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Surrounded by death…
When BOLT THROWER drummer Martin “Kiddie” Kearns passed in his sleep on September 14th, 2015, the members of Britain’s longest standing death metal band were absolutely bereft. Three weeks after, bassist Frank Healy, of UK death metal legends BENEDICTION, lost his father. All that sorrow left a massive hole in the hearts and minds of the Midlanders. The untimely demise of Kearns forced BOLT THROWER to go on an indefinite hiatus, while Healy was seven years removed from BENEDICTION’s last full-length, »Killing Music«. Key members of both bands needed an out. A way to cope with the emotional hardship. So, vocalist Karl Willetts and Healy teamed up with ex-BOLT THROWER drummer Andy Whale and riff-master Scott Fairfax to form MEMORIAM.
“We needed to move on,” Healy reflects. “To find closure and peace of mind. To express the sadness and get it out in the open. The formation of MEMORIAM and the music we created was the vehicle for me. To get all that emotion laid down is the perfect way to make a permanent tribute to those we loved and lost. It is a happy ending for me as MEMORIAM gave me the outlet to grieve. [To] make something positive from all the sadness.”
“MEMORIAM was born from darkness,” continues Willetts. “For me, it was a choice of sinking deep into a pit of misery and despair, waiting for something to happen. [I had that choice] or to get on with life and try and create something positive from the experience. From the darkness comes light, from the sadness comes joy, from the despair comes hope. This is MEMORIAM.”
While the unwelcome silencing of guns long firing ultimately led to the formation of MEMORIAM, the origin story also has a more prosaic side. For a good 20 years, Healy and Willetts had always dreamed of having a band together. A band that was neither BENEDICTION nor BOLT THROWER, but one that was predicated on the same old-school ideals the two musicians shared. With BOLT THROWER on ice, Willetts was now free to pursue other musical interests. And with BENEDICTION out of the write-record-tour cycle, Healy also had time for new ventures. The problem, however, was finding a drummer. Whale, who had retired from music after BOLT THROWER’s »...For Victory« full-length, was a close friend of Willetts. Convincing the former drummer to pick up sticks again was likely going to be an uphill battle, but after a pint or two at a local Birmingham bar, Whale agreed to join his age-old friends in MEMORIAM. The trio originally had settled on playing covers of their favorite songs by bands that inspired them. The cover band concept was scuttled, however, in favor of a full band, with Fairfax -who literally had a bunker full of riffs and had also performed as a session guitarist for BENEDICTION - on guitar, composing originals.
“I just wanted to have some fun and enjoy playing music with some old friends,” grins Willetts. “We have definitely achieved that -rehearsals are the highlight of the week and we have a great laugh doing it. There is a real strong bond between us and a great sense of camaraderie. The original intention really did not go any further than that. We came up with some songs that we wanted to do some cover versions of - some of which we still haven’t got around to doing! But within just a few days of the idea of doing a band together the idea of cover versions took a back seat as we started to develop our own songs using the vast collection of ideas that Scott has stored on his hard drive!”
“I think the main thing that separates us [from BENEDICTION and BOLT THROWER] is the guitar style and sound,” Healy says. “And the actual song structures. The three of us go back to the early days of the [death metal] genre, but Scott is from the later part of the death metal scene, and his playing is a bit more technical. This, in turn, has created what has become our sound because three of us are pretty happily set in our ways in the old death metal style we like to play. Mixing that in on Scott’s songs makes for a very heavy but interesting sound.”
War rages on…
From the moment MEMORIAM became a reality - the official announcement was in March 2016 - the newly formed quartet were ready for action. It only took six months for the two-song »The Hellfire Demos« to hit wax. Replete with a Paul McHale (of »In Battle There Is No Law« fame) cover and a raging Hellfire Studios production, MEMORIAM’s introduction to the world -in the form of 'War Rages On' and 'Resistance' - was remarkably powerful and willfully savage. The songs, even after a few months of jamming, came hard and fast.
