Death is a motivator.
The realisation of the certainty, of course. But the loss of someone in your circle is just as powerful a motivator.
Something that Memoriam know all too well about at this stage, one reckons.
With the passing of Martin Kearns, Bolt Thrower went into retreat before deciding to call it a day a year later, arguing that the passing of Kearns meant that the band could not continue.
Not too long after, the father of well known UK underground bassist Frank Healy (Sacrilege, Napalm Death [briefly] and Benediction) died. So Healy and Bolt Thrower vocalist Karl Willetts joined forces.
Willetts has been quoted as saying that “Memoriam was born from darkness. For me, it was a choice of sinking deep into a pit of misery and despair, waiting for something to happen. [I had that choice] or to get on with life and try and create something positive from the experience. From the darkness comes light, from the sadness comes joy, from the despair comes hope. This is Memoriam.”
Reactions to the 7′ demos have been very positive and the few live shows have been well received as well. Of course, with pedigree like this, you were never going to get run of the mill death metal. But it’s always heartening to have your instincts proven correct.
And now, just under two years later, we have the debut LP.
First off, the cover does a great job of setting the mood of the record. Reminiscent of the artwork on the new Power Trip record (in that it portrays a diseased world), the mood is sombre yet defiant.
The wretched creatures that fought in battle now march in silence, leading their emperor to the final resting place.
The soldiers themselves seem lost and without direction, yet they stand tall. Ready for anything that the environment will throw at them.
I love the detail on show. Your attention is first drawn to the ruined buildings. Then you notice the corpses streaming out of one of the buildings, into the middle.
Then you notice the corpse in the right hand corner, reminiscent of the 70’s anti war poster proclaiming that this was what happens when you wait for peace.
Brilliant cover. And now, let’s discuss the music.
Opening with a mournful, soul searching and somewhat sinister guitar line, ‘Memoriam’ gradually turns into a chunky riffer. Hearing the texture and crunch…utterly satisfying. Lyrically, it can be seen as a tribute to Kearns, but it also serves as an introduction to the worldview of the album: mournful, yet defiant.
Already released as a 7′,’War Rages On’ begins with a sample of Neville Chamberlain declaring war on Germany. When he utters the word “war’, it then echoes and gives way to Willetts grunting the word over some very atmospheric (almost black metal) guitar lines.
Mainly mid paced, it allows the listener to absorb Willett’s lyrics about the futility of war and of it’s soldiers: “The final stand/Life comes to an end/The last bastion/As war rages on.” But, towards the end, the tempo picks up (perhaps in an attempt to evoke the feeling of “going over the top).
It’s a great song, with some cracking drumming (courtesy of former Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale). But as a proper first track? Maybe a little misplaced.
‘Reduced to Zero’ is another midtempo number. Somewhat reminiscent of Amebix in places (no bad thing), the lyrics act as a warning about what will come if mankind continues it’s obsession with war.
‘Corrupted System’ sees the tempo going up a notch or two, with some great tribal and blastbeats from Whale. ‘Flatline’ is a more sinister number, with the sinister and frantic riff indicating the frenzy at the operating table to save the life of a soldier.
It’s easy to hear why ‘Surrounded by Death’ has been the track that’s been getting pushed online, as it’s the most accessible song on here (running just over three minutes, compared to the rest being around the six to eight minute mark). Gotta love the middle section consisting of a chaotic solo and some whirlwind drumming.
Closer ‘Last Words’ opens with a kind of wind swept sounding riff (as if Fairfax is standing on the pile of corpses depicted on the cover, delivering a eulogy through song) before Willetts sings from the perspective of a soldier in the trenches of the First World War.
Stiff Upper Lip
Reading the lyrics, you get a sense of the desperation and stiff upper lip English mentality that governed the soldiers in the trenches.
It’s poignant stuff, especially at the end when Tam Simpson from Sacrilege recites a passage from the first verse ” As bullets sweetly sing/A hymn of sacrifice/Take strength – victory is mine/I am with you until the end of time” as the sound of “going over the top” can be heard.
Truly, the musical equivalent of the final scene in ‘Blackadder Goes Forth.’
Overall, as a debut album, it’s an atmospheric piece of metal delivered by veterans who still have something to offer. Although the mix can be a bit samey at times, once you invest yourself in the record, you will be taken on a journey.
Death’s actions, and it’s ramification, have been to our benefit.
4 / 5 – Christopher Owens ::: 17/03/17