Review: Be’Lakor, “Vessels” (2016)

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Australia’s Be’Lakor does not make great party music. That’s actually a compliment.

Now, I have nothing at all against party music — I have enough classic AC/DC and Aerosmith albums that fall into that category — but, generally, I like music that has a bit more heft to it. I like a song that draws my attention away from whatever I’m doing and forces me to listen.

Be’Lakor have been making music that demands concentration for years, but here in the States, they’ve been an under-the-radar band. Although the band’s excellent 2012 release “Of Breath and Bone” received a rave review from Blabbermouth.net, I’m not sure the album generated much U.S. interest, and the band has never toured the States. When people here think of Australian metal, the names that mostly come to mind are AC/DC — and to a much lesser extent, Portal and Sanzu.

Which is too bad, because Be’Lakor’s latest release “Vessels,” is a great album, full of atmosphere, intricate melodies and power. It’s heavy enough to be death metal, but melodic enough to not grate against my nerves like grind (sorry, grind fans). The band blends both exceeding heaviness with melody and the occasional acoustic interlude in a very appealing way.

I find myself wanting to write, “Be’Lakor make the best Opeth albums Opeth never made,” but that’s neither fair nor accurate. Yes, there are similarities between “Vessels” and older Opeth classics (particularly “My Arms, Your Hearse”), but Be’Lakor are not an Opeth clone. The band is making dark, melodic death metal, sure — but with their own style. Be’Lakor sound like Be’Lakor. They’re performing in the same arena as Opeth, but they’re not attempting to walk in Opeth’s shoes.

With the exception of the 90-second intro, “Luma,” and the three-minute interlude “A Thread Dissolves,” the tracks on “Vessels” are long. The shortest, “Grasping Light,” is just under seven minutes, and “Withering Strands” and “The Smoke of Many Fires” all break the nine-minute mark.

A lot of bands write songs that are long, but the songs are “Vessels” are not lengthy for the sake of length. Instead, the songs are stuffed full of ideas, that are woven together with surprising seamlessness. So many parts shouldn’t fit together so well, but here they do.

The songs seem to rush at moments, before dwindling to soft acoustic spaces. Yes, patience is required, but the band is not deliberately taxing your patience or wasting your time. The tracks are journeys, and the trip is as important as the destination. As someone once told me about a Dimmu Borgir album (which I admittedly didn’t grasp, and still don’t particularly like), “you just have to breathe the songs in.” With “Vessels,” the breathing works.

There’s not a bad track on”Vessels,” although a few stand above the rest — particularly “An Ember’s Arc,” “Whelm,” “Withering Strands” and “The Smoke of Many fires.”

With the band making the move from indie labels to the slightly larger and better financed Napalm Records, I hope Be’Lakor will be able to find a larger following. I hope so. While they’re certainly building on the melodic death metal template, Be’Lakor are strikingly original, and there are mind-blowing moments on almost every track of “Vessels.” There’s definitely an audience for this kind of music — if only the audience can find it.

Highly recommended.

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