Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Be'lakor- The Frail Tide

The Frail Tide
6 – 42:53

(review by James Edward Raggi IV)
I wonder where metal would have gone if Tales from the Thousand Lakes had the same impact as The Bleeding. I wonder where metal would have gone if Edge of Sanity had struck gold and At the Gates remained the obscure gem. I wonder where metal would have gone if Opeth had the notoriety off of Orchid that Mayhem had off of… non-musical activities. Finding bands that take influence from that sort of melodic death metal really isn’t so easy. And it seems that even with Opeth’s popularity in the past few years, not too many bands are following their lead. While it’s great that these styles aren’t being driven into the ground by copycat bands, there is also a lack of evolutional exploration going on. What would have happened if Opeth went somewhere else after Blackwater Park? Infernal seemed a lazy choice after Crimson.

Enter Be’lakor, an Australian band that sounds like it takes that sound and uses it as the starting point on their first release. The band’s sound is rather laid back and dependent on its ability to interest the listener in the melodies more than grabbing hold of the listener and demanding attention. Plenty of slower and mid-paced passages with lush, dreary melodies, piano accompaniment and plenty of keyboards, a tendency to go off on musical tangents for the sake of it rather than delivering tightly-compressed songs (check out “A Natural Apostasy” with its brief use of a flute) can lead to wandering attention spans, but there’s lots to listen to. The band has managed to have a wide-open, almost ethereal production for their album, which is to the benefit of their overall sound but perhaps this is to the band’s disadvantage in today’s “gimme gimme now!” atmosphere. But this is very much a metal album, and the central instruments are of course the guitars.

One of the songs, “Paths,” is Steven Merry’s six minute piano piece (with some background keyboards appearing later in the composition), with the provided “lyrics” never actually heard on the album. It’s quite interesting that on an album that has distorted guitars and deep growled vocals, a six-minute demonstration by the keyboard player does not seem out of place. It fits. And that should tell everyone what kind of album this is overall.

The name Be’lakor comes from a demon prince from the Warhammer game, and has absolutely no thematic connection to what the band does (it’s “phonetically pleasant” according to the band). It’s really just a random “I guess that sounds cool” kind of name. If there’s a meaning I’m missing, fair enough, but as it is, why choose a name that doesn’t much relate to either the band’s music or the inspiration the band takes from, and I quote, “the grandeur in nature, the ideals of paganism, and the drive to recapture true spirituality and heroism in an age of materialism and religious sterility.”

Lyrically the album largely promotes paganism and launches a barely-veiled assault on Christianity. “A Natural Apostasy” is the most blatant with these words:

A natural apostasy
Tearing down the dogma of weakness
An unnatural mentality
Will be struck from this earth

They never directly name the target of their venom, but it’s obvious that the current state of the world is not to their liking. More from “Sanguinary”:

The puerile form the weakened mind
The pools that linger in our wake
Compelled to act, yet not to think
These are the lambs that will surely fall

It’s not all a covert attack on the world’s dominant religion, as “The Desolation of Aries” (why not Khorne if they’re going to use Be’lakor?) is a more general song of war (yet hardly glorifying it), and “Tre’aste” seems to be about the violent life force of the universe. No fucking relationship songs, hallelujah!

The album’s presentation is excellent, with the artwork being appropriate, and all of the necessary information appears – production notes, lyrics (each song gets its own page in the booklet), it’s all first class. The album’s sound quality is great as well, and everything about the album proves that you don’t need a barcode or a record label logo on the back cover to release complete, quality work.

The album has its share of problems of course, chief among them being so caught up in the atmosphere and the melodies that when the music does charge forward, the band doesn’t have the bite to make a real impact. The faster sections of “Tre’aste,” for example, aren’t invigorating and the song is basically dead until the melodies (at which point, I must admit, is one of the best parts of the album, just great stuff). I think the band realizes this to some degree, because several of the transitions from wandering/melodic to faster/harder have the vocalist accentuating the change with a roar. The band slips into obvious Opeth-isms at times, most notably the last verse of “The Desolation of Ares,” and there’s just a little something about having little bits that echo currently popular bands that gives me pause.

While I am hesitant to call the vocalist a “problem,” George Kosmas is hardly what one would call versatile. He has a low, throaty death growl that doesn’t change much throughout the album. It reminds me a bit of Garden of Shadows (remember them?) where the vocalist is using an exclusively brutal style on top of music which usually features more variety. Not that this guy sucks or takes away from the mood or anything, but there is nothing noteworthy about the performance either.

Although the album is far from perfect, it’s still something I’ve been listening to off and on for the better part of a year. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives, and in all, this is a pretty good album.

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