Album Title: Coherence
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 29 October 2021
I’ve been very slow on the uptake of Be’lakor, the Australian melodic death metal quintet, because ‘Coherence’ is their fifth album, but only the second one that I have heard and reviewed. I hear lots of great things about their first two full-length albums but I must admit that time and adulting has meant that I am yet to check them out. However, when the Melbourne extreme metal band released ‘Vessels’ in 2016, I was impressed. So much so that they earned themselves a spot in my Top 30 releases for that year. Fast forward what feels like five long years, and here I am offering my thoughts on their latest creation, ‘Coherence’.
The first thing to say is that the cover artwork for a band named after a Warhammer demon, is a little uninspiring; it’s perfectly ok, but to my tastes, it isn’t the type of thing to make me think ‘I need that record in my collection’. But as we’ve all been taught, never judge a book by its cover, especially when others this year have released fantastic albums with pretty dull artwork – compatriots Vola, I’m looking at you, lads!
The second thing to say is that there are some striking similarities at points to the likes of Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium. In fact, vocalist George Kosmas barks out his gruff diatribes in a timbre and style that sounds incredibly similar to Omnium Gatherum’s Jukka Pelkonen. Not identical, but damn close at times. I don’t remember ‘Vessels’ sounding this similar, but maybe it’s the passage of time that has dulled my memory on that score.
The big difference, however, is the fact that Be’lakor like to indulge themselves with longer, more drawn out songs, dabbling a little more in progressive ideas. That’s not to say that long songs automatically equate to ‘prog’, but it gives the Australians more time to experiment with different atmospheres, different tempos, and different levels of intensity; from all-out aggression to more measured, minimalist soundscapes.
It is always a bold and brave move to open an album with a ten-minute track, but Be’lakor have always written compositions that extend into double figures. As such, it isn’t as much of a surprise as it could have been. And actually, ‘Locus’ is a great opening song to signal the arrival of ‘Coherence’. Yes, the Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum reference points can be heard, but this track has Be’lakor writ large within it. It takes a while to get going, building up the tension slowly and gradually with an atmospheric instrumental intro predominantly at the hands of keyboardist Steven Merry. But in addition, the guitars of Kosmas and Shaun Sykes become more prominent as it unfolds. And then the song explodes in a barrage of urgent drumming from Elliott Sansom, strong riffs, and the ominous bass rumble of John Richardson, all topped off by Kosmas’ deep bark. From there, the ensuing eight or nine minutes takes us on a heady ride of strong grooves, moments of calm minimalism, brutality, and plenty of melodies to provide the hook for repeated listens. For want of a better description, there’s a smoothness and sophistication to the composition that belies the overt melodeath heaviness that sits at the heart of Be’lakor’s music. As such, I find it a strangely ‘easy’ listen.
And therein lies the only small niggle that I have with ‘Coherence’. For all of their melodic sensibilities, and sense of the epic, the album somehow doesn’t quite grab me by the throat and demand my undivided attention, certainly not all the time. I feel like I’m being really harsh here, but as good as this music undoubtedly is, I want some even more pronounced, shivers-down-the-spine injections of melody, the kind that stop you in your tracks, as is the case with other proponents of the genre. With a run-time of exactly an hour, it’s a long listen too, and maybe, just maybe, Be’lakor could have been more forceful with their editing. ‘The Dispersion’ for example, is a two-minute instrumental piece that demonstrates the abilities of keyboardist/pianist Steven Merry nicely. However, as ‘nice’ as it is, it feels just a little redundant and it halts the intensity when another blast of heaviness might have been the better option. Speaking of ‘nice’, this is a label that could be applied to the seven-minute ‘Foothold’, a song that does much and does it well, but at the same time just lacks the killer blow.
When I talk about wanting more killer melodies or hooks, the immediate example aside from the opener, would be at the 3:44 mark of ‘Valence’, when the lead guitar cuts through the song to provide a superb melody, one that does indeed stop me in my tracks and which gets better with each passing listen. The fact that this melody is then repeated later in the track is very welcome, working well against plenty of heavily-affected spoken word interjections, as well as forays into early Opeth territories, as well as acoustic soundscapes that are then used as the core for the longer instrumental that follows, ‘Sweep Of Days’.
My personal favourite track currently has to be the superb ‘Hidden Window’. Having criticised Be’lakor for playing it a little safe on the melody front, this song absolutely nails it. Had the entire disc been more like this, it’d be a strong contender for melodeath album of the year. Another longer composition at over eight minutes, it is a bundle of energy and intent from the very beginning,
Overall, ‘Coherence’ is a very fine record, with lots to recommend about it. The production is really good, with lovely separation that allows everything a chance to be heard, whether it’s during a quiet or heavier, more aggressive passage of music. I love the way that Be’lakor are able to flow so effortlessly from one idea to another, however at odds to each other these ideas may initially seem. And when they get it right, the Australians unleash some brilliant material. I just wish that ‘Coherence’ was a little more consistently ruthless in grabbing my attention and then maintaining it.
Score of Much Metal: 87%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: