Review Summary: What melodic death metal strives to be
There is a certain level of skill required to write a melodic death metal record that is actually good. One could take the low-effort approach and let a mediocre vocalist scream perpetually over a few fruity death metal riffs, but that’s not doing anyone any good aside from those looking for something to blast loudly in their car at a stoplight. When done right, melodic death metal is a genre of synchronicity and movement; a balance of the heaviness of death metal with a broader range of more potent moods than unhinged rage or sheer maniacal depravity. It is a game of finesse that Be’lakor have shown themselves to be quite adept at. I won’t begin to delve into the reasons why their 2012 record Of Breath and Bone
was a relative disappointment despite its adherence to this Australian act’s distinctive “flavor” of melodic death, but what I can say is that Vessels
is more in line with the vision and execution of Stone’s Reach
With a distinct progressive touch, Vessels
is constantly pressing onwards, never once falling back into the cyclical motion that captures lesser melodic death metal records and ultimately ruins them. Part of the beauty of Vessels
and Be’lakor in general is the shedding of pure death metal heaviness in favor of an airy, massive atmosphere that allows the crushing drums or bellowing vocals to live spaciously without becoming the sole dominant force. The album resonates with piano, acoustic guitar, swirling electric harmonies, and even a few electronic swells that immediately catch the ear. It leaves the tempo and direction of each track in a fluid state, allowing individual songs or even individual riffs to decide seemingly on their own what is to come, and it is because of that the record flaunts a masterful sense of flow, never hanging on a riff too long or filling voids of empty space with throwaway material. The harrowing paino that closes “Whelm” is hurried and eerie, the riffing of “An Ember’s Arc” moving, the acoustics of “Grasping Light” mysterious, and the numerous electronic accents within “The Smoke of Many Fires” create a synthetic edge to close out what is otherwise a very organic piece of melodic death metal.
The album does seem to crave a “Husks”-like acoustic instrumental between “Withering Strands” and “Roots to Sever”, but our substitute instrumental “A Thread Dissolves” uses its building electric guitars to bridge the gap later on in the record between the fading close of “Whelm” and the immediacy that introduces “Grasping Light”. Bellowing growls dominate the vocal landscape, and even though they are not as dynamic as the instruments surrounding them, serve as a perpetual yet subdued slice of death metal ferocity that counteracts the near-constant melodies with perfection. It is rare that the instruments veer into relative chaos, so when things do become frantic like the blast beats and swift tremolo riff that briefly rear their heads in “An Ember’s Arc” it is actually a notable event that, by coming and going swiftly, propels the song forward rather than holding it back for the sake of undue intensity. Vessels
draws its heaviness sparingly and from many sources, rendering the guitars free to develop the songs rather than carry them on their backs. There is restraint present here that is the product of experience, and Vessels
is an album made by songwriters who understand that an album in this vein – a conceptual piece with long tracks, little predictable structure, and lofty ambitions – cannot be allowed to fall apart because it chose the easy way out by not striving to be more than the sum of its individual parts. No one song steals the show, no one instrument towers over the others, no one mood is prevailing. Instead, we are presented with balance, care, and thoughtfulness. This is songwriting the likes of which Be’lakor have simply not displayed before, even on their oft-praised sophomore effort Stone’s Reach
, a record usually considered the band’s best work – until now, that is.
That is really the only way of putting it. Vessels
is immediately attention-grabbing and, ultimately, an inspiring piece of music that is borderline genre-defining. When I think of exceptional melodic death metal, I think of melodies the quality and memorability of which Vessels
produces; I think of atmosphere as realized and potent as the one Be’lakor conjure here; I think of dynamic tempo shifts and evolving song structures that are the backbone of this record’s success. There is little to fault here because every detail is thought through and has purpose – it is all just staggeringly well-done. When I think of exceptional melodic death metal, I will now think of Vessels