Tuesday 7 February 2023

Memoriam - Rise to Power (2023)

Country: UK
Style: Death Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 3 Feb 2023
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Memoriam are a British band who have been building quite a name for themselves through a five album stretch, this being the fifth, across only seven years. They only formed as recently in 2015, apparently as a tribute to the late Martin Kearns of Bolt Thrower, but they got up to speed quickly with For the Fallen in 2017. Then again, nobody involved is remotely new to the business.

Vocalist Karl Willetts was the lead vocalist in Bolt Thrower for a couple of decades. Guitarist Scott Fairfax has played with Cerebral Fix and is also in Massacre right now. Bass player Frank Healy was also in Cerebral Fix, as well as a whole string of major bands: Annihilator, Benediction and Napalm Death, to name just three. Drummer Spikey T. Smith has even more bands on his resume, including Sacrilege, English Dogs and the Damned, and he arrived in 2020 to replace Andrew Whale of Bolt Thrower in the only line-up change thus far. Clearly it's about time I paid attention to what they do.

And what they do shouldn't surprise after band names like those, because this is clearly metal on a British punk framework. Willetts's vocals work for death metal, as they should, but they'd work in a punk band too without any shift in approach. There's a texture to Fairfax's guitar that's right out of crust punk, just better produced. Smith is clearly comfortable with speed, but he's playing much slower than I expected much of the time. Total War is a great example of both tempos, with some early sections almost doom speed but faster sections ready to leap into action.

And, of course, the lyrics are all social commentary. Total War doesn't need any explanation and it shouldn't take much imagination to figure out what Never Forget, Never Again (6 Million Dead) is about. Almost every one of these song titles, from I am the Enemy and The Conflict is Within to All is Lost and Rise to Power via Annihilations Dawn, is clearly riffing on our polarised society, politics hindering rather than helping. I'm shocked that they're still on Twitter. I thought they might have been the first band that I'd find on Tribel.

I've never delved too deeply into the British punk scene, beyond seeing the early days on television and experiencing it live through the emergent grindcore scene in the late eighties. I saw Healy in 1990 in Bradford playing for Cerebral Fix, though Fairfax hadn't joined yet. But I listened to a lot of the bands who came out of those eras and either formed metal bands or turned metal for a while. For instance, Cerebral Fix were supporting Napalm Death, who were shifting from grindcore over to death metal at that point. I saw Bolt Thrower a couple of times in 1989 and 1990 and, even back then, when Whale was playing with blastbeats, I felt they had a foot firmly in both worlds.

It's been a while since I've listened to Bolt Thrower, but this feels like a fair sequel. It may be more thoughtful in terms of riffs and runs and fills, but it may be just more obvious given the benefits of twenty-first century production values. They didn't have this tech to work with back when they put out Realm of Chaos! Notably, while this is much better produced than early Bolt Thrower albums, the music doesn't lend itself to crystal clear mixing. There's still a sludgy sound to what they do, as there was in Bolt Thrower, even live when they were a wall of sound.

I liked this album on a first listen. A whole bunch of moments stood out the first time I heard them, from the unusual but memorable choir of samples building up the message "I am the enemy" that oddly introduced Never Forget, Never Again rather than I am the Enemy, onwards. Looking back, a majority of them tie to the guitarwork of Scott Fairfax, not least the doomy gothic guitars in I am the Enemy, the intricate intro to The Pain and the echoey doomladen guitars late in All is Lost. The more I listen to this clearly death metal album, the more I hear Fairfax playing doom and it works.

The catch is that it doesn't really grow from that first listen. It always sounds good but it falls into the background somewhat and I keep finding myself ten minutes further in than I thought. Paying attention, I might call out the title track, which grows with repeat listens, but the rest steadfastly refuses to do that, which is surprising given the talent involved and the buzz they're generating. I would call this a decent album but not a special one. If this is your thing, then add a point, but you would need to be a die hard fan to rave about this one.

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