Most bands will, in time, reach what can be thought of as the “Motörhead phase” of their career. They’ve recorded several albums, been around for a while, and settled into their sound. Too much variation will lead to them recording something they (or their fans) will be unhappy with, because they feel it’s too far from what they expect the band in question to sound like. So, the bands will come to settle into a comfortable groove of record-release-tour with largely interchangeable albums, distinguished largely by artwork and small details. Maybe this one’s a bit faster on the whole, or that one has an acoustic track, or the latest one has some deeply personal lyrics. But either way, you more or less know what you’re getting. And it’s no inherently bad thing! There’s comfort in the familiar, and hearing old ideas done well can still be fun.
So it is with Memoriam. The band proudly wear the tag of “old school death metal” and stick to it. Theirs is death metal drawn right from Britain in the ’90s, which is little surprise considering the band consists of several former members of English death metal heavyweights Benediction and Bolt Thrower – arguably the two bands who did more than anyone else to define English death metal. A direct line can be traced from albums like Realm Of Chaos and Transcend The Rubicon towards To The End, with the main point that distinguishes Memoriam’s discography from anything recorded in the early days of death metal being the production quality. Which is to say: Memoriam’s Motörhead phase arguably began even with their first record, shows no sign of ending, and is all by design.
The other chief aspect of the Motörhead phase is that you don’t just know how an album will sound, but you know it’s going to be good. Some will be better than others, but such bands will never release an album that’s less than a seven out of ten – quality control is part of what defines the Motörhead phase. That’s also the case with To The End, with the songs slotting in perfectly with those on the previous three albums with only minimal variation from the core template that defines Memoriam’s sound. When the title-track introduces some brief moments of relatively delicate melodies, the effect is profound due in large part to how much they stand out from the rest of the album. Likewise, the penultimate track ‘Mass Psychosis’ opens with a drum beat that is (unintentionally?) remarkably close to Bikini Kill’s ‘Rebel Girl’ before introducing a Godflesh-esque beast of a bassline, which diminishes as the song shifts into more familiar territories. But otherwise? Some songs are faster than others, some are slower, but they’re all built on a core of solid riffs and pounding drums that trace their lineage back to The IVth Crusade and Subconscious Terror and… you get the picture. If you’ve listened to Memoriam before (or Bolt Thrower, or Benediction), then you know what you’re in for.
None of this should be taken as inherent criticism – there is a lot to be said in favour of genre pieces that take their chosen style and do it well, which is what To The End does. It’s arguably the strongest Memoriam album yet. But it’s those small moments on the title-track, and ‘Mass Psychosis’, which hint at another possibility, in which the band spread their wings with their song-writing a bit more and take a few more risks (after all, if we look at the old school death metal revival in the US, bands like Blood Incantation show that you can be old school whilst also being adventurous). The results may not necessarily be what fans want from Memoriam, but it’d be interesting to hear the band expand upon these ideas rather than stay solely in more comfortable sounds. But even if they do, those old school sounds still have a lot going for them and when it comes to British death metal torn from the ’90s, Memoriam are still probably the best band of the style out there.
To The End is out on March 26th via Reaper Entertainment and can be ordered here.
Words: Stuart Wain