“Back in the day, songs tended to be developed from a riff written at home and then played at rehearsal and then recorded onto a cassette tape,” Willetts recalls. “Songs were written in their entirety at rehearsals. Things are very different now. The way the songs have come together for MEMORIAM is a real fast process. It generally starts with a riff that Scott develops at home, he then fires it over to us on MP3 and we check it out. Frank usually comes up with the linking bridge sections. Also, the starts and ends of the songs. At this stage we decide on a song title and from that the first draft of lyrics flow. We all are actively involved in the construction of a song from the beginning, which is great!”
With »The Hellfire Demos« 7” garnering rave reviews among fans and critics alike, it wasn’t long before MEMORIAM had inked an exclusive deal with German metal giant Nuclear Blast. The label was quick to welcome MEMORIAM to the fold, with CEO Markus Staiger offering the Brits a deal after digging the pedigree of the band and their music, specifically 'War Rages On' and 'Resistance'. Opposite of the label, the group were also keen on Nuclear Blast based on reputation and roster alone. Healy had spent his entire career with BENEDICTION on the label, so if any label had the renown to secure the signatures of English death metal royalty, it was Nuclear Blast. So, when representatives reached out, the members of MEMORIAM were eager to sign on the dotted line.
“Amongst all the labels out there, none have a better relationship with the bands on their roster,” says Healy. “None communicate better with both the bands and the fans of the music. None care as much about the music and the scene as Nuclear Blast.”
“Following the first news regarding the band, I have been keeping a close eye on them and was very curious to hear their material,” Staiger adds. “After hearing their first demo songs I was completely sold. [I] knew that I had to get in contact with Frank and Karl to seal the deal. With bands like MEMORIAM, Nuclear Blast remains the number #1 in extreme metal!”
Now that the deal was signed, it was time to follow-up »The Hellfire Demos« with a proper full-length.
Fairfax’s bottomless well of riffs proved to be a good starting point. As with 'War Rages On' and 'Resistance', the songs started with a Fairfax skeleton or nearly realized framework, from which Healy would re-tool various parts to form a legit MEMORIAM tune. Then, Whale would add his percussive flair and Willetts the vocal cadence and lyrics. The group were so inspired they wrote eight songs in 10 months, each song averaging over 5 minutes.
“We tend not to dwell on a song for too long,” reveals Healy. “We like the immediacy of an idea. Sometimes, when you mess with a song for too long you can dilute it and it loses its power and feel. We get bored quite quickly as a band and we are always pushing forward onto something new all the time.”
“The songs kind of developed organically,” Willetts adds. “We are all quite experienced at songwriting, so I think that this helps speed up the process. We definitely have the fire back and the creative juices are flowing among us all. We are already in the process of putting some ideas together for the next album!”
Reduced to zero…
The breathless pace at which MEMORIAM moved shocked not only fans and the press, but also the band. In the time it takes Lars Ulrich to tune his snare drum, MEMORIAM had written and released »The Hellfire Demos« 7”, set up the group’s webpage [www.memoriam.uk.com], started their merchandise company, played four big-league European festivals, signed a deal, and recorded the »For the Fallen« full-length. Few bands in memory have started with less and achieved more than MEMORIAM in the abbreviated time they’ve been at it.
“Personally, I am very surprised with the speed that things have happened for us,” laughs Healy. “We originally started this band just for the joy of doing music together. We have all been friends for decades. It was going to be a band just doing covers of songs from back in the early days that we liked and thought maybe we’d do a few club shows. Then, Scott ruined that idea by coming in and saying, ‘I’ve got this riff. Can we make a song from it?’ We’ve not really had any time to sit back and take in how much has been achieved and how fast it has come together.”
The crown jewel of MEMORIAM’s achievement is, of course, debut album, »For The Fallen«. Recorded over two weeks at Hellfire Studios with producer Ajeet Gill, »For The Fallen« has a massive yet underground sound - somewhere between yet beyond »Transcend The Rubicon« and »The IVth Crusade«. It’s the kind of full-length that’s a rarity today. From ripping opener in 'War Rages On' to midway killer 'Flatline' to the epic closer 'Last Words', »For The Fallen« has a classic yet contemporary sound. While fans and critics can appreciate the end results, getting it right took four weeks of mixing and re-mixing.
