Melodic, dark, and progressive is how Melbourne’s Be’lakor describe themselves. With new album ‘Vessels’ set to release on the 24th of this month, Be’lakor have some of the best sounding progressions in metal that I’ve heard in a long time. Fluently mixing together different styles and genres, instruments and tones too create a larger than life atmosphere. It’s good stuff! I had a chat with keyboard play, Steve Merry, to find out what’s going on in their world lately. Check out our chat below.
Do you guys have anything exciting planned for the tour, or are you just doing your normal thing?
I’d say within reason it’s our normal thing, I mean the exciting thing for us and hopefully the fans will be new songs and it’s a good chance to play a long set because we haven’t always been able to play long set. So you know, nothing major, no fireworks, no biting heads off animals or anything like that. [Laughs].
That is one thing about your songs, they go for a long time. Do you find that people at shows are less receptive just because of how long they go for? Or do you find that because people know who you are, they want to come and really listen to everything you have to offer?
I think with our fans it’s a case of our music isn’t really like ‘go nuts, have a circle pit’ kind of stuff, so whether the songs are four minutes or eight minutes long, there is kind of more listening. There tends to be the odd moment when things get a bit crazy but generally, it’s kind of more thoughtful music ,so we tend to have fans that just stand there and listen and we won’t really know what they think of it until we finish.
So when was the last time Be’lakor played a show in Australia then?
It would have been about seven or eight months ago. We went to Europe late last year and before we went to Europe we played a warm up/going away show in Melbourne. Before that would have been at least six months prior to that, that we would have done the last Australian tour.
Will this be the first time a lot of these new songs have been played live at all?
Yeah! And there are a couple of songs that we’re playing in Europe that we’ve actually never played live in Australia before.
That’s pretty exciting!
Yeah, I mean it’s interesting because it’s weird; we tend not to play that much in Australia. So there are some songs, whilst they’re maybe an album back in our catalogue, we haven’t actually played them in Australia, so it should be good.
Do you find that you are more popular overseas than you are in Australia, is that why you play more often over there than here?
I don’t know, it’s hard to judge. For example, in Germany metal itself is more popular, so it’s easier to be known by more Germans I think than it is by Australians. Because in Australia metal is sort of pushed very much to the underground for most bands. Whereas in Germany, there are festivals that go for three days and there’s camping and there’re 50,000 people and it’s all extreme metal. You can’t even imagine that happening in Australia. So, I don’t know, good question. mMaybe in some parts of Europe but in other parts we’re not known at all, but I think in Germany because we’ve been there a few times it helps.
It’s pretty cool you get to go overseas with your music, a lot of bands don’t even leave their local scene!
It’s ridiculously cool, we never really planned it. The first time we got an offer to go to Germany I didn’t actually think we were going to take it up, because it was so far out of what I thought we were ever trying to do as a band. It’s awesome and because we work we tend to go for two to three week trips rather than super gruelling tours and we can kind of enjoy it as well.
As you said this wasn’t really expected the band to do. What did you expect?
It was for fun, it was basically “Let’s write some songs”. That’s still the main reason we are a band and that’s probably why we don’t tour as much some bands. The live stuff, we do like it but it’s not the reason we exist; we want to make music. So when we started it was basically let’s get together and write some songs and we didn’t really have a plan to what would happen.
I saw that you recently signed to Napalm Records. How did that come about? Did you go shopping for labels or did they apporach you?
I think they emailed us a couple of times about a year ago and we didn’t really know what we wanted, or whether we wanted to be on a label. But when we were in Europe, we did get to meet one of the guys from that label and we talked a bit. So it was a very gradual thing, but I think Napalm was keen. To be honest it was probably 10 years ago when we started and when that first album started to get a few reviews we did send some copies out to labels and we didn’t hear anything back. So we kind of gave up on label stuff for most of it and then Napalm got in touch just recently.
It must be pretty encouraging then to be turned down, and then have a label approach you.
Yeah, to be honest, with labels it’s very much about crunching numbers. We probably had a reasonable following for a few years there and still didn’t hear anything from the labels. But then when we went to Europe and we sold a few t-shirts, I think they looked and were like “Okay there’s some people buying stuff and it might work commercially a bit now”. I’m not saying that’s the only reason, but I am saying that kind of stuff helps.
So you guys took a bit longer to record this album than you would have liked to, are you happy with how it turned out? Would have you liked to take a bit longer or do you think, “This is as good as it’s going to get”?
