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Be'lakor is an alluring figure. If melodic death metal were a nuclear family, these Aussies would find themselves notched up to other successful groups within the sub-genre like Insominium, Dark Tranquillity, and Omnium Gathernum—they take a lot from these bands, in fact. Be'lakor began making waves back in 2007 and 2009 when they released "The Fragile Tide" and "Stone's Reach," respectively, to critical acclaim and oceans of praise, paving the way for the band's third album, "Of Breath and Bone." Without getting too bloated, this is pretty damn good. Be'lakor's style of melodic death metal is incredibly rich and dynamic, building each of its towering anthems (none lasting shorter than six minutes) with intricate layers of harmonized guitar work and song structures which run beyond the usual bargain-bin melodic death metal uniformity.
Simply put, Be'lakor and "Of Breath and Bone" are fantastic alternatives from the norm this habitat tends to offer. Be'lakor writes songs that are ridiculously complex and layered, boasting multitudes of melodies, harmonies, riffs, and transitions which reek of progressive influences crashing smoothly into Be'lakor's atmosphere within each piece. Although an approach like such often leaves a lot of repetition or redundancy, "Of Breath and Bone" doesn't have problems. The band tends to churn out many sections and chapters per song, yet everything comes with a sign of vitality: that what they're doing is necessary, and the album wouldn't feel as whole had certain parts been removed. In essence, a lot happens, and it's a long record, but there's a point to it all; not a lot of groups are ambitious and successful like Be'lakor.
They often spend time producing captivating lead guitar melodies hovering over rhythm sections before exploding into standard melodic death metal riffs and then evaporating into interludes that are soft, chilling, and introspective, perhaps. It's actually a fairly formulaic record at its core, although the whole configuration is, of course, boasting several worker bees per hive, so to speak. "Of Breath and Bone" is enjoyable throughout, but the final songs (especially "By Moon and Star") are equal parts mythic and harsh, making Be'lakor's sense of loss almost tangible—they are overall fantastic. The guttural vocals are sufficient, not quite reaching the level of ingenuity and elegance that most of the album preaches, but they are, as I said, sufficient; they do what they need to and nothing more.
Alas, Be'lakor has forged an album that feels like an ethereal journey through the depths of emotion, captured by the group's incredible ability to inject somber, emotional passages into the strident infrastructure of "Of Breath and Bone." The equation used has a lot of flexibility, and every track comes out with its own skin and mask, showing that this elongated support can justify the essence of Be'lakor. I personally find the record a remarkable changeup from the expected melodic death metal output; it's definitely more parallel to Opeth in spirit or Insominium than The Black Dahlia Murder clone #35345634632342323. A sudden oasis in an asphyxiating wasteland, "Of Breath and Bone" has summoned Be'lakor into the royal court of melodic death metal. It's a long way to the throne, but we all have to start somewhere, right?
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
Be'lakor are a soulless Dark Tranquillity clone who have managed to suck all of the life out of melodic death metal. They use a template of the general sound of more recent DT mixed with the slightly atmospheric, doom-tinged emotional approach of Insomnium. They're best compared to those Finns, since their style is to make plastic-sounding, lame melodeath that sounds like the skeleton of Dark Tranquillity after having the meat stripped from the bones and the soul swallowed. This is boring, uninteresting melodic death metal.
The vocals are monotonous death growls, lacking inflection and passion. One thing that makes this type of music stand out is a vocalist who exudes passion and character like Mikael Stanne, where the delivery and enunciation of a growl deliver emotion and feeling. This vocalist has none of that, only a slight enunciation that makes each syllable almost intelligible and occasionally dragging a word to indicate that he knows that growls can be more than mere barking, but he never does otherwise. The same problem with delivery comes through in the guitar riffs - there's no feeling in the phrasing, rather the emotional atmosphere seems to be conjured in production, and it just doesn't feel right. There's a riff at the end of "Fraught" that clearly shows the Swedish influence, but it's presentation falls completely flat - it's repeated many times with no variation and quickly turns around the feeling of potential as it goes nowhere. Even a slight tail-end variation could improve it, a lesson they could take from In Flames' "The Jester Race", but they keep driving these riffs hard, playing them too many times without a feeling of variation, not even the natural shift in feeling of production that isn't excessively polished, layered, and edited. This feeling similarly hurts the production - it's implying a feeling, but the music doesn't reflect that. There are bands who go for the same feeling, mostly melodic death/doom, who nail it in both the music and the sound, but Be'lakor lack the edge they need in production and the feeling they need in the music.
The songs are long, not out of necessity to deliver their message, but because it seems like the band wanted to play each riff twice as much as it needed to be played because they couldn't figure out how to write enough transitions in the first place. This feels like a collection of riffs assembled from tablature. There are clean parts that are starved for anything but mechanical perfection, but they're so dry that they might as well be a nicely-toned synthesizer rather than an actual guitar. The pursuit of mechanical perfection in production is a bane to music that tries to capture and deliver the emotion of a performance, any passion in these performances is lost and carpeted with a synthetic, somber, solemn sadguy feeling that comes only from mixing the ambiance of the guitars in production.
