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Be'lakor > Coherence > Reviews
Be'lakor - Coherence

Forging a mighty legacy - 86%

Charbel_Salameh, December 18th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, Digital, Napalm Records

After five years of productive silence, the calm before the storm came to fruition with the Australian masters of the modern melodic death metal scene Be’lakor releasing their fifth full-length album titled Coherence. Characterized with the same commanding strengths of storytelling qualities and breathtaking capabilities as their previous works, the Melbourne based metal group centralize their efforts on the established musical aspects and contemplative concepts that they diligently formulate. Leaning more towards Finnish melodeath and spicing it up with progressive metal elements, the band once again pledge their loyalty to their habitual recipe; to an encapsulating sound that have become synonymous with their respected name. As with every Be’lakor album, the music engulfs you and places you in the daunting sky beneath a chilling atmosphere conveyed ever so skillfully with virtuosic piano pieces occasionally taking the role of a breathing space in-between the meticulously composed overload of riff driven assaults, harmonizing leads and ethereal melodies. The above-mentioned archetypal forefront is fortified by an indispensable background section of precise drumming and earth trembling growls. This isn’t anything remarkably new to what you usually get from these guys, yet there’s always plenty of diverse parts to dissect and a multitude of spectacular moments to grasp. To put it in much simpler terms, it’s classic Be’lakor.

“Locus” launches the album with typical Be’lakor fashion, swirling from one monument of thumping riff variations to another with an unmatchable signature guitar tone. Cementing a grand desire to be a single, the powerful track gets reconciled being Coherence’s opener, projecting assertive tremolo riffing and gritty screams in its final minutes, culminating the slowly brewing tension of the song in the best possible outcome. The following track “The Dispersion” is a piano interlude that identifies as a symphony of anticipation. It can be considered as a minor repose that partially warms up the icy wind spread throughout the album. Out of the three potent singles, “Valence” offers the distilled points of the record strongly; the third single presents vital reflections of a mix between the group’s cinematic journey of 2016’s Vessels and the aeronautical punch of 2009’s Stone’s Reach, executed with the same grandeur. In addition, the piano breaks between the dense riffing, the vivid narration, and the torrential melodic leads grant the single an epic conclusion and nominate it into becoming a future Be’lakor stalwart. “Foothold” is a powerhouse of riffage, supplying the best and most varied riffs and hooks. Leaning the most on progressive tendencies with its subtle time signatures, its upbeat melodies that condensate into positive sensations has the ability to lure power metal fans in. Across every section of the album, proficient musicianship is easily found, convoluted in blistering magic of zealous guitar technicality and dreamlike melodies that shift from a symphonic cacophony to another. The sound furthermore gets amplified via its subjection to thrilling atmospheric territories, primarily belonging to the realms of atmospheric black metal with acts such as Agalloch and Enslaved appearing as indirect influences.

The modern melodeath movement of decomposing the aggressive speed and in-your-face intensity of its Gothenburg-style execution while adding more accessible elements such as clean vocals, refined production and symphonic elements has arguably revitalized this 90s birthed scene. Though what makes Be’lakor stand out from groups like Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum is their uncompromising identity and distinguished sound. They increasingly tear apart the constituents of this subgenre in order to direct it into 7+ minutes of complex structured progressive metal and majestic melodic death metal matrimony. And instead of going down the clean and harsh singing permutation, rhythm guitarist and vocalist George Kosmas chooses to stand out in his unique and patented performance, with an exchange of intimidating and unique grunts and growls alongside innovative eerie whispers, carefully fitting in the back of the mix and working marvelously in carrying the mystique energy of the music, all while continuing the soothing ambiance that the intricate guitar harmonies and contemplative piano notes started. The Australian outfit pertains to a stupendous level of progression and dynamism, consequently causing the beginning, middle and ending of the same song staggeringly different, switching between epic string and keyboard build-ups paving way to mid-paced heavy and melodic riffs that ebb and flow and vary in a staccato sense, accentuated by calculated and precise drumming that cleverly utilizes multiple combinations of kicks, cymbals and snares, interjecting poignantly into the melody and adding some compelling thickness to the mix. Of course these rhythmic layers and musical textures play out in definitive unison and cohesion, letting all the parts methodically interconnect with each other. This full of vim and vigor feature strongly reinforces the storytelling nature of the lyrical content, helping the listener go to an imaginative celestial voyage filled with excitement and tranquility.

