Some bands are formed from friendships. Some bands are formed out of necessity. Some bands form a bond based off past relationships. For England’s Memoriam, featuring current and ex-members of Benediction and Bolt Thrower, the circumstances around their 2015 formation is the result of all three aforementioned scenarios. Turns out vocalist Karl Willetts, drummer Andy Whale, and bassist Frank Healy are old mates. They’ve wanted to be in a band together for years, but with Benediction and Bolt Thrower taking up time and creative space over the last two decades, the opportunity never arose. Until now. And with the untimely passing of Bolt Thrower drummer Martin ‘Kiddie’ Kearns, they needed an outlet to purge the grief. And with the band of brothers finally assembled — with a record out called For the Fallen no less — they have Memoriam, a bond formed years ago made a reality now. Welcome to the sound of catharsis. Welcome to Memoriam. Decibel sits down with bassist Frank Healy and vocalist Karl Willetts.
What prompted the members of Memoriam to come together?
Frank Healy: I think the catalyst to getting the band started was when we lost Kiddie [Bolt Thrower drummer Martin Kearns] in September 2015. This tragic loss got Karl thinking that we are not on this earth for long and he decided that he was going to do all the things he’d wanted to do but hadn’t followed up through his life. Instead of just thinking about it he was going to get off his arse and make it happen. Karl and I had been talking for about 20 years about doing a band together! But I think with Karl he had always wanted to be in a band with Andy again as they were very close in the early Bolt Thrower days.
How’d you get Andy [Whale] to come out of retirement? That’s a big one.
Frank Healy: A lot easier than you think! It was actually at a Benediction gig in Birmingham in late October 2015 that Karl and Andy both attended. It was the first time Karl had been out socially since Kiddie’s passing, so he arranged with Andy to go to our (Benediction) show. It was here that the seed was sown, so to speak. When Karl told Andy about his plan and asked him if he would take up the drum stool. He said yes! Andy has been asked time and time again to join bands but always said no as his heart wasn’t in it at the time but apparently he liked the idea of getting something going with his lifelong friend!
Was the original idea to create something permanent?
Frank Healy: I don’t think there was a plan at all, really. It was a case of us just getting together and jamming some early songs that we were influenced by and maybe doing a few local club gigs just for the fun of playing together as friends doing cover songs. We certainly did not envisage that eight months down the line we would be walking into a studio to do a full debut album after releasing a 7″ single and signing to a major record label!
Karl Willetts: Absolutely, I just wanted to have some fun and enjoy playing music with some old friends, and we have definitely achieved that -– rehearsals are the highlight of the week and we have a great laugh doing it -– there is a real strong bond between us and a great sense of camaraderie. The original intention really did not go any further than that. We came up with some songs that we wanted to do some cover versions of –- some of which we still haven’t got around to doing! But within just a few days of the idea of doing a band together the idea of cover versions took a back seat as we started to develop our own songs using the vast collection of ideas that Scott ‘Million Dollar Riff’ Fairfax has stored on his hard drive!
Would you call Memoriam’s music death metal?
Karl Willetts: Totally, old-school death metal, with some twists to it! It’s what we do best and the only style we know! We have total creative freedom within the parameters of the style of music that we play so we have embraced aspects of technology by using samples to link the songs together, as we are a four piece this also adds another layer to the sound we create. Often in the past, we have seen bands we know and love change style and musical direction and totally lose the focus of what the band was about in the first place. We have no intention of doing that. We just want to create music that excites us as individuals — if other people like it, well then that’s a bonus!
What was the song writing sessions like for the new album? From the sounds of it Memoriam write quickly. The band was formed not even a year ago, and For the Fallen is a reality.
Frank Healy: Fast! We tend not to dwell on a song for too long, as we like the immediacy of an idea, sometimes when you mess with a song for too long you can dilute it and it loses its power and feel. We get bored quite quickly as a band and we are always pushing forward onto something new all the time. It suits us.
Karl Willetts: The songs kind of develop organically; we are all quite experienced at song writing so I think that this helps speed up the process. We are already in the process of putting some ideas together for the next album! We definitely have the fire back and the creative juices are flowing amongst us all!
Did you write as a band at rehearsal or were the songs conceived in isolation?
Frank Healy: Both really, the nucleus of a song tends to start with Scott who nearly always comes up with the main riffing, then we all chop and change it putting in and taking out bits until we are reasonably happy with it. Then it’s just added to the list of songs we rehearse and it tends to find its own groove in the end.
How careful were you to not replicate the musical motifs of Benediction and Bolt Thrower, knowing that both bands were (and maybe still are) an important part of your history, musically and personally speaking?
Frank Healy: We are not careful at all! If a song we write is good but it sounds a bit like our other bands that is not going to stop us using it. Part of our sound is an amalgamation of those bands anyway as that is part of us, it cannot be avoided due to whom is in Memoriam.
Karl Willetts: It is hard not to sound somewhat like our respective other bands. For example, my vocal style is what it is that will not change. You cannot deny your past. It is an important part of who we are individually and collectively as Memoriam -– we embrace aspects of our musical heritage and build on that to create something different. I suppose people may enjoy the fact that we have elements of the bands we have played in before within our sound but ultimately the sound that we are creating is very different.
That being said, there’s a fair bit of melancholy to the melodies on songs like “Reduced to Zero” and “Last Words”. Do the feelings go hand in hand?
