It was quite a thing for Memoriam, comprised of course of members and ex-members of British Death Metal royalty, Bolt Thrower and Benediction, to have produced their excellent debut album, “For the Fallen” back in 2017, less than a year after they’d formed. It’s probably nothing less than miraculous, therefore, that they’ve produced this, their second record just a year after that. Of course, back in the “hey day” of heavy metal releases, it wasn’t unheard of for bands to release albums in successive years, but the modern way of recording, releasing and then touring cycles means that these days, I wouldn’t have expected “The Silent Vigil” until next year at the earliest. The question nagging at my mind, therefore, was “has this short period of time meant a dip in quality?”.
Well, first thing’s first: “The Silent Vigil” is the logical successor to its predecessor. If you’ve heard that album, (and really, if you haven’t, what were you playing at?), then you’ll have a handle on the basics of this one. It’s an unashamed old school death metal album, that does more than nod at the bands that sired them. Returning is the old melancholic, mid-tempo feel, which is exemplified on the title track, the kind of maudlin stomper that typified early to mid-nineties death metal tracks. Likewise, the uncanny knack for locking onto ferocious grooves, as with album opener “Soulless Parasite” is present, with simple but effective riffs being wrung for all their worth.
One of the singles from the album, “Bleed the Same”, is a real highlight of the album, a crawling, almost doom metal take on the basic Memoriam Formula, but with some real twists and turns; witness the Celtic Frost meets Discharge outro section, with the addition of tasteful samples pushing the message of equality. Lyrically, Memoriam pose questions rather than preach throughout the length of “The Silent Vigil”, and the lyrics are delivered with great clarity by the hoarse rasping vocals of Karl Willets, who expresses his voice in the most decipherable tones of his career.
Sadly, not quite everything is in order. While the songs are excellently written and put together, and as hook laden as the early Hellraiser films, the production really lets the side down to my ears. I’ve been listening to it over both a fairly expensive stereo set up, as well as on high bitrate MP3 in my car and headphones for the last couple of weeks. There’s a definite issue with the production. Firstly, the drums sound really flat; this is a huge blow for a band that features a drummer as talented as Andy Whale. I really enjoy Scott Fairfax’s riffs; he’s got a great balance between oldschool punk and death metal stylings, but sadly, they’re most drowned out by the almost absurd mismatch in volume between the guitars and the bass here. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Frank Healey’s burbling four string antics, it’s just that they’re so damned out of kilter with the rest of the mix here.
All of which really brings me to a conundrum. “The Silent Vigil” has a host of excellent songs, and features some of my favourite musicians of all time. It’s got tracks that are memorable, but the production really does its best to ruin the experience. I suspect that this is the kind of album that’s dying out for a remaster at some point in the future, with a better drum sound and (much) clearer guitars. It’s still a good release, but – boy – could it have been much better sounding. As it is, it’s a good album, but it could have been great.
(7.5/10 Chris Davison)