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After the release of Rhymes of Lunacy and the subsequent, collective "ho hum" from the public, it would not have been considered bad form for Wead, Shaw, and Marcolin to call it day on this little project. History would have shown their only release to be a well-intentioned, interesting foray into the idea of updating the Candlemass sound with a more technical guitar asthetic, along with a valiant attempt by Marcolin to alter his vocal approach from the vibrato-crooning of his work with Candlemass to a slightly more expansive, maybe even progressive touch.
But still this is a heady group of professionals with a vision of what they want to accomplish. Not so easily deterred were they, not by a single CD that didn't light the world on fire -- they were going to give it a go once again, try to take this thing into its next logical evolutionary state. In short, there wasn't anything stopping them, and we're talking about some prolific and talented musical firepower. Shaw in particular is possessed of a certain multi-instrumental virtuosity, and Mike Wead also flirts with virtuosity at times as is evident on the band's overlooked and quite bombastic debut CD. Messiah by this time surely must have been feeling just a wee bit typecast in his laudable but without doubt confining role as Candlemass' singular voice and frontman.
The real question is, what is the next step? Hammering on the same bedrock as Rhymes of Lunacy isn't the idea here. Continuing on an exploratory path is more like it. Life, Death and Other Morbid Tales leans even further away from the Candlemass heritage, and pokes its ugly head into the exploration and exhaltation of psychosis; sometimes quite effectively, and sometimes with less enthralling results. Dissonance begins to rule the day; droning drug-hazed riffs begin to take over. Smoke-filled rooms replace polish, and dazed-out expressions result, for better or worse.
The production on Life, Death... is vastly different than its predecessor. The overall landscape is grating, less polished than Rhymes of Lunacy. I actually don't mind that. The song material seems to call for it. But the snare drum sounds like Snowy is hitting a piece of cardboard rather than an actual snare drum. Wead's guitar work sits right where it should be, devastatingly crunchy and hovering right above the bass & bass drums, which are also placed well in the mix. But there's a thin quality that I didn't hear on the first CD -- it creates more tension when listening to the songs. And that snare is truly unsettling to me. It's too prominent and not solid enough to complement the rest of the mix. Messiah's voice is slightly more lost in the mix than it was on Rhymes -- I don't really mind this, but its worth noting.
While most of the songs have an idea or two that shine, sadly few of them carry through with that idea for the entire length of the tune. To Travel Within begins promisingly with an almost swing groove, crunchy guitars, and Messiah's in-rhythm singing. But the refrain isn't nearly as interesting -- it sounds almost thrown-together, a few sustained notes, and then its back to the main groove. The breakdown is nice. Overall this is a solid song; it just needed that extra push over the edge to be truly special.
Other songs are similar. Just Another Morbid Tune starts out with a truly bombastic riff from Wead & Argento, setting the stage for what seems like it would be a fire-breathing melo-doom assault. But the refrain and remainder of the song fall flat by comparison. Misery Song starts with a rhythm that chugs along effectively, but again by the time the song is over one feels like the potential of the opening wasn't fulfilled.
I Am is better, hooking into a stop-start rhythm that features Messiah's vocals nicely. The song is representative of what Memento Mori is going for on this release -- lonely, neurotic explorations of the human psyche. People wondering: what is there for them in this god-forsaken world of ours? Hurt, and maybe even a little oppressed, as they hurl through life towards whatever fateful end. It's very effective when it works -- I Am is good example of where it does. It probably works best because the chorus really lifts the song higher, our hypothetical hero screaming out "Can't you heal me?" as if to resign himself to an end of loneliness and rejection.
A Passenger on Psycho's Path also succeeds, winding its way into your brain like some kind of drug-induced screwdriver turning deeper & deeper. It infects your psyche with its dissonant whispered chrous and overall "yes, I'm out of my mind" approach. Isn't insanity grand? Yeah, it pretty much is - at least for the duration of the song.
