Every genre and sub-genre of music eventually becomes over-saturated; melodic death metal is no exception. Swedish pioneers At The Gates, In Flames, and Dark Tranquility set the musical blueprints for the genre, with Carcass making the shift towards a more melodic sound with their Heartwork album. For every great album, though, there have been 3 or 4 subpar records released by bands “inspired” by the originators, re-hashing old ideas and making a buck off of their supposed heroes. Australia’s Be’Lakor are not one of those bands, choosing instead to take the basic elements of melodic death metal, and incorporate them into a more progressive direction.
Vessels, Be’Lakor’s latest release, starts things off with a progressive rock/metal leaning intro track entitled “Luma,” which comes across as a mix of Dark Tranquility and Dream Theater. This quickly gives way to some beautiful Spanish guitar on “An Ember’s Arc,” the first full-length track, before breaking into the full-band, with the rhythm guitar playing the same acoustic lick, only on an electric instrument. Vocally, Be’Lakor stick to a guttural, death metal style growl, which helps give the music a heavier edge, and doesn’t sound out of place despite the extremely melodic nature of the instrumental portion of the record. There are so many great riffs and moments throughout each and every song, it’s hard to pinpoint any favorites. Although this is such a well-rounded, solid piece of music, I do find myself drawn to the main verse riff on “The Smoke of Many Fires.” With the use of keyboards, multiple guitar effects pedals, layered guitar tracks, and some damn good songwriting, Vessels has a pretty epic tone overall.
The production is fantastic, with smooth, seamless transitions between movements in each song, particularly when the band switches from acoustic to electric instruments (which happens several times throughout the record). The lead guitar bits are given a slight boost in the mix, floating over the rhythm guitars as an extra layer, rather than a focal point of each song. There’s a dreamlike quality to this album, thanks in particular to the use of keyboards/synthesizers, as well as electronics, giving Be’Lakor an advantage over many of the other more guitar-heavy bands in the genre. The mixing of guitar and keys is done so well that you can’t really claim the band to be solely guitar OR keyboard-driven, as each instrument is equally vital to the bigger picture.
Fans looking for something to mosh to might find Vessels to be a little more melodic than what they’re looking for. As a listening experience at home, however, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option. There are so many layers, so many cool ideas thrown at you that you’ll hear something new every time, and yet Be’Lakor manage to make it all a pretty cohesive, easy-to-listen-to record that could appeal to a pretty wide variety of people. Solid musicianship, immaculate production, and absolutely beautiful melodies provide a lush soundscape on Vessels that will certainly be gracing my headphones for a while.
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