Bolt Thrower. Memoriam finally sounds like a proper facsimile of English death metal legends Bolt Thrower and though this achievement was inevitable, the slog of their first two full-lengths was unquestionably less than satisfactory for that long-term fandom. Respect and love to influential legends is due but the scratched out, modestly budgeted and poorly voiced ‘For the Fallen’ (2017) was a bit of a turd despite its glossy packaging. Cheap production was probably the worst of it but the pretense of the whole project was stated very much as a tribute and continuation of Bolt Thrower after they’d officially called it quits back in 2016; In no way did the material live up to its intention. Karl Willets was essentially the face of Bolt Thrower (excepting ‘Honour – Valour – Pride’) despite having next to no involvement in the songwriting process and there was rightfully some harsh scrutiny aimed at Memoriam‘s shoddy big-label debut and its too-soon follow up ‘The Silent Vigil’ (2018) simply because ‘Those Once Loyal’ was a high bar yet unmet. Willets‘ vocals were a fraction of their previous intensity and the riffs were even less interesting than all of the mediocre Scandinavian and Dutch Bolt Thrower clones we’ve gotten in the years since 2005. Is it fair to hold a new band to such a high standard? No, but it wasn’t the fandom that’d set expectations high but Memoriam themselves and in no way had they lived up to the hype. The next step was paved for the band well before ‘Requiem for Mankind’ was even written: Write a heavy death metal album and produce it well, basically sound like fuckin’ Bolt Thrower for their thirsty-assed fans or get lost. So, they did, and to nobody’s surprise ‘Requiem For Mankind’ is a pretty good album.
Getting out of dodge, in this case the inexperienced Hellfire Studios, for production, mix, and mastering was the absolute best choice for the band after the complete embarrassment that was ‘The Silent Vigil’. The jump to Russ Russell at Parlour Studios along with much more detailed guitar compositions that take full advantage of a two guitarist setup help to make ‘Requiem For Mankind’ easily one of the best sounding Bolt Thrower-esque albums of the last decade. So, we’re there, Memoriam sounds like the post-1994 era of Bolt Thrower with a few songs that recall ‘War Master’ here and there. In truth all Memoriam have done is add extra guitar layers, a better drum sound, and Willet‘s vocals are no longer flaccid enough to be backup for a Godflesh reunion. The songwriting is where the band aren’t necessarily firing on all cylinders yet but, it is an improvement. Much like Russell‘s glossy render of the bland At the Gates throwback, ‘To Drink from the Night Itself’, last year the creative wells seem to be the cause of mediocre results and it really didn’t solely boil down to getting the right sound. Touché, I suppose. If the sentiment from Bolt Thrower back in 2008 was that they’d never follow up ‘Those Once Loyal’ with an inferior product then I guess reason still stands that a resurrection comes with a hundred pitfalls, many of which Memoriam stumble upon.
Sure, choke on that haughty and dismissive language all you want but at the end of the day you’re still going to like this album the first time you put it on. It sounds like Bolt Thrower. In fact it sounds great and the guitar work is a major point of interest throughout; Even its most plodding, dull rhythm sections do well to represent a major characteristic of ’94-’01 Bolt Thrower. Did I mention ‘Requiem for Mankind’ sounds like Bolt Thrower? Therein lies my own personal issue with this type of iteration with small improvements made, even a big change in sound doesn’t remedy the core blandness of directly emulating a band that put out eight very different records in the span of nearly 30 years. It is a generalist statement by default, a tribute and a product of nostalgia and feigned legacy. In the most plain terms, it was mediocre before the first riff was written. Hell, that is just fine in my book, even the most mediocre death metal has a lot to offer in some context, but I’d rather call it like it is.
For all of that labyrinthine reasoning and devilish advocacy I’ve still bought and spent many hours listening to ‘Requiem for Mankind’ because it is a good listen. Think of it like adopting a breed of dog that might only live 5-6 years, sure it’s a bit heartbreaking but you appreciate the champ all the more while they’re still kicking. Memoriam are surely still kicking and again, they’ve so beautifully nailed the guitar sound and intricacies here well beyond the level of groups like Gatecreeper, Just Before Dawn, Decaying, Hail of Bullets, Genocide Pact and a hundred more ‘modern’ death metal bands jonesing for the Bolt Thrower sound but completely missing the mark on the lead guitars or the hardcore punk influence for that matter. Andrew Whale is a fantastic drummer and I believe a main songwriter here who really didn’t get a fair deal in terms of his sound on those last two records, ‘Requiem for Mankind’ makes up for this in spades. The only thing that still bugs me a bit about this release after I’m done wind-bagging about it is the bass tone, which feels entirely suffocated and needing just a bit more of a percussive tone or presence to really keep those plodding sections pushing along. It might be average as hell in many respects but I did fully enjoy my time with Memoriam‘s latest and I’m glad I’d given it a chance after despising the prior album. Moderately high recommendation. For preview I’d suggest “Refuse to be Lead” to lock in those leads right off the bat, then jump over to the title track for some of the best riffs on the record. Alternately the pairing of “Shell Shock” and “Undefeated” work entirely as intended as powerful, compelling openers that showcase Memoriam‘s huge new sound.
Decline to obey, refuse to comply. 3.75/5.0
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