But the real centerpiece of Life, Death, and Other Morbid Tales is Heathendom. It makes the CD worth the purchase and might be better in isolation than anything on Rhymes of Lunacy. Clocking in near 15 minutes, it's Memento Mori's epic, and worthy of the title. If you hung in there this long, you're probably buying what Memento Mori is selling and are going to be on your knees worshipping at the altar of the pagan gods. If not, you probably turned it off; in that case I feel bad for you. Heathendom is truly special, with its crushing, rolling central riffing, alternating with acoustic interludes, vocal soliloquies and chorus comping, deep-toned Viking chanting -- the whole works. In the center of it all is a maddenly memorable call-and-response lead and rhythm break worth its weight in gold. It coils the listener in its little web, waiting to unfurl the madness, then blows the doors off the room with pure Viking power.
This second release from Memento Mori is certainly worthy of a listen if you like the style of music they're going for. Although it doesn't match the debut, it stands on its own because it tries to carve out a distinct place for the band. I only wish it succeeded more completely. Still, certain tracks haunt me every once in awhile until I play them. It's hit & miss -- but when it hits, it's worthy.
First I have to mention that if you’re a fan of Candelmass or doom/heavy metal in general, you should have an interest in Memento Mori. “Life, Death and Other Morbid Tales” is heavy, has a meaty guitar sound and features the vocal talents of Messiah Marcolin. Further on there’s Snowy Shaw on drums and Mike Wead on lead guitar, so Memento Mori can almost be called a supergroup. They brought in a keyboard player for this album in the shape of Miguel Robaina but he doesn’t play any kind of leading role in the music. The keyboards are mixed a bit too low and are mostly used simply for the creation of some background effects or to occasionally fill out “space” left by the other instruments. I would’ve liked the keyboards more upfront.
On this album the song writing is simpler than on the debut. While the debut can’t really be described as a progressive metal album as a whole, parts of it were indeed quite technical. Here the songs mostly rather straightforward, mostly of the Candlemass mould but also with a touch of more traditional heavy metal. “To Travel Within”, “Misery Song” and “Heathendom” are the best tracks IMO . The first has Candlemass written all over its catchy melodic main riff and great soaring vocals from Messiah. The second is also one of the stronger tunes, once again with a Candlemass feel to it. Messiah really lets his voice soar during the chorus and the arrangements are good too. The third is the longest track on the album. It contains lots of vocal harmonies from Messiah, lead-heavy doom riffing coupled with some progressive melodies and a chorus where the word “heathendom” is repeated in a rather ominous manner. I also have to mention the fine vocal harmonies that come in after 8:20, they sound a lot like those of Root vocalist Boss.
Sadly, this album isn’t brilliant all the way from start to finish and therefore it gets only 7.5 from me. Some songs don’t captivate me at all, like e.g. “A Passenger on Psycho’s Path” and “My Secret Garden”. On the first, the band fail to get a proper flow going and I don’t think the riffs of the song fit together that well. Somehow the heaviness of the track turns against itself and I have serious problems getting though it, yet the vocal harmonies during the last part of the song are very good. The second falls victim both to too much repetition of the very tedious chorus and somehow lacking drive altogether. The second thing I don’t like about his album in general, is that the riffs and arrangements are sometimes too predictable. The band sticks pretty much to the tried and tested formula of doom/heavy metal but this might not be that big a problem for fans with a traditional taste in metal.
The title “Just Another Morbid Tune” is something I also have comment on: c’mon guys, you could have thought up a proper title for the song if you’d put your minds to it. The track in question isn’t bad at all though, sporting a somewhat progressive touch and rather well audible keyboards. After “Heathendom“ there’s a hidden track, a cover of “Sixteen Tons” performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford. This track was a hit in the 50s and I’d never heard the original myself but I found it on YouTube. Memento Mori’s version is close to the original but it’s a lot heavier of course with another good performance from Messiah. This cover also makes the album end on a lighter note than it otherwise would’ve after the monumental “Heathendom”.
As a fan of Candlemass (the reason I picked this up album in the first place) I can say that while solid, “Life, Death and Other Morbid Tales” didn’t impress me as much as the Candlemass albums with Messiah on vocals and some of the other doom albums I have in my collection. Save for a couple of really good tracks, the band are often playing it rather safe and as I already said, some songs are quite unremarkable and even boring.