Probably a little bit of all of that. Look, I’ve got a reputation in the band for being a very annoying person because I’m never happy with stuff. [Laughs]. And I heard a really good quote, that “No one ever finishes an album, they just run out of time and you release the album”. So it sort of felt like that, and there are things that I would like to change but they’re minor things that everyone else tells me to not worry about. Generally speaking, I think we’re really happy with it, the music especially.
Now, you guys have a lot going on in every song, with different changes, instruments and progressions so, when writing the record, do you guys all get in a room and hammer it out or do you have one main writer and then the rest of you guys add you parts later?
I’d say two or three of us, probably George (guitar/vocals) and I, write a lot of riffs and ideas. Then when we get together as a band we all listen to those and work out what ones will form the basis of a song. I guess we try to jam them and piecing it together and work out what might be repeated and what goes with what and then other guys throw in some ideas and the solos come along. It’s pretty organic, but there’s that initial phase when you have to create the content.
At least everyone is joining in and it’s not just a one man show.
Nah, I think it would be too hard because there are riffs that I couldn’t write that George writes and vice-versa. So I think having that mix of people helps a lot.
I’ve read a few comments on your latest single ‘An Embers Ark’ and people are saying they could imagine this being in a Dark Souls-type soundtrack. Do you think this would ever be a cool thing for the band?
We wouldn’t turn it down, I think it could work. Some of the guys in the band are gamers or the sorts of people that would be up for that and like gaming when they can and have some time. So yes, that would be cool!
Isn’t that where the band name came from? From an old game from about 10 years ago?
That’s right and I don’t wish we hadn’t called it that because we were probably 20 when we picked the word and I think two of the guys played that game, Warhammer, at the time and they’ve not played that for seven to eight years. Especially in Europe, every interview they ask us, “Do you guys play a lot of Warhammer? Are the songs about Warhammer?” and that’s not the case. But it reflects the case that we are kind of nerdy guys.
That’s pretty cool; what kind of games are you playing now?
Well, I’m the one in that band that has been resisting these kinds of things, I’m not much of a gamer. The other guys they played World of Warcraft, but these days they’re all so busy. Shaun has a family and we all have jobs that keep us busy to varying degrees. They’re probably not playing as much, but probably a lot of PC gaming.
Have you got any major influences for yourself or the band; metal or non-metal? How did your band come up with its sound?
I reckon when we started we were very much inspired by what you would expect, Dark tranquillity, In Flames, European melodic death metal. Probably our first album especially was very much that sound. These days it’s still melodic death metal, but I guess there is probably more black metal and ambient, post-rock influences. George is really big fan of black metal, and I like atmospheric black metal, like Duke. Really kind of grim, where there’s not much going on, but it’s more about the atmosphere. I’m a huge fan of Agalloch and their kind of atmosphere and acoustic guitar and nature sounds. I’m always inspiring to have more of that stuff in our music and probably Opeth and the variety Opeth gets into their stuff is another big factor.
Classic Opeth or are you more new school?
Not new school! I’m probably a Morning Rise, Black Water Park sort of guy.
Musically, are you self-taught or are you classically trained?
No training at all. No one in the band can read music at all. We’re almost hacks. When we started the band I used to be a drummer, a self-taught drummer. Then I kind of picked up the keyboard for the purpose of starting this band. We used to be a punk band, and then we changed to metal. I got off the drum kit and started playing the keyboard, mainly because I got sort of sick of playing drums, and it kind of made sense. I’m not very skilled, and can only really play Be’lakor songs. So when someone asks us for sheet music or tabs, we sort of struggle, because it would be a lot of work to go back and create those things for the songs.
One thing that I usually see with keys players in metal bands, when things aren’t going on for the keys they just stand around and headbang. Is that you, or do move around a lot on stage?
Maybe a bit of both? We’re not renowned as one of those bands that have an awesome stage presence. I think that’s because the music would look a bit weird, I don’t think it’s geared towards phonetic stage activity. I’m a bit of both. There are passages of music where I’m just standing there playing and other times I get into it a bit. It is tricky; when I watch Opeth they’re pretty restrained even back in their more extreme days and I think we’re closer to that.
Thank you for your time Steve, it was great talking to you and hopefully, I can catch you on your tour this time!
Cheers Jack, thanks for the interview.
Grab tickets for the upcoming Be’lakor tour here. You can find the dates below.