On one hand, the comparisons between Memoriam and Bolt Thrower are inevitable. Look at any writings about Memoriam in the last four-ish years, and I’d bet that Bolt Thrower is mentioned in the first three sentences, if not straightaway in the first one. (Y’know, kinda like I just did…) They’re inevitable, of course, because Memoriam is effectively the continuation of that godly death metal outfit, fronted by ex-Thrower throat Karl Willetts, originally propelled by former Bolt Thrower basher Andy Whale, and formed as an aptly named tribute to Whale’s replacement, the tragically gone-too-soon Martin Kearns.
To the first point, Memoriam furthers that inevitable comparison by treading much the same bloodsoaked ground as Bolt Thrower did, both thematically and musically. Across Memoriam’s four albums in four years now, these are songs about war, about bloodshed, about doom and dying and death. Willett’s growl is noticeably less powerful than in his earlier days, but it’s still very much his own, a distinctive bark that immediately invokes the greatness of Those Once Loyal or …For Victory, if not one quite as punishing as on War Master or Realm Of Chaos. Fleshed out with the help of former Benediction members Frank Healy and Scott Fairfax, Memoriam’s tracks are generally midpaced bulldozers of straightforward death metal, occasionally adopting a doomier trudge, and that aesthetic, too, is very much in line with Bolt Thrower’s merciless wallop.
And then, to the second point, across those four albums in as many years, charting Memoriam’s trajectory has been akin to watching them coalesce in real time: They started strong enough, with 2017’s For The Fallen, which was inconsistent but certainly showed promise. They floundered with the following year’s follow-up, The Silent Vigil, which added slightly more atmosphere but came up short. Then they fell almost entirely flat with the lackluster Requiem For Mankind in 2019, which just felt boring and lifeless. Now here they are in the early stages of 2021, and they’ve finally found their footing, to the tune of releasing their strongest record yet.
Maybe it’s the effects of the general state of the world, which should certainly make for good angry music; maybe it’s that To The End begins a new trilogy of their conceptual arc; maybe it’s the fact that, to my above point about seeing them coalesce in real time, for the first time ever, Memoriam entered the studio with their songs demoed and prepared; or — and certainly no disrespect is intended in the direction of the good Mr. Whale — maybe it’s the arrival of new drummer Spikey T. Smith (Sacrilege, Conflict, English Dogs, The Damned… Morrissey?)… Whatever it may be, Memoriam has not only reversed their downward trend, but they’ve superseded their highest mark so far. The performances on To The End are more energized; the songs are more fiery, more memorable, just all around better. Opener “Onward Into Battle” sets the stage, and “This War Is Won” hammers the point home with thrashing fury, Smith’s drums an artillery barrage beneath Willetts’ choked snarl. The Oregon-riots-inspired “Failure To Comply” pummels with that certain tightly-wound drive that works so well for this type of death metal, and backing that up with the maudlin death/doom of “Each Step (One Closer To The Grave)” was a perfect choice, the halves of the band’s sound brought into one emotive and pummeling whole. “Mass Psychosis” pulls a few pages from the modern Napalm Death playbook, one of Memoriam’s few surprises, riding a Swans-y stuttering grind towards abrasive glory, and then the melodic-tinged trudge of “As My Heart Grows Cold” closes the album in a more melodic gloomy death style, one of the band’s best blendings of destructive metal and atmospherics.
So yes, Memoriam sounds like Bolt Thrower (with some Benediction thrown in to match it), and no, they haven’t yet made a record in the same league as The IVth Crusade or Realm Of Chaos, but again, that’s a bit of an unfair comparison to make. What’s important is that To The End is the best they’ve done so far, by a noticeable margin. They’re on the upswing — fingers crossed they keep on swinging.