…So, it’s finally arrived. I honestly can’t remember quite when I last looked forwards to an album this much. As a huge Bolt Thrower fan, I was left feeling pretty low when the war-obsessed crew decided to call it a day following the tragic death of Martin Kearns last year. For any readers who may be currently living in a cave, Memoriam are a “super-group” of sorts, especially for those of us who have a definite love of all old-school, grinding death metal. Featuring the phenomenal vocal talents of Karl Willets (Bolt Thrower), unmistakable drumming skills of Andy Whale (ex-Bolt Thrower), the bass bad-assery of Frank Healy (Benediction) and Scott Fairfax on guitar (ex-Cerebral Fix, Exploder). With my own anticipation at fever pitch, would “For the Fallen” meet my expectations?
In a single word, “yes”.
In rather more words, “For the Fallen” is a tremendous debut album. It has a certain familiarity that comes in no small part from the heritage of the band, but enough fresh-spin on matters to prevent this being some second rate pastiche. In huge portions, this is more old school than Will Hay, but manages to keep things interesting by daring to try new things with old ingredients. Opener “Memoriam” is the perfect example: the guitar tone and drums are from the Bolt Thrower playbook, with Willet’s veteran roar coming only towards the end of the track, while the chugging bass of Healy effectively pins the track in place. Yet alongside the familiar ‘Thrower-isms lurks a hefty dollop of slow-to-mid tempo doom metal.
“War Rages On”, which was featured on the Hellfire Demos from last year begins things proper, and it’s a raging track from start to finish, Chamberlain sample and all. Whether from the rather more punk side to extreme metal that Healy brings to the table, there’s an injection of punky spikiness throughout, including here. When Andy Whale gets into one of those trademark grooves, there really isn’t anyone who can compare, and that’s the sound of “War Rages On”: like being run over by the tanks in “Kelly’s Heroes”. The ferocious groove that kicks in at around the 2:30 stage are likely to make any pit erupt.
“”Reduced to Zero” sits at over six minutes long, but feels only half that length, due to the inventive, lurching riffing. Again, while this is a brilliant album track, there are sections that will absolutely slay in the live setting, with huge bass work on slowed down, grimace-inducing passages.
“Corrupted System” comes on like the track that The Rotted never quite got round to recording, being a ferocious slash of punk-death that bursts out of the speakers like a rabid dog. It owes as much to old Discharge or GBH as it does to a death metal heritage, but it’s none the worse for that. With lyrics like “realise you cannot win” clearly above the fury, it’s very much a song that seems written for these times.
“Flatline” is my personal favourite on the track, and the most doom laden. From the first riff, this is a serious track, with a very melancholy feel to it. If some of the war-obsessed work of Bolt Thrower occasionally slipped into “Battle Action comic for boys” territory, then “Flatline” is the deadly serious end of the spectrum. The stop / start musicality punctuates the jagged edges of the sound.
“Surrounded by Death” is perhaps the most likely to sound like it came from a vintage Bolt Thrower album, with that trademark mid-tempo chug and a playing time of around 3 minutes long. It’s a classic rager though, and if the worst thing that can be said about a track is “it sounds a hell of a lot like a Bolt Thrower number”, then I reckon that’s not a bad shout!
“Resistance” sounds absolutely massive now, much improved from the demo. The rather sad lament even more clearly delivered, with Karl’s vocals being perhaps a career highlight on this album. He’s never sounded so clear, and yet lost none of his power. There’s a heap of experience in his vocal delivery, and that comes across so well in this track. Aspiring death metal vocalists could do worse than to spend some time listening to how an old master delivers lines with aplomb here.
Finally, the aptly-titled “Last Words” ring out, and boy is this a brilliant way to end an album. An eight minute plus epic, this distills all that is brilliant about the album in one track. With a weight and heft that’s seemingly so dense it generates its own gravity, this song absolutely crushes. It’s veteran death metal played with – if not the exact technical construction – then the absolute spirit and feeling of gnarly doom metal. This isn’t some kind of lace-hanky doom-death, but rather death metal done in a slightly be-doomed way. It’s fantastic stuff – and when the guitar melodies kick in around the pre-chorus, it’s rousing stuff.
As you might expect from a Nuclear Blast recording, the production is top notch, with plenty of the modern punch without sacrificing any of the power or grit that gentlemen this angry deserve. An album with plenty to say, the lyrics are worth checking out (for once on a death metal album), with some wry commentary on contemporary life. In all, “For the Fallen” was all that I might have hoped for. It even delivered some more.
(9/10 Chris Davison)