We all have our dirty metal secrets that we selfishly keep to ourselves, only sharing with a select few close to us. Or alternatively, we incessantly talk up underground gems and spread the gospel to anyone that will listen, as we cherish our slice of underground cred. Into the Obscure aims to right the wrongs and unearth the artists/albums that for whatever unjust reason didn’t get the exposure or credit they sorely deserved the first time round.
Well before the birth of Memory Driven, guitarist/vocalist Dennis Cornelius established his presence as a prominent and undervalued force in the American doom scene over the better part of two decades. He stamped his talent and class on inspired releases from Revelation, the underrated Oversoul, Place of Skulls and the short-lived Dwell Within amongst others. Combining with several like-minded individuals following the disbandment of Dwell Within, Cornelius birthed his Memory Driven project with promising debut Relative Obscurity in 2009, before returning two years later with exceptional sophomore album, Animus.
I fondly remember being turned onto Memory Driven courtesy of an informative and punchy review of Animus written by the excellent Rae Amitay (of Immortal Bird, Akrasia, Woods of Ypres & Thrawsunblat fame). First spin and I knew Memory Driven were something special and that impact hasn’t faltered in the intervening years, nor has my sense of bafflement regarding their criminally low profile. Animus carried forth elements from the debut, such as their glum, introspective take on trad doom and somber Alice in Chains-esque melodic sensibility, while expanding the band’s vision tenfold into sonically powerful and heart-wrenching new territory. There’s a significant progressive metal undertow and Seattle rock influence embedded into the album’s brooding melancholic atmosphere, forming something unique, memorable and truly special to behold.
Animus certainly doesn’t hold back on the heavier riffage and doomy slogs, however it’s the nuances of the extended instrumental sections and overall interplay between the musicians that sets the band apart, driving Memory Driven’s masterful progressive doom template. The crafty rhythm section and exceptional leads and harmonies interwoven from Cornelius and fellow axeman Chris Greenway are particularly noteworthy. Middle Eastern elements occasionally creep into the guitar work, adding further intrigue and exotic seasoning into Memory Driven’s musical recipe. Opener “Empty Gestures” unfurls gently via its gorgeous intro, paving the way for the song’s punishing riffs and gloomy melodies, showcasing Memory Driven’s slick songwriting dynamics and nerve-tweaking use of melody. Speaking of gloom, “Die to Breed” is a dense and dramatic number, choked with emotion and soul searching despair that stirs up plenty of feeling. Elsewhere, the cleverly titled “These Aren’t the Chords You’re Looking For” is the rare metal instrumental that goes toe-to-toe with the vocal driven songs. It’s a beautifully crafted and textured piece of jammy and melodic prog-doom packed with memorable guitar work and show-stopping basslines, segueing into later album highlights “A Tempt” and “Group Departure.”
Boasting another spellbinding intro, “A Tempt” comes stacked with terrific guitar interplay, soul squeezing melodies and probing basslines, counter-punched with crushing, anthemic doom riffs and emotion charged vocals. Cornelius has a voice tailor made for doom and his smooth, authoritative timbre, careful phrasing and unique, warbled delivery brings a beguiling mix of vulnerability, heart-on-sleeve emotion and raw power. Sporting an immaculate production job, Animus sounds amazing, a masterclass in modern metal production. Every instrument is beautifully detailed and defined in the mix, boasting warm organic tones reinforced with plenty of sonic heft and dynamics.
I happened upon the band’s Facebook page recently and fresh signs emerged that Memory Driven may in fact be active again and returning for a third album. Fingers crossed they can add to their impressive and criminally overlooked legacy, as Animus is a colossal, deeply moving and sadly underappreciated progressive doom gem.