There's a certain, essential part of melodic death metal that this simply lacks. It's not diminished, it is simply nowhere to be found. The key section from "In Parting" that loses the emotion like a MIDI version would suck the life out of the keys in Dark Tranquillity's "Cathode Ray Sunshine". This music is plagued by the synthetic feeling of the recording and the lack of passion delivered by the performances in the final product. This has already been done way better by many others, so there's no reason to listen to this album instead.
The realm of melodeath has been changing monarchs ever since its inception. From the magnificence and perfection of Heartwork-era Carcass, to the reign of the three Göteborg kings during the mid to late 90’s, then the irruption of the melancholic Finnish hordes at the turn of the Century, with Insomnium at the helm, and then the hegemony of the Viking overlords Amon Amarth in this more recent era. There have been some non-Scandinavian contenders to the throne, at least in my history book, like barbaric Dutchmen Callenish Circle, but there’s no arguing that the capitol of that musical kingdom has always been situated in Europe… until now. A tribe of Down Under marauders collectively known as Be’lakor has been patiently stalking in the shades, ready for the ultimate strike. And that’s precisely what their amazing third album, Of Breath and Bone, is. The melodeath throne might have a new regent.
It’s not that surprising actually, as the Australians have been steadily marching towards greatness ever since their formation. Their solid if somewhat unimpressive debut The Frail Tide already showcased their progressive tendencies and extended but compelling compositions, though they improved greatly on their sophomore, the outstanding Stone’s Reach, which laid the strong foundations on which this album stands. Their style hasn’t changed at all, but it has now been perfected, as I found Of Breath and Bone a notch tighter and more fascinating than its predecessor. The tracks remain long and complex, bearing multiple changes in pace and mood, seven of the eight pieces of music here lasting six minutes or more. But whereas some songs on Stone’s Reach felt a bit uneven and patched, all the compositions here show direction and cohesion, the transitions between different sections flowing beautifully.
Even the cover artwork here is superior to the ones used on past albums, not that I have anything against the iconic Benvenuto Cellini’s “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” sculpture. But there’s just something inherently captivating in this Red Riding Hood portrayal, the bread-bearing girl confidently smirking at the menacing mongrel at her side. A classy and eye-catching cover image, probably my favorite one among albums from this rapidly dying 2012 year. Sophistication and good taste is also found in great measure on the music here. The guttural vocals, riffs, guitar patterns, vast array of keys, drum fills and bass plucking might not be the best ever, not overtly innovative, but everything here is combined in a highly effective way to create epic pieces of melancholic, absorbing melodeath. Perhaps the rhythmic section is a bit shy compared to, say, the battering of Amon Amarth, but it works fine, bringing variation and a sturdy backbone for the excellent guitars and tasty keyboards on top. There’s A LOT going on in each song; great harmonies, calm pianos, acoustics… even narrating grunts. The accomplished clear production works amazingly for this style.
You can’t go wrong in listening to the whole album from start to finish, but each and every song here is a lush world to explore on its own, even if they share the same style of chiaroscuro expositions of emotional and musical endeavors. The lyrics are another highlight, most of them abstract forays into the mysteries of life and death, night and day, sorrow and joy, the universe and the mind. A notable exception is my favorite track of the bunch, “In Parting”, a tale of two sibling birds separated by fate and reunited in a tragic end. Excellent stuff, as the music it accompanies. Opener “Abeyance” and “The Dream and the Waking” are also personal favorites, but I don’t think there are weak tracks here. A bit of trimming and a more climatic ending could have been applied to the closer, “By Moon and Star”, but it has a great deal of interesting moments. Even the interlude “To Stir the Sea” works marvelous as a midpoint in the album, as well as a moody introduction for “In Parting”.
Perhaps to call Be’lakor the new and undisputed kings of melodeath is going too far, as there are several styles within this genre. So if your preference of melodic death metal is more of the über-brutal, blunt and, to me, ultimately dull The Black Dahlia Murder-type, then you might not appreciate this that much. It is also not too technical or flashy, as something by Arsis or the like. On the other hand, if you enjoy Insomnium, Noumena, In Mourning or similar bands, this one’s definitely for you, my fellow metal brother or sister. For me is definitely one of 2012 highlight’s, my favorite melodeath album of the year. And yeah, I do consider now Be’lakor the band to beat, as the last releases by both Amon Amarth and Insomnium were a bit underwhelming. I totally recommend you to get this!
