|Be'lakor have an even chance of becoming the sickest band from Down Under (that's Australia for the illiterate) with their new album "Stone's Reach." Formed in their native Melbourne a few years back, the band is singer-guitarist George Kosmas and his fellow axeman Shawn Sykes; Jimmy Vanden Broeck on drums; John Richards on bass; and Steve Merry as tickler of ivories. "Stone's Reach" is Be'lakor's follow up to their 2007 debut "The Frail Tide" and features the most complex compostions this side of Opeth layered with doom -laden atmosphere and Gothenburg death metal. Judging by the stark beauty of this hour long opus, the six dudes in the band want their listeners to think long and hard as they combine genres with reckless abandon. In this Maximummetal exclusive, keyboardist Steve Merry talks about awesome album cover art, AC/DC, and his parents.
MM: Howdy!!! Oh wait, that's not how you greet each other in Australia, right? I think it should've been something like "G'day mate!" F*** it. Anyone heard the new Megadeth album yet? Planning on catching them live soon?
Steve: Hey! Haha, "howdy" will do fine. I actually haven't heard much of the new Megadeth - only a song or two! But those guys just keep making good music, don't they? It'd be great to see them live soon, for sure.
MM: Are you all richly satisfied with how "Stone's Reach" has been received by the press? Who has given it the strangest reception so far?
|Music is often a backdrop to much of my thinking and mental imagery
Steve: Overall we are definitely very happy with how the album has been received. The greatest pleasure of course comes from hearing that our fans are enjoying the new album, especially those who have supported us since the very early days, even before [our first album] "The Frail Tide" was released. In terms of reviews, most have been very positive. Obviously being a fairly new band that is trying to expand to reach a more global audience, our music has been compared to other works, especially by bands such as Insomnium and Dark Tranquillity. We can see some similarities, but we do feel that we offer something quite different to those bands. I can't think of any reception that I would say was overly strange though.
MM: Your new album is opened by a short instrumental. Do you find these easier to write than whole songs? When you're dreaming, does your music become a soundtrack to the mental images?
Steve: Yeah, ‘Venator' does open with a short instrumental section. These sorts of riffs surface throughout Stone's Reach, though. They help to add to the mood of the album and we believe that this sort of variety is very important. They're probably no harder or easier to write than any other sections though - the music always comes first in our song writing, so in a sense, everything we write is instrumental in the first instance anyway! Your question about dreaming and mental images is a good one. Music is often a backdrop to much of my thinking and mental imagery. However Be'lakor's music is only a small part of that soundtrack.
MM: Yeah, songwriting. A royal pain in the ass, or emotional catharsis?
Steve: Mostly I would say that song writing is hugely enjoyable, and my favourite part of being in Be'lakor! Given that our focus is always on the music at first, rather than the lyrics, we don't really treat song writing as a cathartic process in which our emotions are addressed. Rather, it's a chance to bring our musical ideas together and challenge ourselves to keep making interesting and creative music. Rarely, if ever, is song writing a pain in the arse! (For me, anyway - and I think I speak for all of the guys when I say that!)
MM: How did you guys get signed to your current label? They friends of yours?
Steve: No, not really friends - they are one of Australia's most active metal labels, and they had been aware of us for some time (as had we of them). When they heard that we were making a new album, there was a mutual interest in keeping one another informed, with a view to potentially releasing that album on Prime Cuts. As it turned out, they liked the album enough to release it, and everyone was happy! They've been great so far, offering us lots of support and helping to get "Stone's Reach" into stores across Australia.
MM: Isn't that an awesome album cover? Is that the mythological hero from "Clash of the Titans" or am I mistaken? My sister loves it. How'd you spruce it up to fit the album's aesthetic?
Steve: We agree, it's a really nice cover. It took us many months of searching DeviantArt.com to find an image that we felt was iconic and powerful like this one. It's a statue in Florence, and it depicts Perseus holding the head of Medusa. The image that you see on the front cover of "Stone's Reach" is actually very close to the original photograph (which was taken by a young Italian photographer called Gianfrancesco A). Only a little bit of re-touching and logo placement was done to achieve the final album cover.
MM: What sets your band apart is you don't play cookie cutter metal. Sure, the vocals are harsh, but there's so much melody behind it, no generic blastbeats. Is this how Be'lakor was supposed to sound since day one?
Steve: When we started we really didn't think very much about exactly what we wanted our band to sound like. We just had fun writing riffs and putting these together to make songs. As the band has grown, we have started to discuss what should and should not be included in a Be'lakor song. We have certain ideas - our songs should be interesting and not become boring too quickly (hence our use of between 10 and 12 different riffs or ideas in each song, rather than just an intro-verse-chorus approach). We aim to make our songs moving and generally fairly melancholy, with melodic riffs that are memorable. These ideals became a part of our approach to making music fairly soon after we started working together, but they weren't there at the very outset.
MM: What's the metal scene in your part of Australia like? Are there a lot of places to play in?
