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Be'lakor present us in "Stone's Reach" with the epitome of progressive death metal. In the years to come (and I write this just a couple of weeks before their next release is scheduled to hit the market), I believe that it will be VERY difficult to top this effortby anyone out there in the progressive, melodic death scene.
There are several reviews out there for this cd that fault it for the length of the tracks and its progressive tendencies which appears to be to be missing the point entirely. This cd is a masterpiece precisely because of these features. Each track delivers to us so many different facets of metal as to make description difficult. If you have any love for progressive metal and can handle the low, growled vocals, this is for you.
For me, this cd has the best of all worlds. The vocals, provided by George Kosmas, are very low and dark and fit the lyrics fantastically well. Instrumentally, it doesn't get any better than this: massive riffing, haunting melodies, copious tempo changes, and superb drumming. There is variation to be found everywhere one looks. One particular feature to highlight is the use of keyboards and piano in each track, providing a great deal of somber atmospherics.
The cd is nearly a full hour in length, yet only contains 8 tracks, and one of those is a 3-minute instrumental. Needless to say, the other 7 tracks average out to be around 8 minutes each, which is yet another indication of the progressive nature of this effort.
While it is very difficult to pick individual favorites, the 9-minute song "Sun's Delusion" may characterize the cd as a whole with its gorgeous, classically-inspired outro which is preceded by several melodies that will rattle around your head for days to come.
The track "Ventator" that leads off the cd tells a dark fantasy story with the superb use of the dark growls playing the role of the lead character in the story, and the music and cold atmosphere provide a chilling backdrop for the outstanding lyrics. Every time I listen to this track, I am transported to that dark, cold cave - truly a great experience.
This is one for the ages. Their next effort doesn't even have to come close to still being excellent, and if we are lucky enough to be treated to similar fare, we are all in for a special treat in 2012.
It's hard to dislike Be'lakor but lavishing praise on them is pretty difficult, too. It's got a very Amon Amarth-ish vibe, which is fine, it's a pull-all-stops-out attempt at being as epic and massive as possible, and that's admirable, but it also borrows a lot from the Opeth school of awkward transitions and overlong songs, which isn't really good news. There's a lot of moments- the big riff of the opening track, the pretty cool, dark power metal vibe of "Sun's Delusion"- that suggest this band could be very good if they were willing to keep it a bit shorter and just smash us over the head with riffs for four minutes, as opposed to eight minutes of well meaning but misguided epicness.
I think maybe the problem is that the songs don't really come across as through-composed, or whatever the term is; the flow is usually descent, but the linear song progressions often come across as more of a "fit riffs in a same tempo back to back" combined with a lot of repetition of certain themes; most of the songs don't really seem that well thought through and thoroughly composed, which for songs of this length are pretty much vital. There's also resorting to a lot of quasi-breakdowns for "dramatic" parts of the song, a bunch of false endings where it seems almost like two songs where tacked together (Sun Delusion), and a few extremely similar riffs that appears a few times throughout the whole thing. All in all, these guys have prepared a 500g steak and tried eating it one bite; it's a worthy effort but didn't work too well for them.
With repeated listenings this gets harder and harder to take. You've heard that riff in Aspect a hundred times before on the album, you've heard far better mellow bits before, you've heard that melodic, proggy-ish lead bit in a hundred other vaguely epic metal bands. You've heard that 'spiky' palm muted riff a million times, in this album and every other album of it's kind.. And there's a lot of this epic, melodic death/power metal-ish stuff around.
Not to say this is really bad, though. There's nothing here I would describe as "rubbish", the band are great at their instruments, the production is chunky and more then adequate, the vocalist won't set your world on fire but he's decent enough, and has a knack for writing strange but evocative and somewhat interesting lyrics. Overall, though, that's the problem with this album; there's nothing that's terribly bad, but there's just nothing that holds your attention to it. And really, why listen to 60 minutes of competent but completely inaffecting music? You don't need this album unless you're a massive Opeth/Amon/Nuclear Blast 'tard.
(originally written for www.heathenharvest.com)
I haven't had much luck in hearing decent Australian melodeath these past years, in fact I can't ever remember a standout band of this sub-genre to emerge from that corner of the world. Be'lakor is out to change this, and Stone's Reach, their sophomore album, is both immersive and entertaining. I am reminded of a mix of Opeth's more exciting, progressive death moments and the veneer of Dark Tranquillity when listening to this. There are a few cases of the familiar and throwaway melodies, but these are vastly overshadowed by the overall quality of the release. This is also one of those albums you want to listen straight through, it's quite a moody journey.
"Venator" eases you into the somber skies of Be'lator's world with a tasteful, flowing acoustic intro, before lifting into the strong dual guitar work. One guitar is always counterbalancing the other with the proper string of chords, or plucky melody, and this persists throughout the album. George Kosmas has a brutal if average growl, but it's mixed just right and justfully anchors the sad dreaminess of the compositions. "From Scythe to Sceptre" opens with a big, beautiful string of melodies, almost like a stone monument being built through the grace of its guitars. If you like anything in the 21st century Dark Tranquillity discography, you will enjoy this. "Outlive the Hand" has some nice progressive death flourishes, the pianos well integrated with the chords. "Sun's Delusion" is simply glorious, the dual guitars once again impress with their constant, busy companionship. Other strong moments on the album are the angelic acoustic instrumental "Husks" and the epic, sweltering "Countless Skies" with its memorable melodies.
