Memoriam – Rise to Power

*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #22 of the SBR Album of the Week.

Is there a more productive band in metal than Memoriam? Formed in 2016 by Karl Willetts of Bolt Thrower as a tribute to his late bandmate, Martin Kearns (1977-2015), the Birmingham quartet are now on their fifth album in seven years, and that’s including two years of Covid-19 inertia. There’s a good chance you glazed over their first four records, writing them off as a death metal supergroup formed for nostalgic reasons and propped up by Nuclear Blast. But that would be a grave error. In guitarist, Scott Fairfax (Massacre), Memoriam have the six-stringer who can keep the Bolt Thrower spirit alive while evolving the distinctive English death metal sound of the West Midlands for the 2020s. Rise to Power is the sound of a band in the golden caress of a creative peak.

If you could field one criticism at Bolt Thrower, it would be their tendency to stick to the narrow confines of the low-end spectrum with little deviation. Not so with Memoriam, whom we should see as a successor to Karl Willett’s influential group in the same way Tom G. Warrior wants you to view Triptykon as a continuation of Celtic Frost. Opener, ‘Never Forget, Never Again (6 Million Dead)’, needs no explanation for its message. The eulogising mid-register guitar patterns are the tasteful way to introduce a song of such sensitivity, just as the adrenaline-spike of the scything tremolo riff for the first verse is the correct way to express disgust at the twentieth century’s most shameful atrocity. Of course, it sounds like Bolt Thrower and BenedictionFrank Healy is a veteran of the latter group and handles the bass duties with great skill. The guitar tone here is chunky and expressive. Karl Willetts never sounded as primed as this on any Bolt Thrower record. Listen to the vitriolic snarl of his words as they leave his mouth in an animated guttural rasp.

Fairfax is the lord of combat (where have we heard that before in English history?) on Rise to Power. The hyper-violent syncopation of ‘Total War’ raises a silly question – do you want to thrash along to a bone-crushing song that starts with a roar of “War! Total War!”? On this track, the colour palette avoids the drudgery of black and grey and introduces blue and green timbres into the arrangements. ‘I Am the Enemy’ is like a retrospective of England’s finest metal bands of the last thirty years. The intro could be from the last Paradise Lost album until the alternate-picked tremolo riffs kicks in and Memoriam get into gear with the imperious ease of a Jaguar. You’ll feel like you’re in the crowd absorbing the clarity of the drums and the churn of the bass underneath Scott Fairfax’s infectious rhythms. This is an album that venerates the majesty of the guitar riff. Apparently, Fairfax has enough material written for another six albums. How does he do it?

There is nothing stale or monotonous about this album. Listen to the way Frank Healy sketches out the main guitar rhythm with his bassline at the beginning of ‘The Conflict Within’. Marvel how punk legend, Spikey T. Smith, allows Fairfax to navigate between the mournful melody of verse one to the brutal crunch of death metal in verse two with an extended drum fill. The audio engineering is superb. Every instrument throbs in the mix with a collective desire to form the unbreakable ranks of a united front. Willetts has a spike to his voice on ‘All in Lost’ that he never used to have. You can think of this as a death metal interpretation of Godflesh with the might of Prong. ‘Rise to Power’ shows that the band pay attention to the current generation of metal innovators with a surprise nod to Gojira in the middle eight.

How many death metal albums lack urgency these days? Not this one. ‘Annihilation’s Dawn’ wants to rip through your speakers and shake you out of your slumber as you sail through life blind to the atrocities carried out every day against helpless people in faraway countries. The interplay between guitar and drums in the first fifty seconds explores a tech death scale pattern but holds back from a regular beat until Smith steps on the double-kick pedal to launch the main death-thrash attack – wow! Can you imagine if Metallica could still write songs like this? Is that not the spirit of Chuck Schuldiner working the guitar neck?

Memoriam are more than a Bolt Thrower tribute. Most of you already know this, but those that had doubts should think again after one listen to this pummelling piece of rhythmic death metal. This is the sound of the West Midlands reminding you that Birmingham is the true home of heavy metal.



Release Date: 03/02/2023

Record Label: Reaper Entertainment

Standout tracks: Never Forget, Never Again (6 Million Dead); I Am the Enemy; Annihilation’s Dawn

Suggested Further Listening: Bolt Thrower – Honour Valour Pride (2001), Napalm Death – Harmony Corruption (1990), Massacre – Resurgence (2021)