Steve: The metal scene in Australia is very small, but very passionate. There's a high ratio of bands to fans. This means that well-attended metal shows have an excellent atmosphere, because with time, the fans and bands often become friends. However, it also means that it's sometimes difficult to sustain all of the bands that are out there working really hard at playing live and developing their profile. The collaboration with other bands has been made much easier by sites such as Myspace, with arrangements for live shows and events now quite quick and convenient. The bands also support one another quite well, and many friendships develop. There are actually a lot of good metal venues in each city - Melbourne alone has 10-15 really good venues that are active every weekend with metal gigs of various types and sizes.
MM: Any funny stories about performing your songs live?
Steve: Not very many actually! We are a fairly uncontroversial band. However, there was one gig (whilst on tour) where some of the guys had a few drinks before we played, and I believed that I could hear the exact point during our set at which they "sobered up"! It was very funny. But really, we don't have a heap of stories to tell - sorry to disappoint!
MM: Despite AC/DC's unparalleled success, why can't Australian hard rock and heavy metal make it REALLY big in the global market?
Steve: I really don't know! I think it probably comes down to a collection of reasons. One might be that it is harder to tour constantly (as most genuinely huge, global-scale bands do) if you are based in Australia. Another possible reason is that there are simply not enough metal fans in Australia to create that initial "push" which might then carry across into a worldwide awareness. But really, there are enough great bands in Australia to make it a surprising thing that so few have been massive in the way that AC/DC have been.
MM: Staying in the same vein as the last question, if you were all making as much money as AC/DC, what would you spend it on?
Steve: I can only speak for myself here, but I have always felt that you should only want enough money to live a happy and comfortable life. So I would personally try to invest any extra money in some sort of vehicle for change, whether it be related to the environment or other world issues. That's easier said than done, of course – but that's how I think I'd go. Anyway, that's a dilemma that I will almost certainly never face!
MM: Which would you prefer, a couple of fantastic Be'lakor albums that'll live on (kind-a like Emperor or Blind Guardian) at the cost of the band eventually breaking up, or a highly productive music career where you practically live on the road, playing all over the world?
Steve: I would want a balance between the two, if possible. I'd say Be'lakor would lean towards the former category more though, in that we all enjoy other interests in life, so we're unlikely to be a band that lives on the road for years and years. But we'd definitely like to release more than two good albums!
MM: If you could pursue another career aside from music, what would it be?
Steve: I would like to try a heap of different things! Being a photographer would be cool. I'd probably really enjoy being an audio engineer and running my own studio, but that seems to be the sort of thing that you could only do for a few years, or you'd go nuts! I also like writing, so being an author or a journalist might be good. Most of the guys in the band have full time jobs (or study full time) as it is though, so Be'lakor is not really our career at this stage.
MM: What pays the bills for you guys?
Steve: Well, I'm currently teaching in a Primary School. Within the ranks of Be'lakor we also have a lawyer, an engineer, a retailer of industrial supplies, and an engineering student. So we tend to be kept fairly busy with all of that, and Be'lakor is a great escape from those things.
MM: How many interesting bands do you ‘discover' in through Myspace and last.fm on a weekly basis? Or do you just hate social networking? I certainly do.
Steve: We discover heaps of cool bands through Myspace, mainly because as a band we are always using Myspace ourselves. Last.fm is also an excellent tool for bands and it's been interesting to see our music being listened to in many different countries. We can't really afford to hate these sorts of sites because we rely on them in many ways to interact with our fans, and hopefully to find some new fans!
MM: If you had to choose between Freddy Mercury, Cliff Burton, Chuck Schuldiner, and Jimi Hendrix to play on one of your albums, who would it be?
Steve: I think we would have to go with Freddie Mercury – I know George (Kosmas,vocals/guitar) is a fan of Queen's music. They were amazing songwriters. Jimi Hendrix would be cool simply because of his status and the impact that he had on guitar playing.
MM: Would Elton John be too far fetched as a potential collaborator? I know he once did a song with Saxon, so he's certainly been introduced to heavy music. Is this a good idea?
Steve: I don't think we'd be too interested in working with Elton John, mainly because we are control freaks and perfectionists, and we wouldn't want someone else tampering with our music too much haha! So I guess that means we'd probably also have to knock back Freddie Mercury and Jimi Hendrix, just to be consistent haha.
MM: Are you guys just dying to play gigs in Europe and Japan?
Steve: We are very much looking forward to playing in those places, yes. However, we know that it's important to make sure that, when we do tour beyond Australia, everything is well planned and carefully thought-out. We'd need to be confident that there was a strong demand for us to come there and that the tour would be financially viable (which is a very difficult thing to do!) But yeah, we do see ourselves getting to Europe especially, in the next couple of years.
MM: What do your parents think of the band?
Steve: They all love the band! They're very proud of it actually, as I guess most parents are of their children's work. Without the support of our families, particularly in the early days, we would have found it very difficult to get the band going and make it successful.
MM: I gotta alphabetize my CD collection now so let's wrap. Thanks for the time Be'lakor. If you could be transported anywhere in the world right now, where will it be?
Steve: Right now? I would love to be transported to a mountain in Switzerland! Thanks for the interview, we appreciate your support!