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And so here we arrive at the oddball CD of the Memento Mori bunch. For one, it doesn't include the distinct vocal stylings of Messiah Marcolin, and I dare say his lack of presence is felt in more ways than just the vocals. Snowy Shaw is also absent, resulting in a drum performance that is less than inspiring to say the least. And the production values lean heavily toward the slick and polished -- quite a curveball from the roughshod psychotic mix of Life, Death, and Other Morbid tales.
In fact, La Danse Macabre plays much more like the Mike Wead solo project than anything else. Wead is a fine guitarist and a solid songwriter, perfectly capable of cobbling together a dose of material and bringing it to fruition on his own. Here he recruits a few other musicians, writes a slick, melodramatic slab of power doom, packages it up as the next Memento Mori, and throws it out there. The results are sometimes pretty darn good, but the lack of songwriting diversity really shows, and the whole deal really does sound like one guitar player and a group of session musicians.
In short, La Danse Macabre lacks the chemistry and distinctiveness of its two predecessors.
That's not to say you should avoid it. Not at all. Endlessly starts off with a flourish of double-bass and guitar power, then settles into its maddeningly memorable, infectuous main riff, complete with a classical run at the end of each passage which is to die for. Listen to this song a little wasted and you'll probably find yourself drooling in a daze as it washes over you, sending you into a kind of netherworld of melo-doom ecstasy. I love the little solo break, which somehow doesn't interrupt the flow of the rhythm at all. It's just there, underneath, a ripping little solo that you might miss because of the thunderous pounding of the rest of the tune.
Lost Worlds picks it up nicely, Wead's trills cycling through until the song's melody kicks in and sticks with you for a good portion of the tune. Kristian Andren's accented vocal delivery places the music on the globe, in case you were wondering. This is Euro-metal, let there be no doubt. Andren has a fine body of work to his credit, his efforts in Tad Morose and Wuthering Heights most familiar to my ears. He's always had a sort of prozac effect on me, sending me off into the depths somehow. He's no Messiah, but Wead alters his songwriting approach to better fit Andren's vocals, and makes the pairing work. Lost Worlds also has a well-placed slowdown acoustic piece in the middle, punctuated with a solid breakdown (if you can call it that), and solos.
The whole approach is slow and plodding though, so don't expect to bang your head violently. This is more the solemn, frowning, eyes-rolled-back-in-your-head, nodding sort. It retains its doom sensibility, though there's little left of the Candlemass heritage that Memento Mori started with on its debut. I like to think of it as mood music for those slightly angry, slightly depressed, leave-me-alone times. La Danse Macabre is a solitary experience. I can't imagine putting this stuff on at a party.
Morpheus (My Deadly Friend) continues in this way, this time with a keyboard riff that slowly picks away at your psyche until you either can't stand it anymore or give in, allowing it infect you through & through. There's a nice slowdown acoustic/keyboard arpeggio interlude, but Wead is content to pound the main theme for most of the song.
And that's a characteristic you'll either love or hate with this CD. Wead takes his ideas and drones on them, perhaps a little too long -- but generally they are good ideas. More classical than either of the first two albums, less doom and more power -- but not really all that varied. I hesitate to say uninteresting, because that's not true. The riffs and passages are well written and carried by the band precisely and professionally.
But on the whole, La Danse Macabre is just too much of a departure for Memento Mori, and the material not as singular and recognizable as either Rhymes of Lunacy or Life, Death, and Other Morbid Tales. It's still a nice piece of work, and I occasionally play it. I like the place where Wead comes from as a guitarist. But I do prefer it in the context of a band where the interplay of ideas creates a stronger whole.
It should be said that I got this album initially for two reasons, Mike Wead and Messiah Marcolin. However there is one problem with that, Messiah Marcolin isn't on this album. So while I was initially disappointed, i'm certainly not going to dwell on that. This is still a solid album.
We'll start with the vocals. Kristian Andren's vocals are good, not great on this effort. While they lack some dimension, they are consistently good power metal/crooning vocals. His vibrato's are well placed yet come off as whiny on parts of it. Overall he does a good job, but leaves me unsatisfied. The two exceptions being parts of "Crown of Thorns", when he seems to almost get angry sounding to some degree similar to Diabolus era Tom Araya and on "Morpheus (My Deadly Friend)", when he adds another degree of intensity.
The guitars give this album some rejuvenation. There are some blistering riffs on the opener "Endlessly" that definately hook you with speed and virtuosity. They create some very epic, atmospheric, and sad feelings on "Crown of Thorns" that certainly tug on your emotions. All in all, the guitars are top notch through out with the standouts being "Endlessly", "Crown of Thorns", "La Danse Macabre", and "The Beggars Waltz".
I can't really say a whole lot for the drums. They certainly don't do anything extraordinary, which leaves the feeling of "not so powerful power metal".
To summarize the sound, it comes off as more of a sad power metal album than a power/doom album. The doom elements(aside from a sluggish pace) are few and far between, the exceptions being parts of "The Losers Trial" and "The Beggars Waltz". This album is really a hit or miss. It's certainly not for doom metal fundamentalists, then again it's not for the power metal enthusiasts either. I don't really consider this "epic doom metal" either, say in the vein of Candlemass or even Marcolin fronted Memento Mori albums. I usually listen to power metal for the upbeat, high energy aspect. And I usually listen to doom metal for the heavy, "gut-wrenching", deliberate feeling. I don't really get either from this album.
It's worth hearing, just stay open-minded and try to have as few expectations as possible!