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When thinking of Indonesia, images of charred houses, street riots and political instability come up in my mind. Hailing from this country is Kekal, an extreme formation. Located in Jakarta this band combines black metal with classic metal riffing while putting forth the same dark images in their lyrics. Their release of The Painful Experience through record companies in Asia, Europe and North America was the right opportunity to invite guitarist and singer Jeff to the Art For The Ears interview forum. Read here what questions our visitors came up with and Jeff's answers.


Discography: Beyond The Glimpse Of Dreams (1998), Embrace The Dead (1999), The Painful Experience (2001). Available through: THT Productions & Fear Dark & Clenched Fist Records. Official website: Kekal. Interview by: mpomusic, Lord Rogoth, Negatyfus, Shamgar, Stefan, Natan, Daffie K. Article work-out: mpo. Date: January 25th-30th 2002.


mpomusic: Can you first introduce the band Kekal to us? When did it start and what have you done over the years?

Well, the band was formed around August 1995 as a one-time project of two guys. It was only just for fun. There were some songs that were already written at that moment, and we just needed to write some other ones to record the demotape. The demo was finally recorded in November 1995 along with a vocalist named Harry. The tape was dubbed into 20 copies and were spread around the local tape-trading circuit. A guitarist named Leo heard a copy of this tape in his friend's house, this guy (Leo's friend) was a friend of Harry too. Later Leo contacted us as he was interested in joining us as second guitarist. In about June 1996 we became active again, but this time with a vision and commitment to be a serious band. We remixed the very first demo along with some new material we released under the title Contra Spiritualia Nequitiae, our first official demo. It was never produced properly and it sounds like a rehearsal tape, but it got a good response from the underground and sold out the 500+ copies quite fast. We had the new line-up shortly afterwards: Harry on vocals, Leo on guitar, Azhar on bass/vocals, and myself on guitar/vocals. We continued to write new material. In early 1998, the first full-length album entitled Beyond The Glimpse Of Dreams was recorded and licensed to various labels. First it was just released on cassette format by Indonesian label THT Productions, and later re-released on both CD and cassette formats by the Singaporean label Sonic Wave. The response has also been very good since it has sold for about 4500 copies now. A quite good number for an underground band like us. At the end of 1998 Harry left the band due to other commitments outside music. Azhar, Leo, and I remained in the band. Our second full-length album called Embrace The Dead was recorded and released in August 1999 by THT productions as a tape version. The CD version was released later in 2000 by Fleshwalker records. In early 2001 we entered the studio to record material for our third full-length album The Painful Experience, and now it's licensed to three labels: Fear Dark for the European market, Clenchedfist Records for the North American market, and THT Productions for South East Asia.


Lord Rogoth: In recent years your country Indonesia's been in the news quite often with the attacks on Christians and Muslims on certain islands. Maybe ít's comparatively a lot in the news here in The Netherlands as Indonesia was a colony of my country and we still have some sort of relationship with Indonesia. Many people from Indonesia live here. As I was browsing through the lyrics I couldn't help but think of the situation in your country in certain lyrics, like the opening track. In how far is the situation in your country an inspiration?

For our third album we did it on purpose. I mean the lyrics are mostly inspired by all the happenings in our country. Indonesia has changed a lot since 1998. We have been through four different presidents only in three years! And during that period there were many riots, unrests, civil wars. We wanted to address the current socio-political issues in Indonesia as illustrations. But the topic can possibly change on our next albums.

LordRogoth: If you do it on purpose, what do you hope to communicate with the public? Is there some kind of ideology or a feeling or an overall thought that you hope to bring over or do you want to get attention for your country? Or is it to work it out for yourself? So, what is the purpose for you to get inspiration from the happenings in your country?

