REVIEW: MEMORIAM – “The Silent Vigil”
I got a little startled when I heard that Memoriam had another one coming in such a short time-span. The band started its activities in 2016, shortly after longtime Bolt Thrower drummer Martin “Kiddie” Kearns passed away unexpectedly at the young age of 38 in 2015, and wasted no time in delivering some decent material with 3 EP’s and a full-length album in just two years of life.
‘The Silent Vigil’, which comes out via Nuclear Blast on march 23rd, makes me wonder if Karl Willets (vocals, ex-Bolt Thrower) and friends had the materials for the album from the beginning, as it’s actually impressive that the Brits have such energy and creativity to launch this amount of music in so little time. The problem with making this sort of musical rampage, however, is that it’s highly unlikely that you’ll deliver mind-blowing, orgasmic stuff, and chances are you’ll have homogeneous, safe-playing music instead.
I enjoyed ‘For the Fallen’ very much when it came out because it reminded me of Bolt Thrower. Well, it WAS supposed to remind us of the Bolt Thrower-era and of the killer slow, almost Doom-ish, death metal which was so unique. This time around, I feel that ‘The Silent Vigil’ reminds me of a watered-down Memoriam that appears weaker and catatonic at times, making ‘For the Fallen’ (not to mention Bolt Thrower itself) feel like a distant, nostalgic memory.
Opener “Soulless Parasite” is not a great start by any means. The atmosphere and the riffs are bland, and the overall instrumental is really simplistic and mechanic; it actually feels like they’re playing because they have to and just want to get it over with; strange choice for a first track.
“Nothing Remains” gladly lifts the spirits (which was not hard to do after that opener) and picks up the pace. The song has that evil aura that we expect and Andrew Whale steals the show by completely destroying everything in his path with sick turns and powerful smashes in the drumkit. Despite the riffs being annoyingly repetitive – a curse that strikes the entire album, sadly -, the overall experience is highly entertaining.
While the album suffers from being stale and even boring at times, there are plenty of killer passages to go around, like the aforementioned track, the good “Bleed the Same” and the best one here, “As Bridges Burn”. All succeed on being heavy, aggressive, macabre and dense, something not often achieved in the other songs. The homogeneity of the album is once again something to love or hate, as moments when Memoriam leaves the common place and tries to grab the listener by the balls with visceral performances are extremely rare.
I have mixed feelings about the production, as the dynamic range is very inconsistent and not every instrument is given proper attention. There are times when the bass lines are more prominent and the guitars just disappear, moments when Willet’s voice sound numb and distant and moments when I had to lower the headset volume because of how high the sound became. I have no idea if this was deliberate or not, but it gave me cringes.
As far as quality goes, Memoriam has plenty to spare. The members are seasoned veterans of the scene and can break some bones without a sweat, and this is why ‘The Silent Vigil’ is underwhelming to me. The album has the merciless groove and chaotic heaviness we would expect from former Bolt Thrower combatants, and even has some of the depressive heritage from Memoriam’s first album, but as a whole it just feels less powerful than it was meant to be. Bolt Thrower fanatics and fans of the slower death metal approach with plenty of groove will definitely find something for them here, but if Willets, Healy, Fairfax and Whale don’t manage to up their game, they’ll be struggling to be a memorable band in the future.