I might draw the line at describing Be'lakor's 2009 sophomore Stone's Reach as an iconic masterpiece for the ages, but there's no question I enjoyed the hell out of that thing, and found it one of the better examples of its class of post-Opeth, progressive-tinted, Scandinavian influenced melodic death metal in the past decade. The Australians more or less continue this theme through their latest, Of Breath and Bone, and once again it's festooned with a dichotomy of surging, triumphant moments and tranquil, almost folkish segues that invoke an adventurous landscape upon the listener. Granted, a lot of folks are pretty spent on this sort of hybrid, but Be'lakor performs it as well as just about anyone, and those seeking a more graceful, grandiloquent alternative to Finns Insomnium or Viking brutes Amon Amarth will find this a shore worth conquering.
It almost stuns me how effortless these gentlemen imbue the surges of chords with constant, meandering melodies, almost as if they were just cutting their wrists and letting it flow out naturally. They generally favor pretty long tracks, around 8-10 minutes, and there's quite a lot of composition in each, to the extent that I'm impressed they can keep all of these melodies in their memories for performance. I'm not normally a staunch proponent for such excess, and Be'lakor might be better served in clipping off some of the appendages, but overall they do a decent job of not boring the listener throughout each excursion. The folksy, classically inspired pieces are well written and provide a welcome counterbalance to the harder passages, though they don't always forge themselves into memorable terrain. The instrumental interlude "To Stir the Sea" is a good example, with flutes, acoustics and synthesizers that are cutesy but hardly hypnotic in structure. No, the Australians are far better when meting out miles of moody melancholy through a duality of chords and ringing melodic architecture which is well on par with their Swedish and Finnish forebears.
Though I enjoy the clean production of the rhythm section, and don't find the pair lacking in terms of their prowess, I do feel like they're constantly being outclassed by the guitar progressions, pianos and other atmospheric glints peppered about the corpulent 56 minute run time. Considering the band's sheer sense of extravagance, it'd be a positive to let these two experiment more, because as it stands I felt like I was too reliant on the guitar's melodies to really rip through my memory, which only happened about half the time I was listening through them. The guttural vocals are quite a contrast to the music, because they lack the sense of intricacy and overpower you with a gruff inflection quite familiar to those who enjoy Johan Hegg, Taneli Jarva (from his later Sentenced recordings) or Niilo Sevänen, and while this is not a huge problem, they're often too similar to other bands to really hold their own for long. The lyrics are quite good though, with a surplus of thoughtful, introspective imagery aligned to the sad emotions of the guitars.
There wasn't a song among these eight without something interesting happening somewhere; but I'd point out "Fraught", with its Amon Amarth-like melodic death/thrashing tensions, and "The Dream and the Waking" with its triumphant, twilight haze of guitar harmonies as particular standouts here. They definitely have a Scandinavian sensibility inherent to their more exotic note sequences, though I would say that they should attempt to branch out a little further, because there is some degree of predictability to how these bloated pieces play out. Of Breath and Bone is a very consistent album, with oodles of riffs through its course, but they tend to remain within a certain safety zone. Added dissonance, wilder percussion, or a more alien architecture threaded through the melodies, would contribute greatly to some of the melodic choices and provoke something far more than a Melbourne mirror to Northern Europe. All told, Of Breath or Bone hung a little lower on my attention span than its predecessor, but it's still worth hearing if you've held out hope for this niche, or if you crave more along the lines of Across the Dark, One for Sorrow, Twilight of the Thunder God, Morningrise or even mid-to-late 90s Katatonia.
Of all the great albums this year, I have to say Be'lakor is my favorite. The whole album flows together like Pure Holocaust, if my Gogear didn't take a second to change tracks it would sound like one big medley, and a great one. Filled with astounding riffs and (apologies for the continuous Immortal comparisons) the clean parts sound even grimmer than the icy interludes of Blashyrkh and Tyrants. This ultimately is a classic of the melodic death metal genre, running neck-and-neck with Amon Amarth's Twilight of The Thunder God for catchy doom-esque death metal.
The guitar work on this album is phenomenal, sweeping together hard riffs, mournful strides, and clean intervals. I love the Gothic short stories in all the songs, sounding morbid enough to be a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. The drums also follow greatly, pounding and blasting like thunder, and adding it's own flourish. To go back to my point on the guitars, the main riffs in Abeyance are the most memorable and wonderful riffs I've ever heard, ascending over even Tyrants/Kashmir and Black Sabbath in their brilliancy. This album is a bipolar whirlwind, going from lightning fast to a progressively slow Evoken-like plod. Be'lakor takes a true step forward in their career with this album. Not recycling from Stone's Reach, but building on that to make something much better and new. I'm already lusting for Be'lakor's fourth album.
The only real (and small) problem I have with this album is the bass. It's greatly played, but it's too low on the mix at times and seems to do that awful buzzing when you play too close to the fret bar every now and then, or maybe it's just too muddled for my novice ears to really hear. But in conclusion, this is a grand album that one will never tire from.