We try to communicate everything. Through these happenings in our country we just love to share our ideology (that's a Christian belief, just in case you may wonder), our thoughts, and also emotions or feelings. It will hopefully work out for everyone, not only Indonesian people, not only for ourselves, but to other people as well, both believers as non-believers. Let me explain some of the songs I wrote; The opening track The Monsters Within is actually a true story about a man who stole a chicken for food because he didn't have enough money. But he ended up being burned by the angered mass in the neighborhood, after being beaten to near-death, because the owner of the chicken saw him and yelled, then the mass at the owner's neighborhood instantly caught him. No matter what he stole, a chicken or a car. He will meet his death if the police doesn't come. Too bad, the police always come late. Now, who is right and who is wrong? At the end of the lyric-lines it said "There is no one righteous, not even one..." It's actually a Christian belief, you can't find a statement like that in any other religion. Only Christianity states the original sin of mankind.Another example is Mean Attraction. This is a song about terrorism. Once again it's taken from true events. There were about sixteen churches time-bombed around the same time at Christmas eve, eleven of them in Jakarta (the capital city) when the congregations were still in there for Christmas eve's services. Many were killed, some of them were little children. You can imagine that. We share our own thoughts about it. Like in the last line "Purpose never reached, when all become a part of business as usual..".. I saw later that it didn't make any believer too afraid to go to church, absolutely not. People still go to church and bring their children. They even have more faith and confidence to go to church than before the tragedy. The terrorists actually lost their goal to spread fear amongst Indonesian Christians, what they did was only a vicious murder. Everyday the terrorists do only the act of killing without a single goal reached. I realized that they only feel 'better' when their enemies died on their hands, not really because of what they wanted to fight for. It's not so long afterwards when they did that to New York's WTC and The Pentagon too. On the title-track The Painful Experience, we would like to share the feelings about painful live. It's actually like taking your own cross, and you can feel the pain that Christ once had when he took the cross. It's very emotional. Many of us, the believers, including ourselves, tend to refuse to experience the pain of life. We can easily complain to God when we got even a little everyday problem. This song is actually a reminder for me, for ourselves, and for everyone. I must admit that I was personally touched when I was asking questions in my mind like "Why does God let this happens to innocent people?" right when I saw the news about the churches being bombed and saw on the TV that many children were being taken to hospital
covered with blood.

Lord Rogoth: Another question. You say you want to share your ideology through these events in your country. What is the relevance of your ideology in the current situation? Like for your own country, does it contribute in any way that you can experience?

We see the importance to relate our ideology and spiritual beliefs towards the current situation in our country. It means that if the people's eyes were open enough for the principles of Christianity, the situation could be better. It's just an evaluation, or for a better word, a reflection from our life as we experience it. It won't change the whole society of course, but at least we can bring it in for our personal lives to affect our own actions, and also share it with people who read the lyrics. Take a line from U2 in one of their songs: "I cannot change the world, but I can change the world in me". That's what we are trying to do. I've heard some comments that our new lyrics are quite negative and little bit pessimistic, but if we read deeper they are actually very positive.

The Painful Experience album cover

Lord Rogoth: Today I was looking at the cover of the new album and the portrayal of the severed face and began wondering how it relates to the album. Is it sort of an expression of the feel of the album's lyrical approach or is there even a deeper meaning behind it?

The cover depicts the main theme of the album. It's more than just a particular lyric of one or two songs. The face itself represents our severe condition. For troubled countries like ours, it can also represents the system, the government, the social life, and so on. In general it represents the condition of mankind.

Negatyfus: How do you feel about black metal's satanic heritage and how do you perceive Christianity having a place in the dark, sinister atmosphere that is set by this extremity?

I still believe that black metal refers more to the music style rather than to religious, political, or any other things that follows. It's one of metal sub-genre like death metal, power metal, thrash metal, etc. It's the way you play the music, not the way you live the life. You know, the very first bands that played black metal are Hellhammer, Bathory, Sodom, or if you wish Venom. They just made it for fun like any other metal bands at that time, it's all for the sake of image. The musical atmosphere can be so dark, grim and somber, but that's nothing to do with anything satanic things or even Satanism. Nothing at all. All the situations we have in this world can influence us while writing music, and it can influence anyone with any kind of spiritual belief, including Christianity of course. It's not true when people look at Christians as being happy persons all the time. There are times when we are in sorrow, anger, and other things that we can perceive it as the darker times. But there are times when we are happy of course. Oh, another thing I must add, Christians always have a place in the darkness, because we all live in this dark world.

