Beholder epitomise the talent that lies at the heart of the British metal scene. A brash, exciting and deeply passionate band, anyone who has caught them on stage over the years will know that they give their all in live performance, laying down a punishing barrage of noise and leaving audiences sweaty and exhilarated. As many bands have found, transferring the ferocious energy of a live performance into the sterile confines of the studio is not always an easy task, but on ‘Reflections’, Beholder have more than achieved that task. An album that is bristling with energy and power, what marks ‘reflections’ out as particularly special are the subtle nuances that bring light and shade to the performance and the result is a ten-track, hour-long album that flies by in what feels like a matter of minutes.
Emerging from the sound of a ticking clock, ‘Frozen steps of Utoya’ sees the band start out as they mean to go on. With Chris Bentley laying down a rhythm that would have jazz bands running for cover, bassist Si Fielding stabbing at the bass with dextrous vigour and Scott Taylor unleashing a gruelling riff, the payoff is Simon Hall’s epic arrival, his tuneful roar (a potent mix of Bruce Dickinson and Joey Belladonna) cutting through the heart of the maelstrom. It’s a lethal strain of metal that the band unleash; treading that fine line between the complexity of progressive rock and the visceral thrill of thrash; and the track concludes all too quickly, only for the band to slam, without warning, into the gruelling ‘I, Machine’. A track that shows off the impressive vocal skills of the band, with layered harmonies cleverly built over the ferocious riffs, the melodies are as addictive as the backdrop is punishing and it’s clear that Beholder have truly raised their already impressive game with this effort. Having bought the song to a graceful end amidst a subtle wash of beautifully played guitar, Beholder tear into the listener once more with the churning riff of ‘Heal the wounds’, Simon masterfully veering between a roar that reaches for the heavens and a venomous attack that gets up close and personal, the lyrics spat out between gritted teeth. A brutal track, it gives way to album highlight, ‘Host’, which pits a sinister, slithery riff against intelligent, evocative lyrics, only for the mid-section to slip into a full-blown progressive interlude that, once again, demonstrates the remarkable musical talent of Beholder. Benefitting from a wonderfully clear production job (Arvid Tjelta), Beholder sound bigger and bolder than ever before, as evidenced by the neat segue into the hypnotic sway of ‘Dance Macabre, another blistering track that does its best to lodge itself firmly in your brain long after the album has spun to a halt.
Emerging from a phased, static-soaked riff, ‘Breathe in the silence’ takes its time to bring the pain, the band switching deftly from bass-heavy groove to searing, atmospheric attack that sits somewhere between Deftones and Mastadon whilst Simon delivers one of the album’s most brutal vocal performances. The politically charged ‘Killing time’ maintains the gargantuan weight of the previous tracks but tempers it with a strong melody and occasional spoken word passages, the band once again moving beyond a simple full-frontal attack, flanking the listener with a varied and complex assault that is quite irresistible. Another album highlight, ‘Army of one’ is a ferocious, blood-soaked monster that offers no quarter to the already dazed listener. The album concludes with the one-two punch of ‘My revolution’ and ‘Speak to me’. ‘My revolution’ benefits from a stunning opening that sees the band pushing their boundaries as Chris lays down a rhythmic assault that rocks the very foundations of whatever building you’re in and Simon Hall unleashes a vocal that is loaded with emotion. Not every band can maintain such a ferocious pace, but ‘my revolution’ proves an album highlight even as the record is spinning rapidly towards it’s a conclusion, highlighting the immense quality control that must have gone into the groundwork for this album. The perfect album closer, ‘speak to me’ emerges from a progressive interlude awash with echoing guitar, only to go on a full- blooded rampage with Simon channelling Dio in his near operatic delivery. Ambitious, infectious and bold, ‘speak to me’ arguably encapsulates the album’s many qualities in one stunning last stand that leaves you wanting only to push play in order to live the album over again.
Beholder have long been a respected name in the metal scene, but it is on ‘Reflections’ that they have arguably come into their own, eclipsing their previous (admittedly fine) output with a careless grace that is frequently breath taking. An album that sees the ambition of the last two albums fully realized, ‘Reflections’ sees the band dig deep to deliver a perfectly produced musical and creative work that is nothing short of a masterpiece. ‘Reflections’ is the sort of album you’ll pull out to play once, only to keep it on repeat for days, and if it doesn’t make end of year lists then there truly is no justice in the world