Review Summary: epic compositions within a progressive death metal context, breathtaking
After creating their breakout debut album, the (almost) universally critically acclaimed The Frail Tide, Australian melodic death metallers Be'lakor had a problem that has plagued many a band in their situation. Just how the hell do you top your debut album? With it being their first, the notion that certain people may have given them the benefit of the doubt is one that will be completely eradicated on the follow-up. They've got feedback, received praise and criticism and as a band they are expected to follow up with something even more gargantuan and epic, and it's only natural. Fortunately, it seems that Be'lakor have their own expectations with their release, and I'll be damned if they haven't met them.
What Be'lakor have done with Stone's Reach is nothing particularly new or different than The Frail Tide, but as a band they've expanded upon their sound (on several levels), tightened up, and although it may seem almost harsh, just simply written better songs than on their debut. Although it may seem a little early to say that a band has matured on only their second outing, but this album really gives the impression that Be'lakor have learned a lot from their first album, expanding upon ideas, cutting out the bad and improving upon the good, it's a remarkable achievement for a still very young band to show such restraint and flair in their songwriting.
On the whole, the song's are longer, more progressive, more dynamic and simply more substantial than those on The Frail Tide. There are the usual soft to loud transitions that you would expect to hear from this sort of melodic/progressive death metal band but beyond that there are so many layers and different levels of rhythmic dynamics that songs flow at a never static pace. There's a huge complexity to the band's arrangements that puts them above and beyond most of their peers, making each song come across as a simply colossal and cinematic metal experience, the like that many classic albums are built upon.
Unlike a lot of the melodic death metal bands that dominate the scene, Be'lakor don't focus on their rhythmic section. While the riffs and melodies are beyond superb they never carry the song, instead always being another instrument in telling the epic poems in song form that the band excel at performing. You can tell that the band don't really focus on creating a 'song', the tracks come across as more of separate compositions, each one having a huge amount of layers that build up and come together to create one large fully formed structure. Songs ebb and flow with separate climaxes and never rely on a gimmick or a catchy riff to carry them or keep the listener interested.
This sort of feel and mood evokes the soul of legendary bands like Garden of Shadows and early Opeth, which is further compounded by the deep, commanding vocal performance that really helps the haunting atmosphere with dark and poetic lyrics, bringing about the feel of telling a long lost tale that the music really brings to life (Gaping in mirth, his old eyes spoke / Where you are now – I once was / And what I am – you soon will be / Nothingness awaits you). These lyrics are brought to life with brilliant dynamics and really stand out keyboard and piano arrangements in the music. Sometimes almost Dark Tranquillity-esq in their delivery, but more most of the time something a lot more epic and natural, they really build a atmosphere that harkens back to the roots of nature and brings a really poetic and mythic feel to the music.
This sort of complex composition instead of catchy or attention grabbing music in the end will push some people away. Stone's Reach is an atmospheric and engrossing experience. It's a dark and beautiful album which bears it's strength on atmosphere and it's compositions more than any particular stand out element which might push people with less of an ear for this type of metal away, and that's merely subjective. For people who enjoy long, epic compositions within a progressive death metal context, Stone's Reach is a one of the best modern examples of the scene.