Shamgar: Have you received any serious death threats? If yes, how does that affect you, and how do you deal with them?

As for serious death threats, no. There are some hate mails we got who look like death threats in words but we don't see them as serious death threats like that they will really kill us when they get us. Most metal fans I know nowadays, even the most 'Satanic' ones, are not involved with the real mafia who can commit murder without being caught by the police. They might hate Christianity very much but they will think twice to commit murder. That doesn't mean I'm not taking these seriously, we have to be alert of course. But it's not good if they can affect our visions or make us fear. They are like acts of little terrorism, to create terror, to spread fear. To deal with hate mails from people who wish us to die, we have to put it on prayer, and of course we don't have to be afraid and keep the band going. If there's a local music scene in your place, you can get yourself involved with it and make friends to the key persons in the scene of whom you know have some 'neutral' political and religious views (like the zine editors, promoters, bands, etc.). Just try not to be exclusive. People in the scene at least will have more respect to the bands that are involved in the local scene, even if they have different views.

mpomusic: There's another thing that I have been wondering about and it's your past project Inner Warfare which has been described as an industrial band by HM Magazine around 1998. Was Inner Warfare a project you did alongside Kekal or goes the history of IW even before Kekal? And in how far is Excision, your other side project, a continuation of Inner Warfare?

Inner Warfare was my first real band, long before Kekal. It was formed around 1992. I formed this band along with a high-school friend and a couple of other friends. We did three or four demos and quit in 1997. The style is quite different from Kekal as it was started as a punk/metal hybrid then evolved to a more metalcore/rapcore thing with industrial elements. Perhaps we could've ended up being a kind of hip-metal band now if we had continued with this band, but God put a different way for us. Our keyboardist/sampling-programmer got an offer from a mainstream local CCM/pop band and he chose to take the opportunity. Now he's also an arranger/producer who does many good local CCM albums. We couldn't continue without him so we ended the band ourselves, and then I joined Kekal later on. As for Excision, it's my own side project. This means that I have a full control over everything. I 'formed' this project when I was still in Inner Warfare, before I officially joined Kekal. Excision was just a channel to release some of my recorded songs that were rejected by Inner Warfare, but then continued to be my solo project afterwards. I still have some songs that don't fit in with Kekal so I record them myself as Excision. But my priority has always been in Kekal.

Stefan: Did Kekal ever play cover songs or do you plan some?

Cover songs? Yes, we already did two cover songs, one from Trouble and one from Living Sacrifice. The Living Sacrifice cover was done for their Tribute Album released by Clenchedfist Records. We will re-record the Trouble cover for our next release. We haven't planned to record cover songs from other bands yet. Cover songs are very good to be played live but not in studio recording.

Stefan: That's really cool, I love Trouble! What song? My guess would be The Tempter but Tourniquet already did that song. So maybe The Wolf??

Hey, you're almost right, the song we cover also starts with 'The'  :).  It's The Skull! One of the best songs from Trouble both musically as well as lyrically.

mpomusic: Jeff, as main writer of Kekal do you get moments when you lack the inspiration to go on? Sort of a writers block? And what do you do to get new inspiration to write?

Oh yes! I always have this block especially when there are many other things to do at the same time. What should I do then? Just don't write music... :) When this happens, I choose not to push myself writing anything because that's not effective at all. Even the lyrics. During that period it must be at least two albums I listen each day, any kind of music, from metal to indie rock to progressive to classical. Sometimes I listen to the radio with all that pop music. It's just to get refreshed. Within a few weeks, you can start making music again.

