posted on 9/2009 By:
It's fairly easy (lazy?) to draw parallels between Australian upstarts Be'lakor and Finnish stalwarts Insomnium. They share "it" band status within the ever-shrinking cult of melodic death aficionados, and while both bands revel in near-universal critical acclaim (Be'lakor's debut, The Frail Tide, was as buzzed about as any purely independent release in recent memory), Insomnium boasts a more mature career trajectory, as well as a superior air of significance. With Stone's Reach, Be'lakor have taken massive strides towards leveling the playing field and seem primed for a shot at dominance.
The Frail Tide was a largely somber affair, rooted in the murky tales of Thousand Lakes past and leaning heavily against doom-tinged contemporaries like Saturnus and Daylight Dies. Stone's Reach turns up the juice significantly. It's an all-around tighter and heavier ship, steering the band into sharper, crisper territories. Again, the Insomnium comparison surfaces--both bands have abandoned youthful gloomin' in favor of electrifying dual guitar interplay and hammer-footed grooves.
Be'lakor waste little time in brandishing their new weaponry. Opening track "Venator" opens with wistful, Opethian dreaminess before quickly kicking the doors down with classic melodeath fury. And classic, indeed. The beauty of Stone's Reach--especially for longtime MDM devotees--is that it sounds as it were plucked straight from 1999 and plonked into a modern studio. This thing is rife with nostalgia, harkening back to the days when Opeth still had surprises jammed up their sleeves and In Flames were still tangled in the textures of Whoracle's tentacles. In their tribute, Be'lakor deftly avoid the pratfalls of cliché, but also struggle to establish their own distinctive brand.
Despite some absolutely masterful guitar work, there's always a shade of the past leering around the corner. For example, the fluid, serpentine branches of "From Scythe to Sceptre" were culled straight from the woods of Blackwater Park; the gallop of "Held In Hallows" is generously smudged with Niclas Sundin's fingerprints. The album's best moments are predicated on familiarity. And as sexy-smooth as Be'lakor's sound is, Stone's Reach definitely could've been armed with some deeper hooks. George Kosmas' deep death growls are as rich as they are satisfying, but his words pass and fade without tattooing themselves. His vocals take a backseat to the band's slightly-proggish prattle. Also, their newfound aggression, as found on the first half of "Aspect," is too fleeting. They obviously have the capability to rip like a pre-goofball Mors Principium Est, and a more equal balance of intensity and introspection would be kingly.
While criticisms seem plentiful, Be'lakor are a killer, killer band that simply leave a craving for more. And as it stands, Stone's Reach is masterfully executed, strikingly pure, and crackling with vigor. Most melodic death albums these days are content to rehash--Be'lakor's mission is to refresh. And while there may be too many name-drops in this review for some, most should--and will--take the comparisons as glowing endorsements. With a few tweaks n' creaks of their already-formidable sinew and bone, Be'lakor could be on the cusp of greatness. I just hope that next time around, I'll be windbagging about how the new Be'lakor sounds like...Be'lakor.
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