Bolt Thrower are an important band to me. They were the group that I’d turn to, to motivate a wrathful rush of endorphins when I first started working out and a consummate musical aperitif to beer consumption. In short, I grew up with their atom-smashing death metal and I was close to openly weeping when I realized that 2005’s Those Once Loyal would be their last album to worry my ears. So when I heard that Karl Willetts and former drummer Andy Whale were teaming up with two pals from another British death metal institution, Benediction, to form Memoriam, not least to pay tribute to fallen BT drummer Martin “Kiddie” Kearns, my trousers were blown to smithereens. In the wake of the demise of mantle-bearers Hail of Bullets, For The Fallen comes to us in our time of need, locked and loaded and ready to lead the charge… to victory! Prepare for a whole battalion of questionable war puns.
Now, rightly or wrongly, I put a certain expectation on this release. I really wanted it to be at least good and, thankfully, it is. The songwriting sticks to a blueprint of unsurprisingly simplistic but ever-indelible riffing — after all, this was never going to be jazz-fusion. “Memoriam,” a pseudo intro, throws a respectful salute to Kearns and bassist Frank Healy’s late father in its commemorative lyrics and commences the album with thick, staccato palm mutes. “Reduced to Zero” the pre-release track, did nothing to impress me when I first heard it — I’m happy to report that in the context of the album, it’s actually a very effective song. Its marching main riff is one of the record’s most enduring and is currently pacing through my brain even as I draft this review.
For the Fallen is a record of two halves, with the back end unevenly weighted with the heavy artillery. The unarguable centerpiece, “Flatline,” is the defining moment of the album, tooled with all the best riffs and probably the most diversity, brandishing urgent tremolo sections in between the awesome rhythms. Similarly, “Surrounded (By Death)” perpetuates massive lines of thrash inspired locomotion, bludgeoning in its simplicity and neck-cracking in its quality. The material, even the better stuff, does have a tendency to run a little too long, however. Worst offender, “Corrupted System,” starts with a raw punk energy and initially captured my imagination in much the same way “Wrong Side of the Grave” (ironically featuring Karl Willetts) did, a fantastic cover of The Accused from Benediction‘s benchmark Transcend The Rubicon. Sadly, the track eventually descends into a stock middling pace and, at 6+ minutes, consistently fails to hold my attention.
The production is coherent and crisp and keeps Scott Fairfax’s guitars front and center along with Karl Willetts’ voice. In truth, the legendary vocalist’s pipes have lost some of their lustre and the once muscular delivery that shook generations to the core on ballistics like “World Eater” and “Cenotaph,” is now a little strained, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t still bellow out his lines with as much conviction as ever, reinforcing the better songs with enough attitude to compensate for any discrepancies. The real spotlight is on Fairfax and his riff craft. Although perpetuating a clear ode to the kind of mid-paced demolition Bolt Thrower were renowned for, it’s his time spent reproducing the more thrash spliced ruckus of Benediction that actually does For the Fallen the biggest favor, allowing the record a certain amount of variation. “Last Words,” the album’s tumultuous end, even sports sombre melodies in its verses, and closes out in grand fashion.
Although unlikely to knock Realm of Chaos or The IVth Crusade out of rotation, For the Fallen certainly has the firepower to out-gun half of Benediction‘s back catalog, and leaves the somnambulant Honour – Valour – Pride still wandering in the wastes in search of a personality. “War Rages On” stirs into life with a quote from the transcripts of Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war, but I’ll leave it to Churchill to summarize these soldiers: “The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is.” And the truth here is, although these dogs may not be as deadly, they are most definitely still dangerous. Support the war effort.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: willettsio.bandcamp.com | www.memoriam.uk.com | facebook.com/memoriam2016
Releases Worldwide: March 24th, 2017