LIVE REVIEW: Memoriam, Camden Underworld, London
Memoriam are probably one of the best – if not the best – British old school death metal bands on the scene at the moment.
This might seem a bold claim, but consider the facts:
* The band has considerable pedigree, consisting of former members of Bolt Thrower, Sacrilege and Benediction.
* They have released 3 astounding albums in their three-year existence – as well as three 7in singles (of demo tracks) and a flexi single.
* They seem to have played every major metal festival on continental Europe in that time.
* Their music is super-heavy, an aural assault that shreds the nerves and blisters your inner being!!
For a band so prolific, it is remarkable they have never really toured the UK, preferring one-off gigs such as the ManorFest in Keighley and pubs/clubs in and around their home turf (Birmingham).
So tonight was an extra special event – not only was this Memoriam’s first ever London show – it was also the launch gig for their third album, Requiem For Mankind (Nuclear Blast Records).
The band took the stage to their own soundtrack (Memoriam from first album For The Fallen) and burst straight into the opening track of the new record, Shellshock.
It’s about the chaos of war and its sensory impact on those at the frontline, and during the instrumental section, frontman Karl Willetts was caught in purple strobe lighting, miming the effects of electrocution.
This provided a fantastic audio-visual introduction to an outstanding set, covering the best of all three albums and lasting well over an hour.
Standout tracks included the superb War Rages On, the excellent Surrounded By Death and Resistance (all from the first album) plus Fixed Bayonets, Austerity Kills, and the title track from the new record.
The Underworld is a small, underground venue (beneath the World’s End pub) in the heart of Camden and has a capacity of around 500.
It wasn’t full tonight (probably about 400) but almost everyone was massed in the pit directly in front of the stage.
It’s one of those venues that doesn’t have a barrier in front of the stage other than a large step up from the pit to the footlights.
Some bands may not like this ‘up close and personal’ proximity to the crowd – but Memoriam loved it.
Willetts in particular seemed to embrace personal contact with the crowd – and he seemed to have the audience quite literally in his hand during, after and in between each and every track.
It was a joy and a pleasure to see a band of Memoriam’s stature so obviously enjoy being on a small stage, smiling and laughing between songs, bantering with each other, applauding the crowd and dedicating tracks to friends and relations in the pit.
So many bands of this genre take themselves ever so seriously and like to project an image (onstage and off) of aggressive indifference – but not Memoriam.
They clearly loved being there, enjoyed playing to the crowd and made it clear they appreciated the support given to them throughout.
Memoriam also have plenty of stagecraft, helped by the fact its members have about 120 years’ experience in bands between them.
They know how to work a crowd with songs that simultaneously hypnotise, energise and mobilise those present into a critical sweaty mass of nodding heads, thrashing limbs and horned salutes!
Their version of old school death metal typically addresses topics associated with war (death, suffering, carnage), remembrance for those lost at war and the general sorry state of mankind!
For these reasons, it’s perhaps hard to imagine band or crowd ‘enjoying’ a soundtrack dedicated to man’s inhumanity to man, but the sonic assaults provided by Frank Healy (bass), Andy Whale (drums) and Scott Fairfax’s heavy guitar riffs provided what Willetts described as ‘a celebration of life with death metal’.
Even when things got a bit nasty in the pit (when some people decided to start smacking each other in a totally uncool, non-hardcore kind of way), the band made a point of stopping it escalating any further.
One individual at the centre of events seemed determined to be the centre of attraction right from the start.
As well as being a persistent stage invader (the only one – remarkable given the style of Memoriams’s music and a stage with no barrier), he was also seen lamping another person in the crowd.
This was the last straw for the security staff and he was forcefully removed by a snatch squad who barged their way into and back out of the mosh pit with said offender.
Once the invader and heavy mob were out of sight things soon got back into the groove, with songs punctuated by a soundtrack of machine gun fire, anti-aircraft fire and heavy guns.
Stagecraft? Memoriam have it in bucketloads.