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  • Interview by Faye Coulman

Aussie melodic metal crew Be'lakor talk long-overdue return to European tour circuit, creative process and penning new material

From Brexit and breathtakingly incompetent world leaders to COVID-19 and an ever-growing catalogue of near-apocalyptic natural disasters, existence here on the aimlessly spinning, insignificant rock we call planet Earth has certainly been no picnic of late. And for those whose tastes tend toward the darker, altogether less digestible end of the musical spectrum, there’s no overstating the immeasurable solace to be sourced from extreme metal and its rich, obsidian-hued wealth of cathartic dark art. As one such intricately configured sonic entity underpinning an electrifying blend of searing, Gothenburg-tinged aggression, nimbly manipulated progressive trappings and intensely cinematic orchestral sections, it’s unsurprising that Be’lakor’s long-overdue return to UK shores caused quite a stir when news of a European tour first broke back in April 2023. Not least, we might add, given the fact that a sizeable 13 years have elapsed since we last had the distinct pleasure of witnessing the Aussie extreme metallers’ richly atmospheric live spectacle. Ahead of their epic return to the continent last summer, keyboardist Steven Merry kindly set some time aside to discuss what was always guaranteed to be their most momentous touring cycle yet…

DM: Hey Steve, thanks for agreeing to chat with us. So, roughly how long was the flight over to the UK?

SM: The first leg was, I think, seven hours and the next leg was 13 hours. The second leg really was a drag for us, like, we didn't really get much sleep, so we were very wrecked last night. We all fell asleep by about 9pm after a bit of a dinner here.

DM: And yeah, this is going to be the first stop on the European tour, isn’t it?

SM: It is, yeah. So we've got 16 shows and this is show number one, and when the tour was first booked, we had no idea whether this would be a big show or a little show, but it's turned out to be quite a big show. I think it's 550 or something, so it’ll be a good way to start the tour. For us, I think it’ll really get us going.

DM: Yeah, absolutely. And I was speaking to one of the other fans in the pub earlier, and apparently he said the last time he saw you guys was 2010.

SM: Okay, so long time ago now. For us, that was our first time ever leaving Australia. And we were a pretty small band then, very small. So I think the London show, we only had, you know, 30 to 40 people last time, so it's quite different this time, which is good to see. You would hope it would grow a little bit in that time, but yeah, 13 years for us. It’s been a long time since we're here.

DM: Yeah. So you have, I imagine… Is it two albums’ worth of material to, kind of, not exactly debut, but to perform live for the London fans?

SM: That's right. And I think we've tried not to make the tour just about those albums because, given that it has been so long since we came here, or to Europe at all, we just have our set-list. It is a little bit more of a mixture of our whole discography. I think fans would want to hear some of those songs from ‘Of Breath and Bone’ and ‘Stone’s Reach’, as well as some of the newer tracks.

DM: Yeah, that was actually going to be one of my questions, because obviously. I wondered whether it would be focused on the most recent release, but of course with all of that work, I imagine you’re going to aim for a range of the tracks.

SM: I think it's going to make it a more enjoyable show. If I personally went to see a band who had five albums and they only played one or two albums’ worth of material, I think I’d be a little bit annoyed.

DM: Yeah, the most recent album, ‘Coherence’ sounds like it's going to be quite the experience live in terms of the atmosphere and the range of instrumentation, which you've talked about previously. As an album, was it fairly straightforward to translate it into the live experience, or was there quite a lot of work involved?

SM: I think it's probably both of our last two albums that have been harder to translate live than the first three. And you're right, it's because of the additional atmospheric elements, especially ‘Vessels’ which had the most different types of sounds and atmospheres that we've ever tried, and that means playing those songs live was harder. I think that's one of the other reasons we have a set-list that combines older and newer songs, because I think if we're trying to pull off a whole album's worth of that stuff, it might be quite challenging and that maybe wouldn’t be what people want. You're right, that’s a really good observation.

DM: And what would you say about what your set is going to entail in terms of the wider experience of the performance as a whole? How would you sum that up?

