Death metal veterans Memoriam blast back with battle-ravaged chaos on hammering ‘To the End’

Photo by Timm Sonnenschein

You sometimes hear people say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” when it comes to sacrificing rest in order to get work done. It’s an admirable trait showing a person with determination and grit who doesn’t care about their own strength and mental wherewithal in order to get something done that’s on their plate. Plus, yeah, there will be plenty of time to sleep past expiration.

One band definitely buying into that thinking is UK death squadron Memoriam, a group of warriors who have seen and done it all and really have nothing left to prove. We know better. That’s not how they operate, and they’ve barely taken a draw of breath since their formation in 2016 from the ashes of Bolt Thrower, and in five years, they’ve already drummed up four full-length releases, their latest coming on “To the End,” another burst of grizzled power and strength. The band—vocalist Karl Willetts (longtime Bolt Thrower vocalist), guitarist Scott Fairfax (Massacre, Benediction), bassist Frank Healy (Sacrilege), drummer Spikey T. Smith (also of Sacrilege and formerly of English Dogs, among others)—delivers nine tracks in about 45 minutes, all of it solid as a rock and teeming with the ills of war, mourning who we’ve lost, and refusing to lie down, fighting into the future.  

“Onwards Into Battle” kicks off with warplanes soaring over and voices giving commands before the track opens into the pit of hell, with Willetts in gruff command. The playing is thick and thrashy as it gets uglier before the leads warm up and melt away, and the growls punch to the end. “This War Is Won” starts with a blurring riff as the growls menace, and the playing blisters. The guitars bleed color as the tempo is battering, spreading fire as the land is destroyed, the chorus rouses, and everything ends in power. “No Effect” rustles with grimy madness as the melodies spread. There is strong start-stop thrashing over the chorus while Willetts commands, “Go!” before the solo as the death stomp powders bones, and the track blasts to a finish. “Failure to Comply” starts with a warning from the Oregon police, and the track follows the plight of those fighting for social justice, with the speedy, guttural playing throwing haymakers. The track is nasty and punishing, pulling no punches as Willett blasts, “We question/how many people have to die?”

“Each Step (One Closer to the Grave)” is moody and gravelly, as Willetts’ vocals grind, and the track even veers into doom territory. “Live every moment like it’s your last,” Willetts warns, as he’s grown quite reflective in spots on these Memoriam records. Sadness and heaviness unite and bring heavy clouds with the track ending in penetrating power. The title track trudges and feels like it’s trying to loosen bricks in buildings as the growls rip at flesh, and the tempo makes the earth quake. The leads glimmer even as we enter into nastier terrain, Willetts unleashes some vicious growls, and everything bleeds out into oblivion. “Vacant Stare” brings glowing guitars and then a violent menace as the riffs begin to smother and power. The senses are absolutely battered as Willetts wails, “No one hears a sound!” as the final moments twist your muscles. “Mass Psychosis” is a weird one, but it’s pretty fun. The drums smash and take lead while there’s a near industrial bend to the song as Willetts continually chants, “Mass psychosis!” The guitars dissolve and form a thick tributary while the underbelly exposes its iron-thick muscle that bashes you.  “As My Heart Grows Cold” closes the album and starts with swelling guitars swimming as noise hangs in the air. As the song goes on it gets more vicious and unforgiving, though some sorrowful leads add a different texture. The playing rounds back to heaviness and surging your blood with Willetts rising to deliver his rousing final words, and the band adds fuel to the flames, giving one last massive gasp before the track burns out.

Memoriam’s battles continue, and they are mauling on “To the End,” another massive artillery shot from these death metal legends. There’s a bit of a comfort food feel to hearing Willetts’ monstrous growl and the war-torn death in front of us, but this is hardly empty calories. These guys remain huge, heavy, and hungry, and I’ll take as many Memoriam albums as these boys can put together.

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