After seeing Memoriam live at Bloodstock in 2016, and following the release of their excellent debut EP, The Hellfire Demos, later that year, it would not be underestimating to state that the launch of their debut album quickly became one of my most anticipated events of 2017.
I think that enough has probably been said of both the band’s formation and their raison d’etre so let’s get straight to the point.
The brilliant cover artwork by legendary artist Dan Seagrave is worthy of special mention at the outset, depicting an army of undead pallbearers conducting a funeral procession through a bleak wasteland. It sets a sombre yet fantastical scene and whets the appetite before a note is struck.
And so with such anticipation, when the sinister opening riff of first track “Memoriam” lumbers out of the speaker the listener is quickly hooked. The sound follows the same effective path of Bolt Thrower and Benediction, brutally simplistic and catchy riffs delivered by a barrage of bass heavy guitar, incendiary drumming all carried by Karl Willetts’ menacing vocals. A refreshing addition to the mix are the pinched harmonics of guitarist Scott Fairfax which really lift this track, and many others on the record. Lyrically, like many of the tracks on the album, it’s a sombre remembrance to all lost and also clearly serves as a poignant tribute to Martin Kearns.
Second track “War Rages On”, which was included in the debut EP, opens to Neville Chamberlain’s declaration on the eve of the Second World War before breaking into a faster paced attack courtesy of Andy Whale’s mesmeric double bass rhythm. It’s a standout track on the record, with the breakdown mid-way breathtakingly good.
“Reduced to Zero” follows and was one of two tracks pre-released. It’s a sombre almost melancholy mid-tempo number employing key changes and Fairfax’s trademark harmonics to excellent effect. The riff in the middle is a real foot stomper and lifts the track well. “Corrupted System” then picks the tempo up driven by Whale’s blasting snare before breaking into a subliminal riff midway and finishing on that same riff. It’s a break from the formula so far and is the most grindcore/punk-like of all the tracks on the album, reminding the listener somewhat of Napalm Death, and it works really well. Another real standout follows in “Flatline”, beginning in sinister fashion before offering up riff after fist pumping riff, the main and closing riffs having an almost thrashy quality to them. For shear foot stomping enjoyment, this track is hard to beat.
“Surrounded by Death”, another from the Hellfire demos, is straight from the Bolt Thrower drawer, limbering up menacingly before breaking out into that trademark whirlwind drumming, dense riffing, and chaotic soloing. Penultimate track “Resistance” was also included on the debut EP and sounds more polished here than its first incarnation. It follows the theme of the previous track and gallops along wonderfully, carrying the listener on the crest of the perfect death metal wave.
Closing track “Last Words” is a poetic and haunting eulogy to all those lost in war, featuring guest vocals from Lynda Simpson of Sacrilege. It’s a fine way to finish a truly fine album.
The production is excellent, it’s polished and clear yet manages to maintain that raw and dirty heaviness that we came to love with Bolt Thrower and Benediction. Karl Willetts’ vocals seem to be further back in the mix than in his Bolt Thrower days but this works well and gives them a more haunting quality which enhances the overall feel of the album.
Lyrically, the album covers the familiar but worryingly topical subjects from mankind’s obsession with self-destruction to the futility of war, and also touches on more recent social themes such as increased fear and political detachment. Despite the downbeat subject matter, there is a more personal take on these themes drawn from band members’ recent losses and this gives the album a really unique and genuine feel and also carries with it a more positive message – life must go on.
Memoriam are clearly doing just that and enjoying themselves immensely at the same time, carrying on the considerable legacy left by their former bands and bandmates while beginning a unique one of their own. These may seem bold words but this album is that good and will take some beating in 2017.
For the Fallen is out 24 March on Nuclear Blast and you can catch the band live at Glasgow’s Lords of the Land on April 1st.