Album Title: For The Fallen
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Date Of Release: 24 March 2017
Bereavement. We’ve all experienced it in our lives to a greater or lesser extent. Personally, I’ve suffered greatly due to the death of loved ones and, nearly a decade on from the most significant and heart breaking of these, I am still a hollow shell of the person I used to be. But whereas some of us handle these tragedies badly, there are others who use the raw emotions more positively, as a catalyst for change or as inspiration for creativity.
When UK death metal stalwarts Bolt Thrower lost their drummer, Martin Kearns in 2015, the band were understandably beside themselves with grief. However, rather than succumb to negativity and other dark thoughts like some of us weaker mortals have, vocalist Karl Willetts took a different path. Bolt Thrower was put to rest as things just didn’t feel the same any more but to fill some of the void left behind, Willetts was instrumental in the formation of a brand new band.
Three weeks after the death of Kearns, Benediction bassist Frank Healy sadly lost his father. Therefore Willetts and Healy joined forces and out of the immense tragedies, Memoriam was born as a way out, to channel their grief. The duo recruited ex-Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale and guitarist Scott Fairfax to the Memoriam cause and now, in 2017, after an impressive EP, ‘The hellfire Demos’ (2016), we’re faced with their debut album, ‘For The Fallen’.
Immediately, those familiar with Bolt Thrower will realise that Memoriam are cut from a very similar cloth. As a result, what we are treated to with ‘For The Fallen’ is an intense, monolithic slab of brutality and groove, familiar enough to offer Bolt Thrower fans a whiff of nostalgia but with enough of an individual identity to sound fresh and appealing to a wider audience.
For the most part, this album rumbles along at an inexorable mid-tempo from which there is little or no escape. Bulldozing riffs, a bludgeoning rhythm section and those deep vocals from Willetts form the bedrock to the Memoriam sound and I have to say that it is a sound that I am digging an awful lot. In fact, the more I listen, the more enjoyment and satisfaction I glean from ‘For The Fallen’.
As the striking cover artwork more than hints at, the lyrical content primarily deals with war and the way it shapes us as humans, as well as the aftermath from a more human angle, namely dealing with the death of a loved one. I can think of few more fitting themes to entwine within music of this nature.
The opening title track begins in a fashion that vaguely calls to mind the likes of early Paradise Lost thanks to the chosen guitar tone. However, the huge, chunky riff that enters the fray just shy of the minute mark blows those references out of the water. The groove quota on this sub-three-minute blast is insane and impossible to avoid headbanging to. But then the same can be said for the vast majority of the eight tracks on this album; whilst out for a walk with the dog, I must have seemed like a possessed zombie with my head slowly nodding with force, in concert with long loping steps, also measured to be in time to the music.
The voice of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declaring war on Germany ushers in ‘War Rages On’, a powerful introduction to an equally powerful song. After a slow start, the drums drive the composition on in a slightly brisker fashion, complete with blastbeats and fast, aggressive riffs. But then, at the half-way mark, the mother of all mid-tempo grooves hits and hits hard. I can’t help but grin at this point given how infectious it is.
‘Reduced To Zero’ introduces a modicum of depraved melody to proceedings before steamrollering the listener into submission. The churning, roiling riffs and unrelenting power of the drum and bass combination are a thing of malevolent brilliance as is the utterly killer groovy riff that dips in and out of the track to great effect. In fact, I really enjoy the way that there’s a surprising number of twists and turns within the song if you listen carefully enough. If such music could ever be referred to as epic, then this is the piece of music to justify that term.
In an effort to keep us on our toes, ‘Corrupted System’ then clatters onto the scene with the urgency and pace more akin to punk rock or a slightly more measured form of grindcore. It is attitude and aggression channelled the right way but this being Memoriam, something slower and pummelling cannot be far away and so there are slower interludes within the speedier tumult which ultimately unravels at the end into something disquietly dystopian in tone and delivery.
‘Flatline’ then returns to the out-and-out groove and brutality, featuring one of my favourite riffs anywhere on the record. It is a real stomper but so cheeky and addictive, nevertheless remaining heavy as hell and forceful in the extreme. The blast beats that surround it are thunderous and only enhance the overall impact, as does the fabulous grinding beat down that acts as an irresistible outro.
There’s space for a brief guitar solo within the brisk and pulverising ‘Surrounded By Death’, whilst ‘Resistance’ is another great track that, as the title suggests, acts as a song of defiance, introducing a little more speed at points as well as another flamboyant solo.
It is then left to the longest composition on ‘For The Fallen’ to see the album out. ‘Last Words’ begins with a distant-sounding guitar riff that offers a fair amount of melody and which is built on with the introduction of all of the other instruments. It still sounds suitably dark and malevolent but with a slightly more immediate edge to it. Even when things increase in speed and intensity, the over-arching melodic framework remains intact. Scrub what I said earlier in the piece, this is the song that demonstrates that this kind of music can be genuinely epic. And it is the perfect way in my opinion to close the album.
The strength of Karl Willetts and Frank Healy is incredible. They have used Memoriam as a way to channel all of the substantial and gut-wrenching misery they felt into something positive. It puts me to shame in many ways and as such, I really wanted to like ‘For The Fallen’. It may not be the most original of recordings but it is a bona-fide brute of a death metal album and I have grown to love it.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day