Be'lakor: Readying the Vessels

"The album acknowledges how we are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things..."

Be’lakor can be counted among some of Australia’s most venerated metal exports. The melodic death metal band has managed to stand on the global stage as one of the most respected acts of the genre with albums such as 2009’s Stones Reach and 2012’s Of Breath and Bone. Now they’re back with a new album and an upcoming Australian tour. We speak to keyboardist Steve Merry to get the thick and skinny.

Your new album, Vessels, is coming out soon, can you tell us a bit about the process that went into making it? "It’s been interesting for us because the process on this album has changed a little bit compared to previous albums. One of the guys in the band actually moved interstate four years ago roughly when Of Breath and Bone came out. So, the writing of this album was a little bit more about sharing riffs online and rehearsing when he was in Melbourne. But we’ve always had a process where each member will share riffs and ideas when we get together and we try to find connections between these ideas and take our time to build songs up, so the writing has been the same as our other albums in that respect. As for lyrically; we decided some time ago that we’d like to try to make a bit more of a unified story across the whole album. For George [Kosmas- Guitar/Vocals] and I - who write most of the lyrics; that was definitely a new challenge and we did enjoy it. It took a lot longer than previous albums because of this process and it meant that some decisions around song order and placement on the album were locked in to fit with the wider narrative." 

Who handled the production and mixing this time around? "It was a guy called Julian Renzo, he runs a studio called Legion Studio Productions [also the guitarist for Jack the Stripper]. We got to know him through a friend of the band and we liked his attitude and approach to recording. He was very good to work with, very open to listening to new ideas and changing things around. He’s a very patient guy which I think is pretty necessary if you’re going to be working with us, as we have a tendency to want things changed often." 

It’s been 4 years since Of Breath and Bone. What would you say the benefits are of taking your time when recording new material? "Up until recently, we’ve always been an independent band so we’ve had the luxury of taking as long as we want when recording. No one likes feeling rushed and if you’re looking to make music you feel proud of I think it’s better to take your time and make sure that you’re happy with it. Though I think Napalm Records will be similarly happy to let us work that way in the future, they don’t seem to want to tell us how to write music."

Most Be’lakor songs are known for their storytelling and concepts. What can you tell us about the concepts on Vessels? "Well, as you probably know, we write a lot about nature. Science also has a bit of an influence on what we write, as does mythology. So the new album is essentially a story inspired by nature and our place in the universe. It acknowledges how we are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The story begins by tracking light from the sun, the first two songs are about following those beginnings and following life on its journey to Earth. Each song across the album really is a chance to explore that energy in a different life-form or vessel. As the album progresses that energy finds its way into the form of a human and we explore concepts such as the fact that humans can reflect on their place in the universe and so on. I think the story is pretty typical of us in terms of the sort of feel it has and the themes it uses but it was an opportunity to explore them in a more in-depth way."

You’ve recently signed to Napalm Records and seem to be one of a growing number of Aussie bands getting signed to bigger metal labels. How did this signing come about? "It came about probably a year or so ago where we were contacted by Napalm. There were actually some ongoing discussions for quite a while. While we were in Europe last August and had a chance to meet Sebastian from the label and have a chat with him over drinks and get a feel of what he was about while he got to understand what we were after as well. It was a process that took a long time, but I think it was something we wanted to be pretty careful about as we were thinking about how it might impact us as a band. But so far it’s been really good, I think it’s going to be a really good relationship with them in the future."

It’s an interesting time in the music business. There are all kinds of discussions going on regarding how bands can survive the digital age. What are your thoughts on the role labels should play nowadays? "I think labels certainly have a role still. But you’re right in saying that things have certainly changed massively and that bands can do a lot without a label. For a long time we functioned in that regard, where we relied heavily on Youtube, Facebook, Last FM and all those platforms to make the band run and help spread the word. But I think where labels come in is the fact that they can put you in touch with new people who can help with promotion, touring, and distribution. But at the same time, a band can choose to not sign to a label and still have a great deal of success."

Be’lakor has been around for over 10 years now. How has the Australian metal scene changed over those years? "I think there are quite a few more Australian bands that are reaching a global audience and becoming better known. This partly could be because the internet has made it more possible for people to disregard where a band actually comes from. I think that maybe there’s been a little more professionalism in the Australian metal scene but I think it’s more to do with the fact that labels and fans overseas are just more open to a band’s music rather than where they come from."

You have and Australian tour coming up. What can fans expect from those shows? "We’ve tried to make sure that when we’re putting together our setlist that there’s a good mix of new and old material. We’ll have a nice long set and I think we’ll cover stuff from all four of our albums. It’s been two years since we last played many of these Australian cities, so we’re looking forward to getting back out there." And what are Be’lakor’s plans for the rest of the year? "We’re currently looking at trying to arrange a European tour either late this year or early next year, we’ll wait and see how that goes. There’ll be a few more Australian shows after this initial tour as well. I think we’re going to get straight back into writing new music to avoid another four year wait between albums."