Be’lakor

Of Breath and Bone

01. Abeyance
02. Remnants
03. Fraught
04. Absit Omen
05. To Stir the Sea
06. In Parting
07. The Dream and the Waking
08. By Moon and Star

[06/01/12]
[Kolony Records]

Ever since the release in 2009 of their widely applauded sophomore album, Melbourne’s Be’lakor have been heralded alongside the likes of Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum as being at the forefront of the modern melodic death metal movement. However, while it is arguable that some of their contemporaries have stagnated over recent releases, Be’lakor have, with their third album, reinvigorated a genre seemingly bereft of inspiration. Entitled Of Breath and Bone, the album is 57 minutes of epic melodeath that not only bristles with pomp and grandeur, but is also intensely atmospheric, and proves Be’lakor to be a band now well and truly at the peak of their powers.

Having been together since only about 2004, one of the keys to Be’lakor’s early success was their ability to blend a mix of Opeth-esque prog with their dominant melodeath sound. However, in composing Of Breath and Bone, the band appears to have abandoned this approach, opting instead to confine their song writing to the more traditional elements of the melodeath genre. Of course, this could well have resulted in merely another bland melodeath album except for a few clear reasons.

Firstly, Of Breath and Bone is nothing if not an album of contrast and variation, a point which becomes immediately obvious when within the first two minutes of the opening track, ‘Abeyance’, there a three distinct tempo changes. However, while drastic changes in tempo are definitely a recurring feature of the album, the contrasts are not limited to speed. Precise and hammer-like staccato melodies are juxtaposed with smooth legato lines, such as in the second track, ‘Remnants’, and galloping crescendo passages are followed by moments of doomy quiet. Whatever is required, be it a subtle shift in key, an altered drum rhythm, or a perfectly balanced harmony, Be’lakor have, with striking success, done their utmost to ensure that each moment of this album is engaging both technically and emotionally.

Secondly, whereas on many melodeath albums, the guitar tone is generally limited to just a few clean and distorted sounds which quickly become monotonous, on Of Breath and Bone, Be’lakor have assembled a large array of different guitar sounds that provide each song with the sense of having a much broader instrumentation than is actually the case. For example, in the aforementioned ‘Abeyance’ and ‘Remnants’, one could be forgiven for thinking that at various points they were listening to horns and bagpipes respectively, both of which also contribute to the gallant and medieval militarism of the album’s opening stanza. Then, as the album progresses, the mood darkens somewhat with the introduction of strings, and a mournfully acoustic guitar that is first heard in the ‘To Stir the Sea’ interlude, and then returns in the middle of both ‘In Parting’ and the final track ‘By Moon and Star’. Deep and luscious synths also become more prominent towards the end of the album, not only filling out the sound richly, but also adding to the dramatic impact of the album’s closing moments.

Thirdly, special mention must be made of the vocals of George Kosmis, which reach almost subterranean depths as he resonantly croaks and whispers some of the more poetic lyrics to have been penned in this context, drawing the listener into his darkness and evoking a sense of brewing malevolence.

Finally, all of this is held together by some quite complicated song structures that keep the listener guessing as to what direction the song will take next, but never feel disjointed or contrived.

In closing, Of Breath and Bone doesn’t win too many points for originality, and on their next release, it would be good to see Be’lakor again start to push their boundaries stylistically. However, with this album, Be’lakor have delivered a near faultless example of melodic death metal, and proven that with acute attention to detail, crisp production and flawless execution, this genre still has the potential to produce an utterly engrossing listening experience.

Be’lakor – Of Breath and Bone gets…

4.5/5

- GS