Natan: At the Kekal website I saw that you guys don't have a drummer. How can you play without a drummer? Or how is it possible to be a band without a drummer?

It is possible of course. We use a drum computer, by some called a drum machine or drum-programs. But it's more than a drum machine actually. We arrange the drum patterns by using sequencer software as a midi file, programmed in both mathematically and real-time. And the drum sounds were taken from the sampled sound of real drums, mixed with the sounds from the drum module/drum machine. But you couldn't tell it's a machine. Because of the more and more sophisticated software these days, we can do whatever we want to sound as human as possible. Nowadays there are more metal-related bands using drum computers, and if they use real drums, they also trigger their drums, which means that they can edit their performaces and sounds in a computer. It's almost the same in terms of the output.

Shamgar: Do you ever play gigs, and if yes, in what kind of places, and how many people visit such a concert?

We haven't played any gig yet. Why? Because we still haven't had a permanent drummer. It's really hard to find a drummer who has the same belief and vision as the rest of the band. We don't want to use a session drummer while playing live. There are promotors who asked us to play at their places around cities & towns here. We've got about an average of one inquiry per month. The concerts are ranging from smaller ones with about 100 to 300 people, but also to larger ones, kind of festivals with more than 1,000 people in attendance and with about 15 to 20 bands playing. There are no mega festivals like Dynamo Open Air or such. The biggest ones are less than 5,000 people.

Shamgar: How is the scene in Asia? And how well known is Kekal there?

The metal scene is quite big in some Asian countries like Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia. But it works more in the underground than in mainstream, except Japan of course. In Indonesia a popular death metal band can sell more than 4000 or 5000 copies of tapes locally, but still without a major record-stores distribution. That means the underground scene has some strong cult following. We are quite well known here, perhaps our band-name is known by almost all the underground metal fans as we're among the first bands who signed with overseas labels. But, that doesn't mean we sell a lot of albums here. Many of the fans won't buy the album because of the stylistical and philosophical differences. In Indonesia, the scene is more into brutal death metal and some extreme black metal. We're not really fitting in with those two leanings.

Daffie K.: I wonder what the blackmetalscene is like in Indonesia, because I have absolutely no idea what styles are popular over there. How is your music received over there, do you get good reviews?

The black metal scene in Indonesia, I must say, is really boring, only full with copycats. They are now occupied with younger bands and fans, mostly teenagers, because they still need to look 'evil' and 'extreme' to the people around, and black metal can provide them with that. The most popular style is brutal death metal. Most of the better metal bands here play death metal. Indonesia is quite known for its underground brutal death metal scene. Our music is received well here, but mostly within the circle of bands now, which means that most of our fans also play in bands and such. It can be black metal bands, thrash bands, death metal bands, hardcore, modern rock. We're no longer popular within the black metal scene now. Our first album was quite popular there and we received many pros and contras. But since our second album Embrace The Dead, we appeal to a different kind of listeners rather than just black metal fans. And we are a little bit more acceptable among prog-metal fans as well.


mpomusic: Last year you got married and Leo left the band in December. What does that mean for the future of the band. In reply to another question you talked about future albums. How will the band go on? Will it remain a studio band/project or will you attract new members?

I talked with bassist Azhar a few weeks ago about the band's future direction. We will still go on with the band no matter the circumstances we have. At this moment there is no other possibility except making Kekal a studio band only although we're still open for changes in the future. Myself and Azhar have day jobs now and we can't tour even to other cities in Indonesia, and then Leo left the band, and we're still drummerless. We tried to add new members in the past. We were once looking for a drummer and a vocalist who could replace Harry (our former vocalist). But we got no one. I mean, there were quite many people who were interested to join us. Some even called me directly and asked about that very confidently. But if they have a different vision and commitment than us, we just can't. The relationship between the members of Kekal is more like a family relationship rather than a job relationship. We only have few members but we have a strong understanding and respect within each of us. That's better for Kekal I think.