“It took some time for us to get the final mix exactly how we wanted,” Willetts reveals. “We had a specific sound that we had in mind and it was difficult to translate that idea into the final mix. But we got there in the end. I think that as we have all been around for some time and knew exactly what we wanted from the album it took us a bit longer than we anticipated to achieve this, but we are really pleased with the final product and the hard work that we all put into its creation has really paid off.”
If MEMORIAM’s first mostly pivots to attack mode, then conceptually and lyrically it centers on the unfortunate effects of what happens after, whether it’s the pain and sorrow of losing close friends and family or touching upon war and how it has and will continue to shape humanity. The title »For The Fallen«, for example, is a tribute to the lost. The song 'Reduced To Zero' is an observation on the sad state of our world today. 'Last Words', featuring Lynda “Tam” Simpson (SACRILEGE), is written from the perspective of a soldier in the trenches during WWI just before the call for battle. And 'Surrounded By Death' is, more or less, self-explanatory. Clearly, inspiration wasn’t lost on Willetts during »For The Fallen«’s writing sessions.
“The lyrics build on what I have created in the past,” says Willetts. “However, I feel that the delivery of the lyrics is somewhat different from what I have created in the past and I am proud of that. The experience of losing Martin was the catalyst for all this to happen and forms the constant theme throughout the album. The lyrics come from a place of sorrow and grief yet I feel that they display a joy of life and an acceptance of what has happened. I think Martin would be chuffed to know that I am doing MEMORIAM and still have the desire and the fire in my belly to carry on. His presence is with us within the songs and the lyrics; it feels like the big man is with us still smiling.”
With »For The Fallen« scheduled for a March release through Nuclear Blast, it’s evident MEMORIAM will be kitting up for on-stage assaults in support of the full-length. The Brits have already been confirmed for Blastfest, Dark Easter Metal Meeting, Roadburn, Graspop, and the grand-daddy of all European festivals Wacken. As for what follows, the members of MEMORIAM are taking it day by day. If anything while massive world tours won’t be in the cards, the follow-up full-length to »For The Fallen« is.
“We’ve not really had too much time to think about that side of things really,” Healy states. “In the time we have been a band, we have played numerous festivals, written and recorded two 7” singles, a flexi disc [for Decibel Magazine] and a full album! We may tour later on, but we really do just do things for the moment. Not plan too far ahead. We may not be around tomorrow!”
“We have all been around for a long time!” reminds Willetts. “I think with MEMORIAM we are taking it as it comes and not planning too far into the future - we are enjoying it for what it is. A true celebration of life through death metal!”
© Chris Dick
De la presse:
“Groovy, majestic, crushing and epic. Old school death metal with a fresh touch by the legends of the scene.”
INFERNO (FIN), Tami Hintikka
“If you love BOLT THROWER and old school death metal, this album is a total must have for you! Nuff said.”
METAL HAMMER (PL), Piotr Stypka
“This is a real bomb of an album. It really kicks ass. Old school death metal doesn’t get better than this.”
SCREAM (N), Stig Odegaard
“MEMORIAM? Old school death metal the way it has to be done! No big surprises, but for sure, no bad surprises.”
ROCK HARD (F), Benjamin Baudelot
“Great comeback of the British death metal masters. An amazing old school record, BENEDICTION and BOLT THROWER fans will like it.”
ROCK HARD (IT), Andrea Raffaldini
“BOLT THROWER with some new twists, works as a whole as well as individually song for song. Well-balanced atmosphere/brutality.”
ROCK HARD (D), Andreas Schiffmann
„Definitely must have at home. Without any doubt! Killing!”
SPARK (CZ), Bob Zelenka
“Naturally we hear some trademarks from BOLT THROWER and BENEDICTION, but there’s much more. This outfit dares to go beyond boundaries or expectations, even in more sensitive and thoughtful manners.”
ROCK TRIBUNE (B), Vera Matthijssens
Liste des titres
- War rages on
- Reduced to zero
- Corrupted system
- Surrounded (by death)
- Last words
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