Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Kekal - The Habit Of Fire. 88/100.

Having only recently just branched out and listened to the Kekal debut, a record I had previously no information about and thus no expectations, I have found myself returning to latter day Kekal faster than expected. Though I do enjoy the debut for what it is - an inspired hybrid of numerous genres that rarely touches upon a dull theme - the last days of Kekal were where most of the bands best material has come about. The debut, as previously stated, is a successful hybrid and, in that way alone, this record can relate to its older brother as it too is a hybrid record, spanning across several interrelated genres and numerous unrelated styles. Though the debut stuck to a strict formula of providing an overriding black metal base, with tinges of extreme metal here and there, and a gothic undertone in the gliding darkness that flittered beneath the aggressive overtones, records such as this one, ‘The Habit of Fire’ are increasing the pressure on the experimentation, causing it to sweat as it feels the heat of the transition from primitive beginnings to accessible endings.

The discography history of Kekal reads like a novel which is presented by an unreliable narrator who, at first, appears to be all knowing and trustworthy. Not much of the story fits as he begins to unfold the tale of anger, inspiring the listener to question the mannerisms and motives of the narrator as he lies to both the listener and himself on the subject at hand. As the story transcends, the pieces begin to place themselves in the right order as the lies become known to everyone, like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The story manifests itself into a divine truth and is in stark contrast to the openings of the novel as it nears completion. This can be equated to the story of the Kekal discography as the debut tells a tale unlike that of the this era. To begin with, Kekal were a distressed band with a sound accessible to those of a more extreme nature. As the discography progresses into the modern era and beyond the aggressive beginnings which now look like a bout of teenage angst in comparison to this mesmerising and mature unfolding, Kekal have transformed into a beautiful band who’s heart aching story is one of much skill, but little recognition for their efforts.

As the band have recently decided to call it a day, listeners who have discovered this gem have taken it upon themselves to draw conclusions from the strange goodbye Jeffray left us with. His lack of anger fuelled him to leave the band as Leo wanted no part in the act anymore either. Some suggest that the sheer lack of recognition, despite the overwhelming experimental nature of the music which has seen it rise from inaccessible to accessible throughout the years, was the final nail in the coffin. As the band members disappear into infamy, the name of Kekal lives on as a monument to the almost fifteen year journey of the band from the anger of the rasping led debut, to records such as this, with its clean vocal portrayal and outside influences from genres like electronica and jazz. As a huge black metal fan, this record probably shouldn’t appeal to me more than the debut, which had a black influence, but it does. This record doesn’t contain many elements of the debut which saw rasping vocals and a really hateful texture to the content which didn’t afford much room to genres like electronica, despite a minimal keyboard influence, and jazz.

The inspirations behind the music have almost become entirely from outside of the metal scope and this has actually increased the accessibility of the band to a die-hard metal fan like myself. The progressive content still has a metal edge, but the content is far too varied to be simply lumped into one genre, or sub-genre that is supposed to sum up the record as a whole. No genre description would do this diverse piece justice because, as I said, songs like ‘Free Association’ indicate the outside influences well as the electronic sound builds slowly alongside a heavy bass section. Songs like this give me a feeling of familiarity and I remember the days I discovered records like ‘Perdition City’ by Ulver, which incorporated electronica and jazz also. In that way, Kekal’s ‘The Habit of Fire’ is similar to Ulver’s moody piece, but Kekal definitely draw upon a metal influence more so than Ulver did on ‘Perdition City’. This record actually contains two of my three favourite Kekal songs, ‘Isolated I’ and ‘Escapism’, a song divided into five separate parts. The wonderful lyrics, accompanied by the weird content makes for a blissful, euphoric song. Though the aggression of the rasps may have gone a long time ago, these lyrics still display what Jeffray meant when he said he just isn’t angry enough anymore to produce Kekal records;

“What on Earth am I here for?
Trapped in this piercing circumstance
With no sign of hope to pull through
A nation full of parasites
And you don't know how much I hate this place
With countless sad stories of failed survivals
Every step is a miracle”

Though each part is clearly divided into different sections (which also occurs on another song), each segment is as pivotal as the next. The way in which the vocals has evolved is a leading part of why Kekal have become such a success. The vocals are honest sounding and passionate. Though the rasps clearly displayed the anger, there is more emotion to the cleaner style as songs like ‘Escapism’ highlight. Whilst guest musicians did perform on such songs as this one, it is the performance of the regular members which takes most of the plaudits, especially Jeffray and Leo. The keyboards, bass and other subtle elements are favoured by the cleaner style because the rasps took a lot of energy away from the instrumentation because they were such a strong, inaccessible member of the machine. The way in which the production is now tailored to the cleaner style, too, is important. The jazzy bass can work its magic in swift processions of avant-gardé joy and the electronic elements of the keyboards can altered to textures far more easily than previously. The evolution of this band is important. Though the debut was indeed good, efforts like this truly pinpoint why Kekal have such a strong following, despite the small numbers of fans who have actually found them.

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