Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Album Review: Be'lakor - Vessels

I readily admit that I am not a fan of death metal. What I listen to music for has little to do with the realities of extreme metal, in any form, but that doesn't mean that there aren't occasions where a band manages to do something I enjoy. I recall a few years back coming across an odd name, and listening to the first record by a band named Be'lakor. That record was something unique, a melodic death metal record that was actually melodic, and one I found myself becoming a fan of. That didn't carry through to their next albums, but there was for a brief moment a time when I was quite enamored with Be'lakor's brand of death metal.

That brings us to "Vessels", the newest offering from the progressive, melodic death metal purveyors. The formula is now established in what they will deliver; an album of lengthy songs that follow a pattern of chunky vocals and guitar harmonies. The accusation that they are a bit monotonous would not be out of place at all.

"An Ember's Arc" shows the band's best and worst qualities, with a soft acoustic introduction that leads into some of the most composed death metal out there, but also a song that taken three minutes to really get to the point, and then stretches it out for another five. Editing has never been the band's strong suit, and it is the key factor in making their records less enjoyable than they should be. Sitting through a lengthy death metal album is tough enough, but when the breaks only coming in eight minute intervals, the writing has to be patently exceptional to not become tedious.

And while Be'lakor are good writers, they also operate in a safe zone. You can take any song from any album, and you wouldn't know from whence it came. They have a very particular sound, and they don't deviate from it. From the way the guitars swell, to the vocal patterns, to even the pace they move along at, every song is rather similar to the one that came before, and the one that comes after. It's not exactly a recipe for excitement.

The other thing is that their style is not predicated on riffs, so there isn't much in the songs to grab onto. The vocals are like most death metal, lacking interesting rhythms that you could 'sing' along with, so the lack of riffs as well means that the songs float by on perceived melody. That's fine for a track, but an entire album of that material is not engaging enough to make any sort of impact.

That said, Be'lakor's sound is still one that I enjoy, and "Vessels" is as high-quality as any of their other albums. They are, objectively, one of the best death metal bands going today. Subjectively, however, they're in that phase where they are comfort food. You know what you're getting, and it will satisfy you, but it's more of a routine than anything you really want. "Vessels" is a perfectly beautiful example of melodic death metal. It's just that after "A Frail Tide", every other record has practically been a clone.

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