With Coherence, Be’lakor confirm their successful endeavors of a path heading down to a legendary status. Stone’s Reach was released more than 10 years ago, yet all their LPs following their magnum opus affirmatively establish the Aussies’ impact and ever-growing legacy. While I may place its enjoyment behind Vessels and company, their evolving maturity in song arrangements and dynamic composition that renders the record leaning towards more progressive aspects in comparison with their previous work can only be praised and admired. And that’s evidently includes the fact that Be’lakor songs are amazing growers, only rivaled against progressive metal leaders. Alas, the relatively shortage of vocals and ambitious songs left me with a few itching cravings. Needless to say, the instrumental tracks “Sweep Of Days” and “Indelible” lacked that special oomph that Kosmas provides. The compositional aura and recurring themes of “Sweep Of Days” in particular felt like a straight continuation of its precedent track “Valence”, and the interlude-like acoustic strumming dominated “Indelible” could have been more effective serving as the intro that sets up the last song, thus I would rather have these two tracks merged with the others for a more enchanting musical experience. And that’s not to disregard the Australians’ longest track to date, the closing tune “Much More Was Lost” radiated with polarizing ambitions, converted through a beautiful interplay between piano keys and guitar leads that pour out multifaceted emotions from sorrowful introspection to uplifting motivation. From an objective point of view, the album closer competes with the group’s biggest songs, yet personally it felt like a try hard attempt to restore jaw dropping moments from glorified songs from the past like “Venator” and “Withering Strands” among others. Ultimately, Coherence is a coherent -pun intended- and logical piece of art that solidifies the ingenuity and consistency of Be’lakor’s music, amidst few weaknesses and minor errors. Maybe with more time, patience and repeated listens I’ll have a change of heart towards the seemingly negative sides of the LP, but for now after a two months of sonic inspection I am yet to be convinced. Perhaps I let my expectations make this experience less satisfying, as it’s a bit hard for me to accept that there isn’t going to be another hallmark of a release like Stone’s Reach or Of Breath And Bone coming out anytime soon.

FFO: Insomnium, In Mourning, Opeth, Amon Amarth
Originally written for HeadbangersHaven.com

An epic journey to greater congruity unfolds. - 89%

hells_unicorn, November 15th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, CD, Napalm Records

Far from being a one-trick pony, melodic death metal has proven a high diverse sub-genre and veritable movement unto itself that has spawned a number of interesting variations. Arguably the most interesting of the lot is what one might call the dream variant, pertaining to a more atmospheric and drawn out take on the original Gothenburg-born style that rose to prominence courtesy to the mid-2000s efforts of a number of Finnish outfits such as Omnium Gatherum, Insomnium and Eternal Tears Of Sorrow. Curiously enough, while this niche is most readily associated with bands hailing from Northern Europe, the Australian quintet Be’Lakor could be seen as the band that has taken it to its logical conclusion, injecting a more adventurous, progressive flavor into the template to further accentuate it’s otherworldly character, and their latest and 5th studio effort Coherence proves to be no exception in taking its audience through an elaborate world of vivid imagery.

The highly abstract cover art might appear to contradict the meaning of the album’s name, but in reality it points to an album that flows much like an impressionist painting, presenting a series of concrete stories and visuals in a unified yet hazy manner. Naturally this analogy only tells part of the story, as this album’s time is divided equally between the nature-based subject matter common in impressionism and the more fantastical themes common to metal lyrics. Musically speaking, it lives up to its title by displaying a consistent expression of cold and biting metallic riff work and a misty assortment of keyboard ambiences, along with some piano and acoustic guitar passages that often resemble the dreamy handiwork of Insomnium. However, the overall presentation proves to be a tad more aggressive and epic in scope, to the point where any individual song clocking in at less than seven minutes in length is an instrumental offering that functions more as a short divergence into even more abstract territory.

From its very inception, this opus erects a series of elaborate structures from a very basic principle, both lyrically and musically speaking. The grandiose opening number “Locus”, it’s very title referring to a location of great significance, gradually emerges from a dense, hazy atmospheric prelude topped off with a droning harmonized guitar line into an explosion of raw intensity, spearheaded by the deep guttural roar of vocalist/guitarist George Kosmas and his elaborate six-string interplay with lead guitarist Shaun Sykes. But even more impressive than the radical shifts in dynamics that occur is the brilliant transitions in rhythm and feel, as the bulk of this song seesaws between a blasting fury and a driving march, yet finds itself occasionally veering into more nuanced territory. Somewhat shorter yet equally elaborate successors such as “Foothold” and “Hidden Window” mirror this running the gamut of tempos and contrasting timbres in a similarly through-composed fashion, the former coming off as a tad more chaotic and ferocious, while the former delves deeper into the band’s progressive tendencies and vacillates between up tempo metallic fury and a grooving, quasi-acoustic balladry.

For the most part, this series of extended anthems feels like an all-encompassing experience that could almost be treated as a singular one-hour song, but beneath the freely stroked brushings of color is an implicit line that separates one chapter from the next. Particularly with the longer offerings this separation becomes more apparent once the introductory material elapses, though it’s interesting to note that the consistently driving shuffle of “Valence” almost sounds like a restatement of the larger middle section of “Locus”, albeit denser and more elaborate. On the other hand, the closing 12 minute melodic slough “Much More Was Lost” contains a highly distinctive recurring guitar hook that is impossible to mistake for anything heard prior, and the contrasting segments that round out its structure are noticeably more disparate than any previous song, closing things on a highly climactic note. Ultimately the greatest points of contrast prove to be the shorter instrumental works, and the standout among them being the brilliant merger of howling lead guitars and acoustic jamming “Sweep Of Days”, further solidifying Be’Lakor’s honorary status as a Finnish melodeath band in exile.

