The past leads us around the corner to the secret door of the future. Carved in stone and singular like the moon, it opens up to the roots of the tree of wisdom. It is here that U.K. old-school death metal band Memoriam pick their fruit—and it is a ripened fruit, with an organic and raw taste capable of purifying the soul.
The band—led by legendary Bolt Thrower vocalist Karl Willetts—unleash their second full-length, The Silent Vigil, March 23 via Nuclear Blast.
For Willetts, forming the group was both a chance to keep moving and a chance to honor his friend, late Bolt Thrower drummer Martin Kearns.
“The original intention of Memoriam was really simply to try to create some joy in our lives,” he explains. “We had all been through a pretty rough time in 2015. With the loss of Martin, the whole world was kind of put on hold. We didn’t really know what was happening with Bolt Thrower, and I just didn’t want to do nothing, because, you know, my life revolves around being a musician and being in a band and playing gigs and that sort of thing. So, I thought, what can I do to get out of this downward spiral, this dark hall I was in? Well, let’s do something new, something fresh, with some people I really want to worth with.”
It started with the idea of working with an old friend: Bolt Thrower’s first drummer, Andrew Whale. The two had drifted apart over the years, and Willetts knew it was time for a reunion.
“I had some unfinished business with Whale,” he explains. “You know, he was the main reason I joined Bolt Thrower back in the day. He was a very close friend, and we both left Bolt Thrower after a pretty disastrous American tour in the mid ‘90s. I eventually rejoined, and he never did—and, to some extent, I always felt maybe a small amount of guilt about that.”
Memoriam are chock-full of an intricate and connected inner-tissue. They’re a group with a pure and noble dedication: memoriam to not only former friends and bandmates but to the music that birthed a movement. And you can feel it. Old-school death metal is a musical form that has stood the test of time, and it’s because of the inner-structure of the form. The original inventors of death metal were inspired by their local punk, hardcore, and grind scenes: movements that had an enormous amount of vitality and vision. Originally, Willetts wanted Memoriam to be a band who paid tribute to that. It didn’t exactly go as planned.
“I thought, ‘Let’s get together, let’s grind out the songs that were inspirational to us in our 20s,” he says. “You know, punk, anarcho-crust stuff like Discharge, Crass, Antisect, and Sacrilege, of course. So, that was the idea; however, it didn’t actually get beyond the idea phase, because in our inaugural meeting, before we ever got into the studio, out guitarist Scott [Fairfax] ruined it all by suggesting that we have a listen to some of his riffs he’d been working on.”
The Silent Vigil is a beast of a record, with apexes and truths bold and lengthy. The feel is that of earthy thrash and cavernous death metal with production that harks back to the simpler, rawer, and clearer style of the ‘80s, when punk and hardcore could still be felt.
Memoriam are a tribute to so many things and so many people that you’d need to write a novel to explore each chapter. Listening to the new record will get you close, though, and the band aren’t nearly finished yet.
“I think the new album is very much a transitional phase of what we’re doing,” Willetts notes. “It’s the next phase of the grieving process. I think there’s a lot more anger involved in this album, a bit more outpouring of emotion, aggression, and questioning—which is a phase you get to before you reach acceptance.”