Melodic death metal is an overcrowded genre that at its best can utterly slay and, equally, at its worst can dull the senses to the point of inducing Narcolepsy. Happily, the Warhammer-referencing Be’lakor, an Australian outfit who have been on the scene since 2004, fall into the former rather than the latter category and you can rest assured that sleepiness will certainly not ensue should you pick up ‘of breath and bone’, the band’s third and latest album released on the mighty Kolony records.
Opening with the epic might of ‘Abeyance’ is a grand move. One of those songs that seems to build up a new riff every time you think you’ve just come to grips with the previous one, it is a suitably epic start to the record, clocking in at some eight minutes and introducing us in no uncertain terms to the band’s brutal, yet painstakingly melodic stall via an adrenalin charged rush through deathly territories, all expertly rendered by a production job that reproduces everything in perfect clarity, from the vexed growls of George Kosmas to the lead guitar breaks that keep things both brutal and tuneful. ‘Remnants’ opens on a progressive note, the guitar echoing around the listener before the band chip in, building up via a series of complex riffs to the awkward time signature of the main tune which is both brutal enough to head-bang to and yet complex enough to want to return to months down the line. With variety clearly being the band’s modus operandi, few riffs stay in situ long enough to become over-familiar and yet the band maintain a cohesion in their songs despite the multiple elements and complexity of the arrangements. Moreover the band’s innate sense of melody means that the music will stay in your head long after the disc has finished, and special credit must surely go to bassist John Richardson whose solid, intelligent bass-work underpins the guitarist’s flights of fancy perfectly. ‘Fraught’ is not, as the title might suggest, a blistering work of pure speed, but rather a more subtle beast that sits at the heavier end of Katatonia’s contemplative bent, the guitars churning and intertwining over storming percussion (Jimmy Vanden Broeck) whilst the keyboards (Steven Merry) also get a more obvious outing this time round, their addition a subtle but essential overall ingredient in the band’s sound.
‘Absit Omen’ brings the synth elements even further to the fore with a moody intro that develops slowly into a swirling track that is both heavy and beautiful all at once. The track moves through a variety of moods and feels; the aural equivalent of a journey that sees the listener taken through a number of different lands over the course of six short minutes, the vistas all different, but the sense of wonder the same throughout the trip. It is a highlight of the album, and a firm indicator of the level of skill Be’lakor can bring to bear. ‘To stir the sea’ opens on a wistful, and brilliantly played, acoustic note, the pace picking up until it segues into the heart-pounding ‘in parting’ which is one of the heavier tracks on offer here. ‘The dream and the waking’ is a slower paced piece, the guitars and keys nicely countering the faster-paced percussive assault that underlies the piece, whilst the vocals are ominous indeed on the verse – and yet the music itself is elegant, heart-warming even in the way it expands outwards. Like opening a curtain to discover your mundane flat overlooks the most amazing mountain range, Be’lakor have the ability to take the breath away with the melodies they develop and it is this ability that sticks long in the mind. Final track, and given the quality of the album it arrives far too soon, ‘by moon and star’ rounds out proceedings with another energetic performance that never lets aggression get ahead of melody yet still successfully gets the heart pounding and the blood pumping with its brutal vocals, brilliant melodies and stunning musicianship.
Fans of extreme metal need look no further, Be’lakor have just set a new bar in the melodic death metal stakes, and it is high indeed. There is, quite simply, not a weak element here. The album, aty eight tracks, hardly outstays its welcome, and yet the level of invention is such on each of these lengthy pieces (the brief ‘to stir the sea’ notwithstanding) leaves you wondering how they managed to cram so much into so few tracks. What is without doubt is that ‘of breath and bone’ is an intelligent, memorable and often breath-taking album that successfully welds beauty and brutality together in a manner that few bands successfully manage – easily in the top ten albums of the year, this is everything melodic death metal should be and it sets a devilishly high standard for any poor act who has to follow in their footsteps.