REVIEWED: Memoriam's 'Requiem for Mankind
Firing up their creative cannons once again, British death metal talents Memoriam have just detonated their latest, most explosive bolt of brutality. Their third album, ‘Requiem for Mankind’, comes hot on the heels of 2018’s obliterating ‘The Silent Vigil’ and showcases the band’s unique, masterful blend of classic, old school death and foreboding, gloomy atmospherics. Astoundingly accomplished for an outfit that have only been operating since 2016; no doubt due to a stellar line-up boasting ex-members from Bolt Thrower and Benediction, Memoriam have already ratcheted up two successful full-lengths and several killer demos. Saturated in the bloody imagery of war and destruction, with suffocating, morbid riffs and Karl Willet’s signature, raw-throated vocals lending a weighty gravitas to epic themes, this latest aggression-spiked serving tackles some thorny issues and is as rousing as a call to arms.
From the first merciless notes of fury-filled ardour, ‘Shell Shock’ sweeps the listener up in its bloody grip and never relents, with a catchy, steel-capped boot tapping chorus, lashings of abrasive groove and riffs that churn up the rich landscapes of sound like massive, pitiless tank tracks; the overall impression of vast civilisations being pulverised to dust by the machinery of conflict. A worthy, rampaging opening to hostilities, 'Shell Shock’s' liturgies of destruction are followed by the earth-shattering beats, grinding riffs and queasy, lurching chords of ‘Undefeated’, another torrid paean to devastation that exudes grit-encrusted, punk-rock intensity. ‘Never the Victim’ continues in the same vein but with an air of deeper solemnity as the band begin to dwell on the weightier implications of conflict, with some gloomy, lamenting interludes and doom-edged, agonising riffs, the initial exuberance giving way to more serious themes and paving the way for the next track, ‘Austerity Kills’. Nothing less than a direct and politically-minded attack on the inhumane, toxic austerity policies of the current UK government, which have reportedly resulted in over 100,000 deaths amidst the poorest and most vulnerable in society, with this song Memoriam have channelled their tangible, utterly raw anger at this intolerable travesty into their art with harsh, pounding blast beats and gravid, gloriously Brummie-edged vocals of bitter, spitting ferocity. Pity the Tory scumbag who comes face to face with this level of ferocious, justified rage.
The abrupt tonal changes of ‘In the Midst of Desolation’ keep the listener on their feet and showcase the chameleon-like technical skills of these experienced musicians, with a chorus of twanging strings offset beautifully by some sludgy, dragging riffs; while ‘Refuse to be Led’ rebounds with dusky, pounding slabs of extreme heavy metal, signalling the falling masonry of any rigidly held preconceptions of what song structures should be. So far, this is pure classic Memoriam - where relentless old school death meets epic dark melody.
Continuing the concern with real-world affairs, ‘The Veteran’ is a heartfelt ‘message to the government’ not to cold-bloodedly discard or ignore those who’ve been exposed to the terrifying front lines of war. The emptiness, despair and PTSD experienced by former soldiers is depicted with excruciating detail through lucid, evocative lyrics and excruciating, high-pitched guitars. With imagery balancing the horrors of war alongside the closer to home horrors of down and out ex-army vets living on the street, this is deliberately jarring and upsetting stuff - and Memoriam are determined that we should take note.
Title track ‘Requiem for Mankind’ picks up the fist-pumping pace again; laying waste with a churning whirlpool of furious riffs, rabid, foam-at-the-mouth vocals, and bicep-cramping drum-work as intense and relentless as a spray of rapid enemy fire; while ‘Fixed Bayonets’ goes straight for the jugular and proves the most no nonsense, instantly gratifying number on the album, where some satisfying, classic guitar-work combines with the exhilarating, pounding bombardment of blastbeats and crashing cymbals. Finally, like a slow mourning dirge, ‘Internment’ puts the album to rest with solemn, dignified chords that wouldn’t be amiss at a military memorial service. As the emotionally shattering final notes fade away, the listener is left like a wounded soldier stumbling from the muddy battleground, blinded by ashes and smoke, thoughts lingering on the most devastating aspect of war - the inestimable human cost.
One of the standout albums of the year, Memoriam have really found their stride with this one, building on their past achievements and delivering some sublime, synapse-scorching death metal with a deadly serious message. For all the bloodshed of battle and the ravages of warfare, it’s the disgraceful disregard for basic humanity - manifested in cold, unfeeling and ruthless attitudes - that is truly monstrous. ‘Requiem for Mankind’ is a timely reminder not to forget the men and women who fought for the freedoms we all enjoy, be they civil rights, free speech, or the creative license to make and listen to any kind of rage-fuelled music we damn well like.