With rock solid performances turned in by Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum, this year has already proven to be a boon for the melodic death metal faithful, and Be’Lakor’s entry could be likened to the elaborate design that adorns the top of the proverbial cake. It’s the sort of album that announces its prowess at its very first, yet due to its highly involved and complex nature, has enough staying power to keep even the most obsessive of listeners busy for the remainder of 2021, if not well into the next year. The balancing act that goes with remaining accessible to the same audience that originally fell in love with 90s classics such as The Jester Race and The Gallery while also delving into the sort of progressive territory that is often reserved to the likes of Ne Obliviscaris and Persefone is by no means an easy one, but this album might fool most into thinking otherwise. Consistency doesn’t necessarily imply either simplicity or complexity, and in this band’s world, simplicity and complexity function more as partners rather than adversaries.

Originally written for Sonic Perspectives (www.sonicperspectives.com)

An ode to consistency - 90%

TheNotrap, November 4th, 2021

Coherence, or the quality of being consistent, is among the virtues I cherish the most as it is often synonymous with balance and strong character. However, when applied to art, namely music, it may prove to be a double-edged sword, for while it can mirror stylistic consistency, it could also reveal creative stagnation. As a fan, I like to think Be'lakor belongs to the former niche. Although there has been a clear evolution since their debut album, The Frail Tide, the Aussie lads have always remained true to their musical foundations, rooted in bands like Dark Tranquillity, Opeth, or In Flames. Their multifaceted melodic death metal formula has gained new chromatics without ever losing touch with their origins. With each new step revealing growing musical maturity. 2016's Vessels represented the last stage of this evolutionary process, both chronologically and artistically. Its incursion into progressive grounds and ethereal surroundings placed the collective in new territories, pushing the boundaries of a genre often too rigid. This artistic boldness proved to be fruitful as it blossomed not only into the band's most ambitious release to date, but also into one of the best albums of the past decade.

As the title suggests, Coherence pursues the same familiar trail, but contrary to my original hopes it doesn't begin where Vessels left off, rather acting as a synopsis of the band's legacy. As if the boys were camping on a mountaintop, enjoying their life's journey. In fact, this imagery does have some contact with reality as the album's concept takes place on a mountain, where each of the songs explores the story of a different person on that very spot. Although it is not a linear narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end, as in Vessels, it is still an idea that ties all musical moments together, giving them a common ground. A song such as 'Hidden Window' somewhat mirrors this sense of past journey given its more straightforward nature that brings it closer to an album like Stone's Reach than Vessels. Its main palm muting syncopated riff evokes this old spirit while simultaneously embodying much of Be'lakor's trademark features. I would say Coherence is more riff-oriented than its predecessor whilst retaining some of its atmosphere. Although more diversified, 'Locus' and 'Foothold' also share this type of riffing so characteristic of the band. Which brings us back to the album title and what it musically represents.

Despite this bridging with the band's primordial foundations, Coherence features a number of "larger than life" segments that catapult it into sensory stratospheres. The epic endings of 'Much More Was Lost' and 'Valence' as well as the latter's main riff are the pinnacle of this majestic side, being among the best moments the band has ever recorded. The harmonic layers of 'Indelible' or the black metal-ish blasts in the opener and closing track are also among my personal highlights for different reasons: the former due to the sumptuous guitar interplay and the latter ones because of the contrast with the midtempo soundscape. Blast beat sections are something the band should use more often as they lend greater dynamism to a formula that rarely strays off the comfort zone. And as it turns out, it is indeed possible to introduce more rhythmic variation while maintaining stylistic coherence.

Jens Bogren's full-bodied mix is also somewhat of a throwback as it gives the album a fatter sound, closer to Of Breath and Bone, thus contrasting with Vessels' flat mixing. The robust sound engineering also boosted the rhythm section which is now more solid than ever, with 'Much More Was Lost' being its brightest moment. As expected, the quintet works in a perfect symbiosis, just like a team of old acquaintances where each one knows perfectly how to effectively contribute to the whole. This strong chemistry between a line-up that, with the exception of the drummer, remained unchanged since its conception is the band's X-factor and the reason why the album title makes perfect sense, whatever interpretation one might put on it.

Coherence is somewhat of an exercise of introspection on the band's journey. A moment of self-contemplation that gathers both past and present through a collection of familiar stories set on an imaginary mountain. While it doesn't take us into new territory, it is an ode to consistency. A delightful new chapter that deserves our utmost attention, as it is part of an epic tale that illustrates some of the best soundscapes the genre has ever produced.

Originally written for www.sputnikmusic.com