This may be titled Second Voyage but it looks like it's Seklumpulan Orang Gila's third voyage at a full album length, after 2014's Bahtera and 2018's Dermaga. Before all those was a 2013 EP called Civilization is on Trial. And I was fascinated to hear what it sounded like because I haven't heard a Malaysian alternative band before, my experience here at Apocalypse Later limited thus far to a melodic death metal band called Mothflesh.
Their brand of alternative is an interesting one because it's surprisingly varied from the outset, a very contemporary and trendy American approach mixing it up with traditional ethnic music. For instance, the album starts with what we can only see as an intro, even though it must be a song of its own, a solo female voice performing in an overtly south east Asian style that I can only assume is Malaysian. That voice belongs to Shafa’atussara and it's delightful.
But then we leap into the album proper with the title track, which features as western a guest as Tim Lambesis, the much troubled lead singer of San Diego metalcore legends As I Lay Dying. He's appropriate here, because this is an up tempo song, with Lambesis's shouty voice combining with the snarly one of a band member and another that's not just clean but sweetly clean. That makes this quite the synthesis of styles, especially when you factor in whatever ethnic instrumentation is happening in the background. I'm not a big metalcore fan but I really like this.
Sailors of Sorrow follows suit in a strippd down fashion, losing the guest vocals and cutting down on the ethnic material without losing it entirely. The quiet section close to halfway suggests that it's really keyboards but it sounds like wind instruments. Whatever it is, it's a fascinating contrast to the edgy guitars, overt bass and lively drums, just as the clean pop voice contrasts neatly with the snarly hardcore one. There are times when this ventures into post-rock but it's primarily still alternative rock, often metalcore without much metal, if that makes sense. Memories does more of this.
But then the band switch sound entirely. Tugu Ugut feels like a dance song with the electronica on mute, but with that overt bass almost duetting with the vocals. It gets a lot edgier, almost finding its way into experimental punk, but never really speeds up. The fastest it reaches is a woah woah chorus. Like most songs here, it's just shy of four minutes, but it veers from dance to post-rock via pop and hardcore punk. It's a fascinating mix and the band keep varying the balance between the edgy and the traditional as the album progresses.
One of my favourite songs is Pelukan Angkasa, which introduces a clean female voice to that mix. I came back to this one after listening to the whole album the first time to see just how much it gets into its, you guessed it, just short of four minutes. It starts out as ethnopop, the keyboards aiming for a chiming gamelan sound. It erupts almost palpably into a heavier chorus. The female voice, of famous Malaysian singer Shila Amzah, is a welcome addition and the two combine explosively and grow with the song too. There are strings to underpin the emotions. It gets traditional as it finds itself only a minute from the end but then builds back up. It's a heck of a ride.
It's fair to say that not everything in this sound is up my alley, but my ears are always open to new syntheses of sounds and the end result here is fascinating to me. By the time Radicalism towards the end of the album shifted into new genres a few times in a short period of time, I even started to think of Mr. Bungle as a comparison. No, they're not that adventurous, but they are definitely adventurous and I haven't seen Kuala Lumpur as a hotbed of that sort of thing. The closing songs, Senja Yang Tua and We are Stronger Than Before, sound like different bands, but they're not out of place next to each other.
Sometimes, styles that I'm not particularly fond of can work really well as counterpoints and that is how the shouty hardcore voice plays here for me. I don't like celery either and wouldn't eat it as a snack but it can work in the right soup. The shouty voices and boy band vocals work in this wildly diverse soup, as do the strings in Senja Yang Tua, the wind instruments in Second Voyage and the fundamentally traditional vocals on the intro, Warkah Dari Rumah. It's quite the album and I'll be adjusting to it for quite a while. Which I like.