There are few if any flaws to this album. The production is fantastic, all vocals and instrumentation fit perfectly across all tracks, as a single one hour work the album is a travel worth undertaking. As mentioned earlier, some of the riffs and melodies may seem as if you've heard them a thousand times before, but they simply do not hinder the impressive whole of Stone's Reach. Be'lakor have crafted the very best melodic Australian death I have heard to date. The lyrics and titles are introspective and interesting, and the band sounds like they've been at this for a decade minimum.
Gaining masses of popularity in their local scene after the release of their debut record, Melbourne’s Be’lakor are back in 2009 with a stunning second release showcasing a matured and creative sound from the band – ‘Stone’s Reach‘. Recorded at Pennydrop Audio in Melbourne and mastered by Crystal Mastering, the band consists of George Kosmas (Vocals/Rhythm Guitar), Shaun Sykes (Lead Guitar), Steven Merry (Keyboard), John Richardson (Bass) and Jimmy Vanden Broeck (Drums).
First impressions are always critical, and with the acoustic introduction to the opening track ‘Venator’, the band sets the landscape on which ‘Stone’s Reach‘ is built on. It is consistent with the bands ideals, that of nature and its struggle between life and destruction. And it is this ideal that the band enforce in full throughout the album. Epic melodies, acoustic passages and well placed atmospheric key sections are beautifully countered by faster paced marauding distortion riffs.
There are many highlights on the album, and if tempted I could easily go through moment by moment and treat all fan boys and girls to a orgasm on every musical memory here provoked in this review, however for a broader view on the album, the band has shown some foresight into the melodic death metal genre. Critics could easily say “Look, the band has clear influences such as ‘x’ and ‘y’ bands”, and while I agree to some extent, it is the vision into the future that makes the Be’lakor so appealing. ‘Stone’s Reach‘ is where Amon Amarth should go next… it is a vision that sits equal to the Enslaved direction, but most of all, it is vintage Be’lakor, through and through.
Personal favourites of mine include ‘From Scythe to Sceptre’ which has probably the most interesting guitar section on the whole album (see 1:40 into the song), while other tracks such as ‘Sun’s Delusion‘ (6:11 = wow) and Countless Skies hold epic melodies to the core. The production of the album is also of stellar repute with Kosmas’ vocals the only critique from me, and only because they get somewhat lost in the powerful duel guitar mix. The only other slight downside on the album is a couple of rough segues which are frustrating because aside from these tiny glitches, I hear next to zero flaws on an album that could well be the pinnacle of 2009.
Experiencing these songs for the first time in a live environment was bliss, and on my arrival home and subsequent listening to the recorded version of Stone’s Reach, it is very safe to say that I am one very happy man, along with all the other Be’lakor obsessed metal heads out there!
Review by Brendan Amos - www.metalobsession.net
Review originally published at http://www.teethofthedivine.com by Erik Thomas
How in the fuck is a band like Be’lakor not signed to a decent label? (In the US anyway) Not only did they deliver a stunning self released debut, The Frail Tide in 2007, which was universally acclaimed, they have followed it up with a tighter, better produced follow up. All a label has to do is license it, slap a sticker on it and distribute it, like Candlelight Records did with Martriden’s excellent self released EP back in 2007.
Anyhow, on Stone’s Reach Australia’s Be’lakor (named after a Warhammer Game character) improve on their formula that’s a somber form of synth laced, gruff melodic death/doom metal that culls most obviously from Insomnium, Slumber, Novembers Doom, Rapture and Garden of Shadows, and it’s amazing.
Starting with some Opeth like acoustics and subsequent rumble, “Venator” gets out of the gate with some simply gorgeous solo work immediately highlighting the bands improved tightness and delivery, then around 6 minutes in, the band launch into a truly stunning, somber bridge that will please fans of all Finnish melancholic metal. “From Scythe to Spectre” is pure, blissful, despondent melodies wrapped in deep but eloquent Finish doom/death vocals and a more uptempo pace with a mid song acoustic break and subsequent symphonic climax to die for.
I could go through each top notch song individually, but I’ll try to keep you, the reader somewhat interested. After the excellently expansive “Outlive the Hand”, the rest of the album picks up the tempo a bit, though still flocked with rending harmonies bouncing around the back bone of the music as “Sun’s Delusion”, “Held In Hollows” and “Aspect” show with a deft mix of double bass and sublime melodic layering. The crown jewel of the album though has to be 10 minute closer “Countless Skies”, which initially returns to the more somber hues of the first two tracks with a piano flocked intro that’s just mesmerizing. But then the track evolves into truly epic melodic death metal track with some of the most gorgeous riffs, atmospherics and time changes you’ll hear in a long time.
