Album Title: To The End
Label: Reaper Entertainment
Date of Release: 26 March2021
With an impressive regularity that many of my local service providers could learn from, Memoriam return for the fourth time since their inception five years ago, with their latest full-length opus ‘To The End’. I was heartily impressed with their debut, 2017’s ‘For The Fallen’ but less so with the follow-up a year later entitled ‘The Silent Vigil’. So much so that I didn’t even review 2019’s ‘Requiem For Mankind’. However, never one to ever fully write-off a band, and with renewed enthusiasm for music in general currently, I decided to check out ‘To The End’.
I was going to try ever so hard to not reference the iconic Bolt Thrower within this review but I soon realised the futility of this endeavour. At the end of the day, the similarities are too obvious and to not mention the UK death metal institution would be to deny the very foundations upon which Memoriam sit. After all, Memoriam was co-founded by Karl Willetts, the very voice of Bolt Thrower following the death of drummer Martin Kearns.
Five years on and Memoriam are still going strong. The nucleus of the band remains intact with now ex-Benediction bassist Frank Healy and guitarist Scott Fairfax present and correct. The only change to the personnel has been in the drum department, with ex-Bolt Thrower sticksman replaced last year by Spike T. Smith.
The great news too, is that ‘To The End’ has had a much more positive impact on me than ‘The Silent Vigil’ did, meaning that I’m thoroughly enjoying this record. Don’t judge me, but I am finding it hugely rewarding being flattened by some seriously heavy death metal riffs, the kind of monolithic brutality that, when done right, can speak to that primeval part of your brain and fill you with a perverse joy. That’s what I’m getting from ‘To The End’ and it’s great.
However, unless I am very much mistaken, the material on ‘To The End’ offers a greater amount of variety to the listener. Ok, so don’t expect anything completely leftfield to emerge from the nine tracks on the record. However, what you can expect is a greater variation of speed and tempo, from slow, molten doom-laden death metal to songs that offer greater pace and aggression. There’s also more subtlety at times as well as a smattering of understated melody to enhance the memorability of the material. It all works really well and allows me to venture that this might be my favourite album to date from Memoriam. I certainly can’t remember ever being this enthusiastic when pressing play on a Memoriam album, that’s for sure.
Album four kicks off with ‘Onwards Into Battle’, not to be confused by the similarly-named Katatonia song. Mind you, within a few seconds, any potential for confusion is expunged as the sound of an aeroplane flying overhead signals the arrival of those trademark heavy guitars from Scott Fairfax alongside a bludgeoning rhythm section. Immediately, there’s a mid-tempo groove to invoke a sinister grin on my face, and then the savage, gruff vitriol of Willetts enters the fray. The song is strangely catchy, whilst the chugging riffs and pounding drumming that emerge are wonderfully brutal.
To highlight my comment about variety, ‘This War Is Won’ ramps up the pace significantly and the blood pressure in the process. There are plenty of gargantuan riffs to be heard, but the greater speed cannot be missed, as it comes with greater attitude, greater aggression and a slightly more organic feel, especially when Frank Healy’s dirty, rumbling bass guitar cuts through at points.
The strangely haunting, quasi-melodic lead guitar notes give ‘No Effect’ a more instantaneous effect and the track quickly becomes one of my personal favourites. It also helps that the whole song slays, but the injection of melody after the halfway point is inspired as it helps to create a more epic, memorable feel altogether. That said, the politically-charged ‘Failure To Comply’ also offers more in the way of catchiness, with a great, powerful chorus around which some heavyweight butchery is unleashed, with a vaguely punk-like attitude and spikiness.
Speaking of melody though, not necessarily the first word that springs to mind when thinking about Memoriam, you cannot ignore the utterly magnificent finale, ‘As My Heart Grows Cold’. From the outset, there’s something a little different about the song, as atmosphere comes much more to the fore as a melodic riff kicks things off. Do I hear a little Paradise Lost in there somewhere? It is still heavy as a really heavy thing, with punishing drumming, enormous riffs and Willetts’ unfriendly vocals. There’s even a foray into near-black metal territory somewhere in the middle as the bulldozer riffs are replaced momentarily by more of a fast-picked delivery. I also love the more vibrant, expansive drum fills from Spike T. Smith towards the end; they are delightful. But it is the dark, miserable but oh so gorgeous central melody that steals the show for me, making it easily my favourite song on the record and the best song that Memoriam have ever penned.
Elsewhere, ‘Each Step (One Closer To The Grave)’ revels in the kind of inexorable, lumbering doom-infused death metal that Memoriam are so good at, whilst ‘Mass Psychosis’ impresses greatly with its hypnotic groove coupled with undeniable heaviness.
Despite the increased variety and greater potential for failure that this brings, I have to conclude that ‘To The End’ feels like the most consistent and cohesive Memoriam album to date. It still delivers all the bludgeoning heaviness that you could ever want, but it does so in a more enjoyable and interesting way than ever before. I love the increased melody, as it adds greater enjoyment whilst never sacrificing the extremity of the music one iota. If you weren’t much of a fan of Memoriam before, it is unlikely that this record will do much to change your opinion. However, if you are a fan, or were a fan previously, then ‘To The End’ is the album that you wanted to hear from Memoriam. Simple as that.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: