Led by vocalist/guitarist Olav Iversen, Norwegian quartet Sahg have been delivering quality rock/metal with old-school values for years. Their 2013 opus Delusions of Grandeur was a sonic and compositional masterpiece, landing on AMG‘s Top 10 that year, and showing serious staying power on my stereo as well. After a 3-year gap, Sahg returns with two new members and a dark, doomy album called Memento Mori.
The record gets off to a slow start with “Black Unicorn.” The song begins with an effect-laden guitar intro, followed by a long, slow build that has me looking at my watch impatiently. The payoff is hardly worth the wait, as the track limps its way through 6 and a half minutes, minus a few cool parts here and there. Calling it a “bad” song would be a stretch, but it’s a weak-ass choice for an album opener.
It quickly becomes apparent that one of my favorite things about Delusions — the production — has been completely dismantled. That album boasted massively organic tones and a convincing live feel, both of which are hard to come by these days. Memento, however, is quite audibly a product of the studio. Vocals and guitars both sound fairly digital, and I swear I hear the same drum samples used on the last couple of Alice In Chains albums. The change in sound may be a byproduct of the aforementioned lineup turnover, but either way, it’s a shame. On the plus side, Iversen’s vocal delivery has evolved considerably between albums, and his performance here is possibly his best yet.
The band kicks up the tempo for “Devilspeed,” a straightforward rocker that reminds me of modern-era Amorphis. “Silence the Machines” also aims for that momentum, but the plodding drum work keeps it firmly on the ground. The new and improved Sahg apparently doesn’t do “fast” very well.
“Take It to the Grave” continues the gloom and doom, with its baritone vocal delivery and memorable chorus. Oddly, Memento’s sterile production actually works to this song’s benefit, giving it a cold, distant feel that goes nicely with the lyrics. The grinding, sinister “Sanctimony” finds Iversen delivering a scathing vocal before the song breaks up into a double-time instrumental section. Iversen and co. are clearly in the mood for some doom, and these two tracks are probably the standouts on this record.
“(Praise the) Electric Sun” is a relatively brief psychedelic number, utilizing acoustic guitars alongside some David Gilmour-style slide work and what may or not be a flute. This is followed by “Travellers of Space and Light,” which seems caught somewhere between rocking out and being trippy, and instead lands in the purgatory of just being uninteresting. The album’s biggest outlier is final track “Blood of Oceans.” Here the band goes into full-on Hammerheart mode, with an old-school Viking feel and even some Norwegian lyrics at the song’s midsection. This is the heaviest track on the record by a mile, and while it comes off as somewhat out of character for the more rock-minded Sahg, it does end the record on a powerful note.
Coming off two excellent albums, Sahg has dropped the ball slightly with Memento Mori, arriving at merely “OK” rather than “great.” This is the sound of an excellent band and songwriter in the midst of an identity crisis, and while the material is still quality, it feels somewhat directionless. In all honesty, hearing this album just makes me want to put on Delusions or Sahg III, but as always, your results may vary.