Karl Willetts: I have stuck to the lyrical themes that I am comfortable with, there is a still a focus on war and its effects on humanity. This is an eternal theme that is a constant source of inspiration if we look at the world around us today and throughout our history. Memoriam was born from the feelings of grief and sadness and the album totally reflects these feelings and emotions throughout. “Reduced to Zero” is about the world as it is today –- the fear and hatred that is around ultimately reduces mans humanity. “Last Words” is a an epic album closer, one that I am proud of writing lyrically. It is written in the form of a letter home from the trenches in WWI just before the call for the attack. It is formed in a sequence where the letter is interspersed by action and the ultimate death of the individual writing it. It was quite emotional to write as the music is very evocative and the lyrics flowed from this quite easily. I am really proud of this song as it features Tam [aka vocalist Lynda Simpson] from Sacrilege at the ending reading the first verse of the song as if she has received the letter. Tam and Sacrilege are the reason that I wanted to be a vocalist in extreme metal and, for me, her vocals and the music of Sacrilege where my main inspiration for doing what I am doing today!
There are also a lot of unique riffs on For the Fallen. “Flatline” is full of these odd chords, bends, and tremolo picked runs. “War Rages On” also has lots of cool riffs. Sounds like you guys had a lot of fun constructing riffs that were a bit atypical for death metal. Can you comment where the invention comes from? Maybe these are riffs, for example, too strange for Benediction or…maybe these quirky things are coming from Scott.
Frank Healy: That is definitely down to Scott! I think personally that he has a unique style of playing. He definitely has his own style that separates him a bit from the typical death metal riffer! It’s interesting to hear and then try to play along to when you first hear them
I really enjoy messing around doing different stuff over and under his strange riffs when we rehearse.
Karl Willetts: Yep, that’s all down to Scott. He has a totally unique style of playing and creates an awesome sound! It is a real pleasure hearing what he comes up with, real refreshing and he constantly surprises us with the stuff he comes up with!
At the moment, what’s your favorite song and why?
Frank Healy: At the moment it is “Last Words”. It’s not a straightforward death metal song. There are a lot of little twists and turns and some melodic stuff going on within the song. It is quite an epic piece of music really that tells a very sad story and is one of those tracks where I feel we have captured the whole atmosphere of what’s happening lyrically perfectly with the music and sounds used.
Karl Willetts: Along with the epic “Last Words”, I am particularly fond of “Corrupted System”, this is a change in style for me and has a more hardcore/punk sound to it. I have always wanted to record a song in that style but have never had the chance. The ending of the song is also a departure from what I have recorded before and sounds massive. I love the way that it stands out and provides an extra edge to the album –- it also sounds great when we play it live!
You recorded For the Fallen at Hellfire Studios. I remember you describing the session as quick because there were only a few takes. Was that to get the feeling right or because you’re seasoned musicians or maybe a bit of both?
Frank Healy: Neither really, we are just impatient and want to get things done and move onto the next one. Most of the songs on the album we had rehearsed well for so we treated the recording like a rehearsal. Just bash them out and hope for the best! There are a few mistakes on there, but we thought ‘Fuck it, just leave them in as we don’t like to mess with stuff too much.’
Lyrically speaking, where is Memoriam coming from?
Karl Willetts: Memoriam is ultimately a tribute to the lost -– its title For the Fallen reflects this. The lyrics build on what I have created in the past. However, I feel that the delivery of the lyrics is somewhat different to what I have created in the past and I am proud of that. The experience of losing Martin was the catalyst for all this to happen and forms the constant theme throughout the album, the lyrics come from a place of sorrow and grief yet I feel that they display a joy of life and an acceptance of what has happened. I think Martin would be chuffed to know that I am doing Memoriam and still have the desire and the fire in my belly to carry on. His presence is with us within the songs and the lyrics; it feels like the big man is with us still smiling.
For the Fallen is in dedication to Martin “Kiddie” Kearns and your loved ones, who have moved on, correct? What’s that like, creating something of permanence, like a record, in remembrance of people no longer with you? There must be a lot of emotions behind Memoriam and, centrally, its lyrics.
Frank Healy: This band exists because of sadness through loss of loved ones. As well as losing Kiddie, three weeks later my father died. I can only speak for myself and possibly Karl a bit here in that we were both in a pretty dark place with these events happening. We needed to move on, find a way to find closure and a piece of mind, to express the sadness and get it out in the open, the formation of Memoriam and the music we created was the vehicle for me. To get all that emotion laid down on an album is the perfect way to make a permanent tribute to those we loved and lost. It is a happy ending for me as Memoriam gave me the outlet to grieve and make something positive from all the sadness. I really am as happy as a man can be at this moment.
Karl Willetts: Writing the songs/lyrics has been a cathartic exercise, a chance to express feelings of grief, sadness and despair through the music that we love.
What are your next steps? The record will be out next year. Will Memoriam take things like touring slowly or are you guys “all in”, so to speak?
Frank Healy: We’ve not really had too much time to think about that side of things really. In the time we have been a band we have played numerous festivals, written and recorded two 7″ singles, a Flexi disc and a full album! What I do know at this stage is we are playing a lot of festivals already in 2017. We may tour later on but we really do just do things for the moment and not plan too far ahead. We may not be around tomorrow!
Karl Willetts: We have all been around in the scene for a long time! I think with Memoriam we are taking it as it comes and not planning too far into the future –- we are enjoying it for what it is. A true celebration of life through death metal!
** Memoriam’s killer new album, For the Fallen, is out now on Nuclear Blast Records. It’s available HERE on vinyl and CD.