Kapitan Kulam – ‘Kapitan Kulam’ EP: Filipino noisemakers’ compact homage to the riff

Guitarists Lourd De Veyra and Kaloy Olavides serve as chief builders on this no-frills project

Sad but true: The guitar doesn’t play as central a role in music as it once did during key eras like classic rock, hair metal, and grunge. From enjoying centerstage status – as the backbone on which well-loved tunes are hinged – the guitar is now relegated to texture, and that’s quite a resounding fall.

Which is why the self-titled debut EP from Kapitan Kulam is more than a vehicle for the foursome that made it (drummer Jay Gapasin, bassist Eric Melendez, guitarists Lourd De Veyra and Kaloy Olavides). It’s also a clarion call for those who still believe in the guitar and the riff – the practitioners and supporters of the form.

There is nothing modest in the four-track release, and central to this immodesty is the guitar: angry, ugly, and decisive. And it’s not that kind of guitar either – there’s no flash, hardly any flare – but a more ominous variety which puts the onus on ideas and motifs.

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In short, if guitar tends to be a mere coat of paint these days, ‘Kulam’ is working to bring it back to being the very concrete in the walls.

Straddling sludge, hardcore, thrash, fuzz rock, and noise territories, the EP is a spirited revisiting of the riff, which to the band is akin to “[an] uninterrupted speech, [a] transmission from a violent nether, [or] a kind of language, if language were carved out of agony.”

And the pedigree of the personnel makes sense, too, even if you zero in on the guitarists alone. While the beginnings of De Veyra’s Radioactive Sago Project (where Gapasin is also the drummer) were forged on jazzy grounds, towards their later years they started incorporating elements of punk and hardcore to great effect. Olavides, furthermore, is no stranger to noise, being the mastermind behind shoegaze/art rock outfit Pastilan Dong. Between them, a whole mess of riffage is to be expected.

On this record, though, that emphasis on the riff is intent and purposeful – so much so that no voices were used: a defiant 180-degree turn considering De Veyra is mostly celebrated as a spoken-word man.

Make no mistakes: the songs on ‘Kulam’ are no stoner jams. They’re more like different builds on a singular design, with riffs serving as the basic building blocks, fortified through insistent repetition with neither flourish nor fanfare. After all, no structure would stand securely if the hands that built it chose to mess about with useless things like beauty and spontaneity.

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There is a workmanlike charm to the monolithic execution, and the band’s furrowed-brow commitment is palpable. You sense it in opening salvo ‘Agimat’, which the foursome deliver almost entirely in unison, only disengaging as distinct puzzle pieces during occasional pockets of silence. And even these silences are performative, functioning like the audio equivalent of chapter breaks or theatre lighting, prefacing each jarring movement in an otherwise static series of portraits.

You also hear it in the heavy drop-tuned squalor of ‘Metga’. Listening to it occasionally feels like eavesdropping on a studio playback while waiting for the singer’s turn at the booth; he never shows up, of course, but he was never needed anyway. This stab at thrash is, really, its own end, fully realised despite appearances to the contrary.

In the more dramatic crescendo of ‘Paa’, meanwhile, Kulam allow themselves some spillage outside the centrifuge, and in one section approaching the outro, De Veyra even permits himself a (gasp) solo. The closer, ‘White Flower’, has the band turning to the man behind the kit, Jay Gapasin, not so much to keep time but to turn it on its head.

Onstage, the quartet are decked in all-white, an image which harkens to the clinical precision of ’60s-era sound engineers, but also a symbol of the modularity of the project’s components, which includes its players. It’s not so much that the tunes are easy to play, but that their parts are meant to be transplanted, shifted, disassembled, and put back together again.

‘Kapitan Kulam’ isn’t weighed down by typical signifiers of instrumental music like virtuosity and dexterity, though some of it is on display. Instead, we get capsules of ideas, with just the insides showing – the heaving remnants, if you will – after all the nebulous feedbacking and oscillation have been peeled away.

Details

Kapitan Kulam EP review 2021
  • Release date: January 22
  • Record label: Self-released
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