"We certainly enjoy playing live, but we don’t put on theatrical performances like some bands do – that’s just who we are as people."
(Be'lakor via Facebook)
Melbourne melodic death metal heavyweights Be’lakor are highly respected within the genre, even if they haven’t yet received the amount of attention they deserve. Of course, in metal circles, there’s a chance that you could meet a fellow Be’lakor fan. And if you’re into the melodic death metal genre at all, why wouldn’t you be a fan?
Be’lakor stand out, and their third album, Of Breath And Bone, stands the test of time. Released in June 2012, the band will celebrate the record’s tenth anniversary next Friday, 24 February, at Max Watt’s in Melbourne, playing the album front-to-back for the first and only time.
Yep, that’s right: you can experience those syncopated guitar riffs (“we call them spike riffs,” says keyboardist Steve Merry) littered all through Abeyance, the pounding drums of Remnants, the epic Fraught, Merry in action on In Parting and in the circle-pit starter The Dream And The Waking, and the beautifully complex By Moon And Star, all in one night. 56 minutes of pure perfection; yes, please.
Joining Be’lakor for this very special evening – what Steve Merry calls the band’s likely only Australian show of 2023 – are the post-metal band Suldusk, Adelaide metal muso Keyan Houshmand and Melbourne metallers The Ascended.
To celebrate the one-off gig, we caught up with Steve Merry to learn how the band feel about Of Breath And Bone after ten years, their appearances at massive European festivals this year, including Wacken in Germany, Finland’s Dark River Festival, Summer Breeze Open Air, Vagos Metal Fest in Portugal, and Party San festival.
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“If we're talking about the Melbourne gig, it's probably going to be our last show in Australia this year. It’s a big deal for us; it’s probably our last chance to play to people in Melbourne this year, and we won’t ever play the whole album again, in one gig.
“We’re mainly just excited. This is the most thought we’ve ever put into a show because it’s been a long time since we’ve played a one-off gig,” Merry adds. And because the concert was initially scheduled for November last year and rescheduled to February, Be’lakor have had even more time to think about how to make it a great experience for everyone in attendance.
University worker by day and member of a death metal band by night, Steve Merry is articulate, chill, and knows a lot about music. After 20 years of knowing the guys in Be’lakor, the friendships are a big reason why the band can continue making music and enjoying themselves.
When Merry first got involved with music at 15 or 16 years old, he was a drummer, then messed around on guitars when Be’lakor branched into metal. Suddenly, he needed to choose a different instrument. He admits, “At that point it was like, ‘what can I do in the band? Okay, maybe I can play the keyboard' – it’s not really been a passion of mine to be a keyboard player, but more to be a songwriter. It’s more just the way I can be in the band and contribute, which is enjoyable.”
Last year, Be’lakor’s August Coherence tour – the name of their 2021 album – had three sold-out shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. “We were really happy with that tour, and surprised to have that many sold-out shows.”
“Especially to sell out [Crowbar] in Sydney; that was definitely a first for us. Yeah, the scene is coming back to life a bit,” Merry offers, recalling his thoughts that perhaps that Sydney show was oversold. “We actually thought that the venue was a little too packed, I hadn’t seen it that full!” And despite the massive, distracting poles at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel at the show the week prior, that venue was also overflowing.
Be’lakor have been a part of the Melbourne metal scene for many years. “It's been a pretty long, slow, steady process because our first gigs were in 2006, I think? So that’s, what, 17 years ago?” Merry asks (he’s correct), but there’s also been long periods of time when the band didn’t play shows at all. “We probably had a six-year period between 2016 and last year when we just didn't play at all. So in some ways, it's like re-discovering the whole thing again, when you come back after that amount of time. We always feel like it’s a new event.”
And because of the feeling that it’s a brand-new experience all over again, Be’lakor come across as fresh and energised any time you see them, even if they’re not running around the stage, furling guitars around the place. “It’s funny you say that because compared to other bands, we’re not the most high-energy band, like, we’re a sort of slightly restrained band, I would say.
“We certainly enjoy playing live, but we don’t put on theatrical performances like some bands do – that’s just who we are as people,” he explains with a chuckle. But as soon as that propulsive beat in Abeyance opens Of Breath And Bone, and the band’s set next Friday, you know that there’s nothing quite as thrilling as observing a melodic death metal band who are brilliant at what they do.
Listening back to Of Breath And Bone now, almost 11 years after its initial release, Be’lakor are proud of the album. It’s an album that took a lot of effort, but it was all worth it: “That album might have been the one that helped us grow a bit as a band and reach a different level overseas,” he says, acknowledging Jens Bogren’s stunning mix. “We love the way that album sounds. What we found when we were rehearsing the songs again to prepare for the show was how many twin guitar parts, melodies, and harmonies there are.”
Jens Bogren (Opeth, Arch Enemy, Soilwork) mixed Of Breath And Bone and Coherence and did an amazing job bringing out a very powerful metal sound. “He’s experienced, and a real professional - at this genre especially,” Merry notes about the band’s collaborator. “When we work with Jens, we tend to be going that way because we want a certain kind of polished sound that most people will associate with the genre.”
This year, Be’lakor are returning to Europe for the fourth time and performing at Wacken Open Air for the very first time. “We’d tried a few times, but without any luck. So, it was a big deal for us to get a slot there. This goes on the top of our resume as a band,” Merry says, calling the achievement a dream come true.
If you want to see Be’lakor play what will most likely be their only Australian show of 2023 before they head off to Europe, you can buy tickets here. Stream Of Breath And Bone below.