Album Review: Kai Wachi – ‘DEMIGOD’

Kekai Wachi, better known as Kai Wachi, is a dubstep and trap producer from Boise, Idaho. On May 31st, 2019 he released a new album titled DEMIGOD through the Kannibalen record label, of which he’s been a long time member. DEMIGOD is a showcase of Kai Wachi’s versatility and unique sound design encapsulated in the raucous, more aggressive sounds of EDM.

Kai Wachi has produced music professionally since 2012, and DEMIGOD is the most recent body of work following The Feast EP (2012), In My Blood EP (2013), $kULL TEAM EP (2016), and Die Young EP (2017).

Starting with the album art for DEMIGOD, it appears Kai Wachi went with a slightly more thematic approach as he seems to be reusing a specific character designed to push what could possibly be the beginning of a mythos. DEMIGOD‘s album art features a sinister undead figure which seems to represent Kai Wachi himself.

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The character on the DEMIGOD album cover was first seen rising out of a body of water, as if summoned, on the artwork for his 2018 track ‘Ichor’ co-produced with G-Rex.

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This character is seen again on the artwork for the 2018 track ‘Bodied’ where he can be seen attacking other undead denizens like a supernatural hero.

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And again, Kai Wachi and collaborating producer Sullivan King are seen drawn in the same style for the artwork on ‘Between The Lines’, which is actually a single on the DEMIGOD album.

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The skeletal nature of his characters fit in with his ‘Skull Team’ branding. It’s cool to see the consistency of this art direction and implementation of it in his latest body of work.

And now for the music.

Since around 2012, dubstep has gone through many evolutions, splitting into many of the popular subgenres of today. Some iterations of dubstep have gone the more aggressive direction with strong influence from heavy metal and post-hardcore rock. Subgenres like grimestep, vomitstep (pioneered by Kannibalen member Snails), and riddim have taken the spotlight at many EDM shows. From these subgenres, a culture of fans that call themselves ‘headbangers’ is the most dedicated. Kai Wachi’s current sound definitely draws heavily from these harder subgenres, but what’s unique about him are his tendencies to integrate more melodic bars into his music, which ultimately equates to a stronger sense of depth as an artist.

To prove this point, Kai Wachi’s self-titled opening track starts the album off melodically with soft synths and vocals before gradually climbing in tension; eventually dropping into a grimy bassline that stretches the length of the rest of the track.

Next up is another melodic-leaning track, ‘Strangers’, featuring post-EDM artist Grabbitz, offering his highly distinguishable vocals over growling synths and deep basslines. The bass drops in this song are just the right amount of glitch and melody to make for casual listening. About three-quarters of the way into the track, Kai Wachi really demonstrates his softer side with a beautiful piano leading into a quintessential melodic dubstep drop.

Make no mistake, however, as the next song up, ‘Hollow’, immediately drops into bouncy trap beats with vocals from rapper Famous Dex, possibly the most high-profile feature on this album. Placing ‘Strangers’ and ‘Hollow’ right next to each other on the album mix is a perfect example of the hard and soft duality taking place in Kai Wachi’s artistic mind, which is also a theme in his music beyond just DEMIGOD.

Throughout the album, Kai Wachi also showcases his unique abilities for sound design that set him apart from many of his counterparts within the aforementioned genres. Kai Wachi is good at making his basslines ‘speak’ to listeners with the orientation of individual notes. The unpredictability of his drop patterns is what makes his music so fun to listen to. It shows that he has complete control over how he intends for the tracks to progress.

The most melodic production on the album is ‘Photograph’ featuring Claudia Bouvette. Its funky, wobbly bass drop is reminiscent of old Zeds Dead.

Another notable song is ‘Heartless’ featuring Ylti, an Idaho native rapper who also appeared on Kai Wachi’s song ‘Luvsick’ from the Die Young EP. This song has a more downtempo hip-hop track with a focus on Ylti’s notoriously clever lyrics and flow. It’s a good example of Kai Wachi’s versatility as a producer.

As mentioned above, the song ‘Between The Lines’ featuring Sullivan King was released as a single with its own artwork shortly before DEMIGOD‘s release. It is a testament to the hard rock fusion imbued within the rougher electronic sounds that have spawned out of the dubstep movement. The song leads with a metallic guitar riff, most likely composed and performed by Sullivan King himself, and represents the instantiation of the headbanger scene.

And finally, Kai Wachi very appropriately closes out his album with ‘Lost’, which is a culmination of all the thematic sounds and styles that he uses throughout. Beginning melodically, ‘Lost’ progressively inserts percussive elements, before teasing grimier synths in its build-up and dropping into a twisting crescendo of unique sounds and unpredictable bass patterns. Again, this carefully manufactured track is refined and allows for more casual listening. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kai Wachi ends his album with a purely piano comprised outro absent of any loud synths; it seems to softly tease a new chapter in the saga of Kai Wachi’s demigod persona.

Overall, DEMIGOD is a refreshing take on the more aggressive elements of EDM. The expert sound design separates the album from the cacophony of other acts surrounding the headbanger scene. Kai Wachi proves that he has a deeper side with his melodic tracks and his favoring of long piano leads and outros. The reuse of visual art themes in his album art hints at a growing creative world surrounding him and his music.

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