Review Summary: An ode to consistency
Coherence, or the quality of being consistent, is among the virtues I cherish the most as it is often synonymous with balance and strong character. However, when applied to art, namely music, it may prove to be a double-edged sword, for while it can mirror stylistic consistency, it could also reveal creative stagnation. As a fan, I like to think Be'lakor belongs to the former niche. Although there has been a clear evolution since their debut album, The Frail Tide
, the Aussie lads have always remained true to their musical foundations, rooted in bands like Dark Tranquillity, Opeth, or In Flames. Their multifaceted melodic death metal formula has gained new chromatics without ever losing touch with their origins. With each new step revealing growing musical maturity. 2016's Vessels
represented the last stage of this evolutionary process, both chronologically and artistically. Its incursion into progressive grounds and ethereal surroundings placed the collective in new territories, pushing the boundaries of a genre often too rigid. This artistic boldness proved to be fruitful as it blossomed not only into the band's most ambitious release to date, but also into one of the best albums of the past decade.
As the title suggests, Coherence
pursues the same familiar trail, but contrary to my original hopes it doesn't begin where Vessels
left off, rather acting as a synopsis of the band's legacy. As if the boys were camping on a mountaintop, enjoying their life's journey. In fact, this imagery does have some contact with reality as the album's concept takes place on a mountain, where each of the songs explores the story of a different person on that very spot. Although it is not a linear narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end, as in Vessels
, it is still an idea that ties all musical moments together, giving them a common ground. A song such as 'Hidden Window' somewhat mirrors this sense of past journey given its more straightforward nature that brings it closer to an album like Stone's Reach
. Its main palm muting syncopated riff evokes this old spirit while simultaneously embodying much of Be'lakor's trademark features. I would say Coherence
is more riff-oriented than its predecessor whilst retaining some of its atmosphere. Although more diversified, 'Locus' and 'Foothold' also share this type of riffing so characteristic of the band. Which brings us back to the album title and what it musically represents.
Despite this bridging with the band's primordial foundations, Coherence
features a number of "larger than life" segments that catapult it into sensory stratospheres. The epic endings of 'Much More Was Lost' and 'Valence' as well as the latter's main riff are the pinnacle of this majestic side, being among the best moments the band has ever recorded. The harmonic layers of 'Indelible' or the black metal-ish blasts in the opener and closing track are also among my personal highlights for different reasons: the former due to the sumptuous guitar interplay and the latter ones because of the contrast with the midtempo soundscape. Blast beat sections are something the band should use more often as they lend greater dynamism to a formula that rarely strays off the comfort zone. And as it turns out, it is indeed possible to introduce more rhythmic variation while maintaining stylistic coherence.
Jens Bogren's full-bodied mix is also somewhat of a throwback as it gives the album a fatter sound, closer to Of Breath and Bone
, thus contrasting with Vessels'
flat mixing. The robust sound engineering also boosted the rhythm section which is now more solid than ever, with 'Much More Was Lost' being its brightest moment. As expected, the quintet works in a perfect symbiosis, just like a team of old acquaintances where each one knows perfectly how to effectively contribute to the whole. This strong chemistry between a line-up that, with the exception of the drummer, remained unchanged since its conception is the band's X-factor and the reason why the album title makes perfect sense, whatever interpretation one might put on it.
is somewhat of an exercise of introspection on the band's journey. A moment of self-contemplation that gathers both past and present through a collection of familiar stories set on an imaginary mountain. While it doesn't take us into new territory, it is an ode to consistency. A delightful new chapter that deserves our utmost attention, as it is part of an epic tale that illustrates some of the best soundscapes the genre has ever produced.