The Workers at the Forge - Be'lakor's Steve Merry

Australian melodic death heavy weights Be'lakor talk to Metal as Fuck about their international success and their headlining of Melbourne, AU's Sonic Forge Festival for Haiti.

If you’re an Australian metalhead and you haven’t heard of Be’lakor, you haven’t been paying attention. You’d be forgiven if you thought this five-piece melodic death band had grown up in the frost-bitten streets of Gothenburg, rubbing shoulders with Niklas Sundin and the Bjorler Brothers in dingy clubs. The clubs are still dark and seedy, but they’re in much sunnier climes – Melbourne, Australia.

Named after a Warhammer character that’s “more of a trivia item than a cornerstone of [their] imagery and inspiration” nowadays, Be’lakor have been playing hard and fast for over six years and have gained considerable traction not only from within the scene Down Under but overseas as well; they have been called in some circles as the “unholy trinity” of Australian world-conquering bands alongside the internationally popular Psycroptic and Destroyer 666.

Adding to their clout, they’ve taken out the Metal Storm award for “Best Melodic Death/Gothenburg Album of 2009” for their second full-length Stone’s Reach and played the much vaunted Summer Breeze Open Air festival in August of this year. However, talking to keyboardist Steve Merry, they humbly believe that history’s pen shouldn’t strike the page just yet.

“I think that’s a bit premature. We’ve been really pleased with how Be’lakor is going, but bands like Psycroptic and Destroyer 666 have been at it for a lot longer.  I don’t think we’re in their league.” He says.

Their home town will also be host to an Australian first – the largest indoor, all-day multi-band metal festival entitled the Sonic Forge Festival. Headlining themselves, they will be flying the flag for donations to cholera and earthquake ravaged Haiti, with all proceeds going directly to the charity “Center of Hope.” He’s not only pleased, he also feels its something that’s long been overdue.

“Naturally, we’re excited and very pleased to be a part of it,” he confesses. “I think the Aussie metal scene needs a large festival event of this sort, so I hope it’s something that will continue. I think it’s also reflective of the professionalism of [promoter] Welkin Entertainment that this sort of thing can be organized and pulled off successfully.”

Having played a major European festival, Steve does notice some remarked differences between their home crowd and their European counterparts.

“They are much more overt in their enthusiasm,” he tells. “Aussie crowds are great, but they love to hang back with a beer and give you a suspicious look between songs. If they get drunk enough they’ll head bang a little bit.

“I noticed that overseas the crowd doesn’t hold back, they get right into it from the start. Germans in particular love to pump their fists and say 'oi, oi, oi.'

To be honest, I think it’s a good thing that we’re a bit different – it keeps bands from getting too cocky and makes them work a bit harder to win the crowd.”

Despite the differences, Steve is vocal in his praise for the Australian metal community for its new found variety and increasing popularity while shrugging off the old constraints that made acts hard to find and follow.

“The diversity of metal has certainly increased and I think many bands and facilitators such as websites and promoters are approaching our scene with a great deal more professionalism.

“The Australian scene used to pride itself on being exclusively underground and, generally, very brutal and indifferent to any sort of recognition.

“A small fringe appear to be increasingly pissed off that our metal doesn’t have that whole contrived tough-guy/offensive slant across the board, but I think the majority of Aussie metal heads appreciate a full spectrum of music.”

Increasingly, since Australia’s scene is small in comparison to that of its European and American counterparts, bands are seldom able to work at their craft “full time,” to become professional metal musicians.

Although there is a narrow-minded stigma attached to metalheads by some elements of the mainstream media, Steve feels that being a “weekend metalhead” does not dilute one’s own standing in the scene, especially when metal is played for a real love of the music, not to make money.

“We do work full time jobs, and our colleagues seem to find it interesting that our image at the workplace might differ from that which we present when we play live as a metal band.

“Despite the reputation that metal might have in the mainstream though, I think most people who know or work with fans of the genre will find that metalheads are usually pretty intelligent, quiet, thoughtful people.

"You’re exactly right in saying that metal will rarely pay the big dollars, so it is purely done out of enjoyment and passion for the music.”

Steve is loath to discourage any budding metal band from making a go of it, but offers some advice to those who may be thinking of making metal a career choice – you have to be in it for the long haul.

“It’s feasible to [play metal full time], but I guess it’s just a path that would mean a lot of hard work and probably not earning much money for a while,” he advises.

“If you were going to take that path you’d need to think about joining several bands – maybe a cover band to make some extra money – and also teaching an instrument on the side. That way you could make it through for the first five to seven years until your main band was able to start earning some proper money.

“Touring would need to be a huge focus, with overseas touring a necessity in the long term. It might be frowned upon by some people in the community but it could be admired by others.

“Either way, you wouldn’t want to base your decision on what others were thinking.”