connected with the politics within human group interactions such as in governmental, corporate or religious institutions.. Awareness to oneself is also included..

A: Faith and Religion is always a hot topic when dealing with underground music. Considering your previous affiliation with so-called "white" metal bands on tours and splits (Crimson Moonlight, Slechtvalk, etc), what importance does faith have for Kekal as a band? I'm not trying to stigmatize you as a religious band, I'm just interested.

For me personally, faith is something that motivates and drives you to live the life as human being.. People might have a faith in oneself, as well as faith in God or higher power, or might have faith in many other things from an amulet to a broken tooth.. As a musician, it is important to maintain drive, and faith helps creating the drive needed to write music, especially if the music acts as the songwriterís medium of expression.. I happen to believe in something good, thatís why I am always looking for better life and try to improve health, for example.. But it does not have to be associated with religion whatsoever.. You donít have to be religious to ever believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and you donít have to be religious to have a good diet and workout some exercise..

A: Since you started in the mid-90's, how has the Indonesian metal scene evolved? How socially accepted is it today to play extreme metal in Indonesia?

When we started out, the scene was in its early stage as not so many bands back then who had their own songs and released demotapes.. Most of the bands were still playing covers of well-known metal bands.. But it has progressed and improved both in quantity and in quality.. As long as whether it's socially accepted, I don't think the scene ever encountered something like a brickwall.. Metal has always been underground over there, and it hasn't been known enough in the mainstream market and mainstream music industry, but I think in Indonesia, there are more independent channels for metal bands to become more and more known to the masses.. I'm speaking about quantity, because there are TV shows that accept videos from independent bands, including metal bands, and also there are bigger music festivals which metal bands can share the stage with mainstream pop bands too..

A: Are there any certain Indonesian bands you can recommend?

It is hard because I donít listen much to Indonesian bands nowadays.. But I would recommend a band called Cranial Incisored.. I helped mixed and mastered their new promo CD, so in this case, I am familiar with their music.. They are one of few bands in Indonesia who are trying to blend music styles altogether..

A: How does a Kekal song come to life? Who does what (especially now when the Pacific Ocean is in the middle of the band)?

ĒThe Habit of FireĒ is already recorded before I came to Canada, so there was no ocean between us, only concrete walls and flooded streets.. But for the future material, we havenít talked about how do we deal with our current situation yet.. Letís see what will happen.. But Kekal will continue no matter what the situation is..

A: Both you and Azhar are vocalists. Who is responsible for the clean vocals and the screams respectively?

We didnít split our vocal jobs specifically based on which type of vocals.. Most of the clean vocals are sung by me, but thatís not because Iím the one who responsible to handle all the clean vocal department.. It just happens..

A: Why have you chosen to use programmed drums (expect on Acidity); for practical reasons - everyone in a band know how frustrating drummers can be, especially when recording - or esthetic?

Actually not all drums are programmed.. Since ĒThe Painful ExperienceĒ album, used real-time human performance and combined it with the mathematically-programmed ones while doing the editing on the real-time part.. The real-time performances were done with MIDI drumpads.. And other than that, we also put electronic beats and loops.. Because of the current technology of music production, which in many cases producers use triggered drums and manipulate the performance data as well as the sound in the studio, there are no separation between what is real and what is programmed.. They are blended together, so if you asked me if Kekal drums are programmed, I would say not really.. I call our approach of drum production as "hybrid drums".. Itís a mix between human performance and matrix editing, and all was done by the help of the sophisticated digital technology..

C: You've moved from Indonesia to Canada one years ago. What have been the reasons for this big step? Did you already adapt yourself to your new environment? How do you like Canada so far?

Well, the reasons are personal, both for me and my wife, since she also came with me to Canada, and itís nothing to do with Kekal actually.. I can adapt myself quite fast here for the culture and such, maybe weather was the hardest part since I never experienced as cold temprature in Canada as in Indonesia.. There are no winter in Indonesia, and winter in Canada is quite extreme.. I like Canada for being more open in any aspect of civilization, compared with my home country.. Itís more healthier for me to be at the more open environment..

A: How do you think moving to Canada will affect your creativity?

I donít think it will affect creativity in terms of the quality of my songwriting, because that depends more on motivation, drive and will.. Maybe the emotion would be different, Iím a bit more calm and laid back right now, and that would definitely give something different to Kekalís music in the future.. Iím not as angry and uneasy as when I did ĒThe Painful ExperienceĒ or Ē1000 Thoughts of ViolenceĒ, for example..

C: You've been one of the very first Asian metal bands touring through Europe in 2004. I guess this has been a great experience for you. Can you tell us more about it? Has it been the first time you left Indonesia? Did this tour influence your decision to move away from Indonesia?

No.. This tour didnít influence anything about my personal decision in life.. It did help to test and get used a bit on the winter, because when we were in Sweden it was about minus 6 or minus 7 degree celcius.. When I came to Canada, I was already prepared for the minus 20 degree something.. The tour was great, and because we didnít have very tight dates, it was about half doing job and half having a holiday.. It wasnít the first time I was travelling outside Indonesia or South East Asian region, I was in Australia before, and lived there for about a month..

A: Being Swedish, I'm curious... What was the response from the crowd when you played in LinkŲping?

It was very good overall.. The response from the crowd was great, one of the best crowd responses we got on the whole tour.. There was a little problem, but we already anticipated to that kind of thing which would possibly happen to us, we werenít surprised when it did happen..

A: Will you do live shows again? Your songs seem to become increasingly harder to perform on stage.

I wish.. Itís too early to say yes or no as it all depends on the situations.. The truth is that we are unable to do shows to support ĒThe Habit of FireĒ at least for a year, as I am the only member whoís in Canada and the others are in Indonesia, but who knows in next couple years..

C: Okay, Jeff, now we finally come to the last question. What will the future bring for KEKAL? What are your current plans? In what direction do you think your further work will evolve?

Right now Iím working on the remix of some Kekal songs.. I canít really go into details at this moment as things havenít been finalized yet, but we will post the updates on our forum as well as our myspace blog once everything is done.. We do also have some plans for the next year, but once again they are still at the early stages and things might be changed, so I donít want to speculate for right now.. However, Kekal will stay and keep moving forward in the current path, that means that we will continue to progress within this direction, in which evolution is a part of the progression..

C: Thank you a lot! Any last words?

Thanks a lot aVoid and Chrystof for this interview.. We appreciate that.. To anyone who might not familiar with Kekal, feel free to visit our myspace page to check out our songs online as well as getting the information on where and how to obtain our new album ĒThe Habit of FireĒ, as well as our previous albums.. And you are more than welcome to leave a comment or send us a message.. Cheers!

Interview conducted by Chrystof and


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