Be’lakor are set to release their 4th full-length album ‘Vessels‘ on Friday 24th June 2016 after a four year gap since previous album ‘Of Breath and Bone‘, the Australian melodic death metallers have gained a dedicated fanbase over the years, thanks to their melancholic and technically impressive song writing in the style of Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum. A band in the UK have even named themselves after the Be’lakor song ‘Countless Skies‘, so you can feel the anticipation for this album since it was announced.
The first thing I notice about ‘Vessels‘ is the album artwork. It looks quite simple, but there’s just something about it that I love that I can’t quite put my finger on.
A short track entitled ‘Luma‘ introduces the album and has that present decade vibe of Katatonia about it in the rhythm. Coupled with George Kosmas’ deep guttural vocals it makes for a great intro track to remind you what Be’lakor are all about.
‘An Ember’s Arc‘ starts off with that classic clean sound and melancholic feel but with the drums of Elliot Sansom carrying the passage forward at a fast pace. The opening riff and melody is pretty epic and hits you hard when it comes in, with a beautiful lead guitar melody over the top from Shaun Sykes. The near 9-minute long song is very dynamic, with some sections of blast beats and tremelo picking, clean softer parts and an epic outro that highlights the fantastic song writing abilities of the band.
Be’lakor’s longest song to date ‘Withering Strands‘ is up next at a whopping 11 minutes. A fairly good introduction to the track leads into a tempo change which is difficult to keep up with and therefore sounds a little messy, but once the riff kicks in properly, it sounds fantastic. I like the subtle use of piano and keyboards from Steve Merry in this track, too. Later, it takes a stroll down a slightly darker path with John Richardson on bass carrying the passage forward, with some creepy-sounding choir-like voices over the top, leading into some interesting piano chords. Just like ‘An Ember’s Arc‘, the song is incredibly dynamic and lacks a chorus and traditional song structure, and also like ‘An Ember’s Arc‘, it has a phenomenal outro. This time however, it is that style of guitar playing from Shaun and George that sounds like really old-school Dark Tranquillity that completes the song.
Fourth track ‘Roots to Sever’ has the strongest opening riff so far with a more catchy lead guitar and some brilliant piano creating a more upbeat yet simultaneously emotional feeling to the song. Dual guitars and double kick pedals move the song forward into the first section of the album so far that feels anything like a chorus. A well put together break down section and the use of shoegaze-like guitar tones lead in to yet another gorgeous outro. It seems like Be’lakor are the kings of the outro!
‘Whelm‘ has a slower pace overall, with a doom metal feel in places, but its the rhythmic riff section around the 4-minute mark that makes this song stand out. There’s also more of the old school Swedish melodeath style of guitar playing towards the end. The song takes a strange turn, however, when a piano-lead section suddenly comes in, which feels a little disjointed, with some evil chord progressions and distorted vocal screams over the top. A shame, since the outros of the previous three songs were all phenomenal.
The relatively short ‘A Thread Dissolves‘ acts as a sort of interlude and a build up to the following track ‘Grasping Light‘. It has its own brilliant riff coursing throughout the duration of the track with double kick drums and some strange effects on the vocals occasionally. I feel that this may have better served as the opening track to the album, but it sits nicely here, leading into the final two tracks.
Unlike many of the other songs on ‘Vessels‘, ‘Grasping Light‘ gets straight to the point and introduces its main riff and verse sections almost immediately. Some really cool use of keyboards and lead guitar make this song much more memorable than the others, too. Due to the song’s less complicated structure, it stands out a lot more on the album as a whole. I love the lead guitar tone here. It uses a bit of delay, giving it a bigger, post-rock style sound, enhancing the feeling of the song. I also like, on this song and others, the way the rhythm section changes yet the main riff stays the same to add more dynamics to a single idea.
Bringing the record to a close comes ‘The Smoke of Many Fires‘ that has a progressive tinged build up into one of the greatest songs on the album. Even though I am 8 tracks into ‘Vessels‘, this track still stands out in a big way. There is a particular section that has a perfect rhythm and some electronic keyboards that I couldn’t help but bang my head to. And guess what? It’s no surprise that the greatest outro of any song is also the outro of the album itself. An epic melody and chord progression with powerful growls over the top as the song slowly fades out and you are left wanting more.
‘Vessels‘ is an album in which there is a hell of a lot for the listener to discover. The long songs and diverse compositions hide many a riff or melody in its darkest depths, but for me, the lack of basic song structure leaves many of the songs to be unmemorable. I give the album a 4/5 because this is my initial reaction and first time hearing the album, but I predict that this score will go up as I listen more and more and familiarise myself with the album entirely and learn to understand the complexity and depth of what Be’lakor set out to convey to their audience. It is more than worth a few listens, and I still recommend this album to any fan of melodic death metal, but just be aware that it is a grower and will take time to fully appreciate the album as it was intended to be.