SM: I think we're gonna feed off people's energy. Hopefully, I think we would hope that it's a really energy-engaging show with songs that hopefully people love and know. I think we've tried to pick a set-list based off what we hear online and what gets the most streams and those sorts of things. At least that will engage people and also have a bit of nostalgia as there's some music from very, very early on in our back catalogue, from our first album all the way through to the most.recent. So maybe, if you are a fan that's been a fan for 10, 15, 20 years, then there'll certainly be a chance for you to hear a bit of everything.

DM: Great. Yeah, and I was reading about the material that, following the writing process, you've written and are subsequently preparing to possibly either record or discard. I think two of the things you mentioned were: Is this memorable? Does this have a good melodic dimension to it? Would you say that that was, effectively, the core of what you do as musicians when approaching the creative process?

SM: I think you're right. I remember, when we first started, melody was the top priority and I think as we've progressed it's remained very important, but we've since thought more about atmosphere than we used to. But you're definitely right that, when you're writing some new music, if there isn't something you can hum, something that will stay in your memory the next day and you wake up singing it, then it's probably not worth including in the album. So I’d say we definitely still do the melody. That aspect is still very high on our list.

DM: And, at the moment, do you have any ideas about current compositional ideas, or where things are going in terms of new material? If you have started thinking in that vein yet.

SM: Yeah, we have, actually. I think we've got a collection of about 50 riffs, melodies and other things we like, and probably the way we're working is just collecting and gathering and writing and almost categorising what we've got, so that when we are back in Australia after the tour, I think that's when we'll sit down as a band and share our thoughts on which ones we like the best and which ones have been sticking in our memory and go from there. There won't be a big change in terms of our style as we believe that's kind of what we do best. This is about trying to write the best songs we can and yeah, it's.the part I enjoy the most. I think touring is awesome, but you wouldn't be able to do it for a long periods of time, whereas the songwriting I know I can always enjoy it and never get tired.

DM: And of course the process of writing an album, it's not something that you would just kind of hash out within a few hours or whatever. I appreciate that the process itself is quite painstaking.

SM: Yeah, and the way we work is that… I think if we were a band that, you know how a lot of bands have three minute songs, and you hear about bands that write 30 songs and then include 15 on the album, whereas we write eight songs and then record eight songs, and because they are such big things, each song takes six months or three months to make. They go for seven to 10 minutes. We can't afford to write a whole song that we think is not good enough to include. So I mean, our approach is more riff by riff, idea by idea. The rejection of riffs happens at that stage, rather than writing an entire song, so it is quite painstaking and it means that by the end, we know exactly why we've included everything in the song and we know what the song is and it's a good process for us.

DM: Yeah. My other question was, in terms of the the themes and the lyrical aspects of the the writing that you do, I was quite interested by the focus on concepts that are not attached to a particular time, and that therefore transcend the here and now, attaining a level of relevance beyond where we're at at this particular moment in time. Do you tend to find inspiration from, for example, philosophical writers or scientists? Or are these themes largely a product of your own observation of the world around you?

SM: A little bit of both, really. So I know that, in the band, George [Kosmas] and I have both studied Philosophy at university, George has a very good reading of history, probably more than I do. He's read a lot of history. John [Richardson], George and I and Shaun [Sykes] actually all have a science interest too, and so I think if you bring all these things together, it just seems to be areas that we find personally interesting. And if you're gonna sit down and write a story or lyrics, it seems to be natural that those ideas come out. And I do believe it's the best way to work, I think. It would be frustrating or boring or embarrassing if you worked on song that had lyrics that were so heartfelt now, but if you look back at it in four or five to six years’ time, you might cringe. I think if you're writing something that is about telling a really good story, with interesting concepts and settings, then they are much more able to sustain themselves over time, and they don't tend to age badly. So that's the approach we like and and I enjoy it and it's probably a a form of escapism rather than a form of expressing opinions.

DM: Fantastic. And lastly, is there a message that you would like to convey to your fans in closing?

SM: I think the main message is just that we love the connection we have with the fans and I personally handle a lot of the social media aspects of the band and I enjoy hearing what people think and hearing that people are excited to come and see us, that makes it even more enjoyable. I think we're all excited about this too, because the shows have been selling well and people are have been waiting a see us, so I love that we all enjoy that, and hopefully people will enjoy the. tour, and that connection to continue on.

For more on Be'lakor, check out their official website


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