A British super-group with all deserving medals, Memoriam arose from the desire to pay tribute to the fallen death metal warrior Martin Kearns, who left this world on 17 March 2015, at the age of 38. For this noble purpose, legendary names were assembled: ex-Cerebral Fix and current live Benediction axeman Scott Fairfax, long-time Benediction bassist Frank Healy, ex-Bolt Thrower drummer Andrew Whale and the mighty Karl Willets, who needs no introduction, unless your taste in metal doesn’t include death metal. If that’s case, shame on you! But actually… you might find redemption by picking For the Fallen, the first Memoriam LP, and hopefully not their last. For this is a piece of classy Brit death metal that would serve as a good introduction to anyone desiring to explore the classic death metal sound. Truth be told, it’s better than a great deal of those new old school death metal acts that are all the rage nowadays across the globe.
Just peering at the tasty monochromatic Dan Seagrave art on the cover raised my expectations to ungodly levels, and lads, I promise, you won’t be disappointed. Sure, Willets’ voice is not what it used to be, now sounding more like a homicidal pub brawler instead of a homicidal armoured abomination, but the guy’s in his fifties growling like there’s no tomorrow, and he’s remains instantly recognizable, which is something all modern toady über-brutal slam death metal frontmen can’t brag about. I’ll take a death metal singer with personality over generic brutality any day, and besides, Mr Willets’ clear (for death metal) intonation makes you understand the lyrics perfectly. The rest of the ensemble cast are tip-top as well. Mr Fairfax’s guitars are not overtly dirty, but carry enough distortion to translate into a compelling sound. Of course, that would be almost useless if the riffs were bland, but clearly that’s not the case. Scott employs a variety of techniques from the rich spectrum of death metal music; simple, serrated deathrash riffs, slow and crushing doomier riffs, muscular tremolos, or some more complex arrangements, among others. The solos are usually short and kept simple, but they help add to that variety.
The rhythmic section remains firmly rooted in the old school approach, and virtually no blast-beats are employed. Andy Whale prefers to keep steady and powerful beats ranging from slow to arguably fast, but mostly mid-tempo, sometimes going fill-happy or firing rounds of pummelling double bass to bolster the meaty guitars and throbbing bass guitar. Speaking of Mr Healy’s instrument, it is the least discernible and stellar of them all, but strong enough to be appreciated. Content to provide the solid backbone for this death metal beast, he doesn’t ventures outside of its part. The band does sounds as a fearless unit marching into combat as a whole, with a natural cohesion to them which makes one think Memoriam has been playing and composing together for decades… something not entirely untrue, though. No musician overpowers another, which along with the production’s excellent muscular tone and balanced mix propels this record to above-average levels of quality.
I did, however, found that I prefer some tunes to others. The short, namesake opening-track has heartfelt lyrics, but the music didn’t produce instant amazement in me upon first listening. But track number two did, a more aggressive composition that wouldn’t be out of place in Bolt Thrower’s …For Victory. “War Rages On” is my favourite song from among the first five of For the Fallen, but in my opinion the album closes with its strongest material. “Surrounded by Death” and “Resistance” are two violent and dynamic under four-minute tunes, the first one charges like a tank speeding at full power for the kill, while the second is a groovier crusher that displays some tempo changes and an amazing intertwining of fast drum fills and guitar tapping patterns. One would say I’m predisposed for the shorter, more direct cuts, but in reality the solemn and towering eight-minute closer, “Last Words”, is my favourite track. It is the most atmospheric of the bunch, but it isn’t without some more active and belligerent moments too.
Though the old school metal fan will fancy this more than the modern tech death or slam death fan, I foresee For the Fallen will probably be among this years top 10 death metal releases by 2017’s end, and I state that with enough confidence even though it’s only April. Quite an Easter egg this one… more like a hand grenade exploding into your face! The equilibrium between being a soulful tribute and a warring and well-greased mean machine has yielded good results for Memoriam, and I do hope it encourages them to carry on and produce more, as they have proven again they remain more than capable and relevant in today’s death metal battlefield. I’m also sure the late “Kiddy” Kearns proudly gives the horns in metal’s netherworld’s hall of fallen comrades as he listens to this amazing album.
2. War Rages On
3. Reduced to Zero
4. Corrupted System
6. Surrounded (By Death)
8. Last Words
Karl Willets – Vocals
Frank Healy – Bass
Scott Fairfax – Guitar
Andy Whale – Drums