How truly brilliant bands like Be’lakor, Gywnbleidd ( I hardly think Blackcurrant Music can be considered a real metal label -no disrespect meant), The Fifth Sun, The Pax Cecilia and such remain unsigned while Century Media, Nuclear Blast and Metal Blade (generally) churn out rehashed mediocrity astounds me. Will someone step up and reward this talented act with a damn record deal?
In an age of rapidly shifting metal genres, melodic death metal in its purest form is mostly a lost art. Any band brave enough to walk this path faces a minefield of mistakes made by their forefathers. Be'lakor, hailing from Melbourne Australia, have managed to negotiate that no-man's land and craft a solid, memorable and compelling album of classic melodic death metal.
A clean, proggy selection opens that album with a sound straight out of Damnation. This lulls you into a brief sense of calm until the riffage kicks in. Make no mistake, this path has been walked before by Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and many others. The thing is, Stone's Reach quenches a thirst I didn't even know I had.
Melodic death is only as interesting as the riffs make it. Be'lakor bring the riffage. They also bring a nice sense of dynamics and songwriting. Unlike some recent albums in the genre (the last Dark Tranquillity and Insomnium albums, to name a few), Stone's Reach holds my interest and doesn't put me to sleep. There is plenty of rhythmic and melodic differentiation to stave off any sense of monotony.
I am frequently struck with the involuntary urge to bang my head as I listen to Stone's Reach. Score. I hope folks don't mind if I squeeze some invisible oranges on the train.
I love the vocals. The low-end death growls border on Johan Hegg territory and help prevent the descent into cheese that has doomed many a band.
The drumming is on-target and there is audible bass in there somewhere. There are some excellent keyboards and piano that successfully add to the atmosphere without setting off my cheese-o-meter.
The production is a bit on the compressed side, but hell, it's still stellar compared to the stuff that comes out these days. The guitar-centric sound helps to focus the attack and hold your attention.
On top of the never-ending riff parade there are fantastic leads and flourishes to the guitar work. Repeated listens bear out new details and reveal the real quality here. The disparate melodies weave together in a frequently maidenesque dance. The acoustic interludes often make me shed a tear for the days of The Jester Race.
If you venerate the holy houses of Gothenburg, then you should seek out Stone's Reach with a quickness. This is my kind of metal.
These... songs... are... too... long!
That’s the first sentence that comes to mind after having heard this album for the first time, and that’s also the first sentence that will come to mind after having listened to it for a dozen of times – because frankly, I can’t say this little wonder of Australian melodeath is memorable. Oddly, it reminds me a bit of Mägo de Oz’s Gaia, even if the two bands are far from playing the same kind of metal: the basic ideas aren’t bad, but the final product just drags on until reaching complete boredom. A pity as the musicians, the guitarists especially, otherwise seem to show some indubitable qualities.
I can fully see where it’s coming from, though. Be’lakor obviously wants to play the let’s call it progressive card: long songs with complex structures, several tracks devoting a prominent place to piano, a good deal of purely instrumental parts and a piece of Renaissance art on the cover – Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus, at least the guys must have some taste – everything points to the same direction. Of course I’d still value this kind of approach over the 113th Dark Tranquillity clone which still hasn’t understood there’s no hope of doing better than the original. But the key objection nonetheless remains: in spite, or because of its progressive ambitions it ends up sounding terribly flat. Tracks aren’t particularly fast, and while the total amount of riffs used is pretty high (I haven’t bothered to count them all) there isn’t a single one sticking durably into the listener’s head. The same could be said about the often very melodic leads; while they don’t sound bad at the time (the opening minute of Sun’s Delusion, for instance, is simply splendid), the moment after they’re all already completely forgotten. The drumming mostly sums up to vapid double bass. And if the vocals are exclusively harsh, they fail in carrying any feeling of any kind.
Frankly, it’s even hard to single out better or worse tracks even after the tenth listen of this rather frustrating album. I can’t prevent myself from thinking had the tracks been constructed differently, there could have been at least a couple of majestic progressive/melodic death metal anthems here. Outlive the Hand makes a very clever use of the piano, Suns’s Delusion has this great opening already mentioned, most songs in fact feature at least a little something which isn’t totally unsalvageable, but often lost in an ocean of mediocrity. The only totally unworthy track is the acoustic instrumental Husks, which only consists in the repetition of the same three bars for almost three minutes. See what I said about uselessly long songs? While this could have constituted a hardly thirty seconds (still useless, though) interlude on most recordings, here the band extended it to five times this length. Even if musically this track hardly reflects the rest of the album (as there’s overall little acoustic guitar to be heard on it), its treatment is symptomatic of the plague cursing most of it.
Listening to this release one can’t get rid of the impression the bandmembers initially set their ambitions very high, most probably spending a huge amount of time writing those tracks, recording them and finalizing the production, which could be referred to as an example of both clarity and simplicity: all but overdone, with no synth abuse, sound effects, vocal distortions, to sum up free of any modernist germ, that’s probably the best point here. That I can’t seriously consider the final output as anything else than mere background music is thus a pity but sadly, that’s what it is.
Highlights: Outlive the Hand (?)