Album Review: MEMORIAM The Silent Vigil
There is something to be said for experience and longevity. If you, as a death metal musician, have survived decades upon decades in this completely unforgiving sub-genre of metal, well, you have earned the kind of respect reserved for the heroes and legends in such acts as Judas Priest, Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Sabbath. I mean, keep in mind, this is without taking into account the brutality of the music business over the last two decades. Put these two things together—death metal and a viability-less industry—and you have basically survived what amounts to thermonuclear warfare on a musical scale, and you've done it all with a smile. Wow.
With that in mind, let's talk about the UK's Memoriam. Conceived as a tribute to late Bolt Thrower drummer Martin "Kiddie" Kearns, this foursome of British death metal legends released their debut full-length, For The Fallen, to near-unanimous love. It was an album chock-full of stylistic similarities to Benediction, Cerebral Fix and, of course, the aforementioned kings of all, Bolt Thrower. It's a booming, war-inducing ode to all things mid-to-slow paced. It was, and still is, a no-frills excursion into old-school death metal—delivered with a slight nod to UK punk and crust.
Most notably, this beast was about as memorable as your first romp in the hay with your high-school sweetheart. Each and every track etches unforgettable extremelodies (yep, I just made that word up) into the temporal lobe, to be recalled later with lustful exuberance. I liken this album to my first taste of Bolt Thrower; a trip way back to '91 with their ground-breaking album, War Master. Like that album before it, the debut from Memoriam proved, as it has time and time again, how vitally important UK death metal is in the realm of extreme music. It confirmed that, yes, death metal is here to stay… always and forever.
So, here we are, one year later, graced once again with Memoriam music, this time fashioned into their second effort, The Silent Vigil. Like its namesake, there exists a somewhat reticent tone when compared to that of For The Fallen. Upon first listen, it is immediately apparent that the entire affair is far more guitar driven, with less emphasis on bottom end – at least as far as the production is concerned. Gone are the booming, earthquake-inducing dynamics found on the debut. For context, if we were to apply each album to a particular war, Memoriam's debut would be the soundtrack to WWIII—a war likely to be fought entirely with nuclear-tipped missiles—quick and absolutely decisive.
On the other hand, The Silent Vigil would be the soundtrack to WWII – dirty, gritty, painfully-brutal trench warfare. This thing is nasty. It's visceral. It's gloomy. And, just like pesky war-time plagues such as yellow fever, cholera, influenza, and typhus, it is absolutely, resoundingly infectious. In fact, I came away from it not sure of what I had just experienced. It begs questions: did I actually enjoy that? Do I want more? After some deliberation and successive spins, the answer was a resounding YES. I want more!
There are those out there who have aired grievances as it relates to frontman Karl Willets' vocal performance. The consensus is that he has lost the plot. A cursory listen might lead you to believe this. Indeed, the vocals, upon first listen, are certainly a jarring contrast to the riffs being volleyed. But, for those with an iota of patience, successive listens might bring things into perspective. Songs such as "Nothing Remains," "As Bridges Burn," and the title track are shining examples of a dichotomy not often explored in death metal – brutality delivered with an air of stillness. The 'stillness,' in this case, is none other than Karl. His wholly-understandable delivery allows both the music, as well as the man behind the mic, to shine.
It works. It really, really works. It's the context of the album which allows his performance to shine in a way that has never really existed in death metal. Ultimately, if you were to ask any veteran of trench warfare to describe the mood of battle, it is more than likely they will describe a scene of unimaginable brutality blanketed in a sombre, all-consuming placidity. Such is the experience of The Silent Vigil.