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Memento Mori's debut release, Rhymes of Lunacy, had a large effect on me as a musician and fan of heavy music back when it was released. It remains a favorite of mine to go back to when I'm in the mood for dire, melodic, yet doom-ridden fare. The musical prowress brought together in Messiah Marcolin, Mike Wead, and Snowy Shaw is considerable, and the end result is worthy of many a listen, and even some amount of devotion.
The opening salvo The Rhyme lets you know where the band is going to place themselves, roaring forth with a crash at maximum volume, then dying into a delicate acoustic pieces, punctuated by more loud crashes and melodic guitar screams.
Most of the time Rhymes of Lunacy is attempting to walk that tightrope -- wanting to blast you into the wall with its detuned power riffing and monster drum work -- and yet once it gets you there, it romances you with delicacy, mostly via Wead and Argento's ample guitar skills. You will find the layering of guitars to be thick, with lead screams punctuating the power chording in the background, and acoustics fluttering beneath the power in several places.
Certainly there's doom to be had, as witnessed by the stomping rhythms of The Seeds of Hatred, and the slow unstoppable grind of Caravan of Souls. Fans of Candlemass will find familiar territory in Memento Mori, with Messiah's trademarked forlorn crooning all over the disc and in fine form, and a sense of plodding inevitability weaving in and out of the songs like a monstrous shadow with a hammer striking over and over again with no hope of reprieve.
But there are additional melodic touches added, some fantastic solo guitar work, and plenty of departures from the norm. Morbid Fear is an example of this, offering an oddly melodic look at the topic of impending death, with Wead and Argento weaving harmonic guitar work and solos throughout and a nimble little acoustic piece rounding out the tune. Another example is the instrumental Forbidden Dreams.
Even the final song on the CD, The Monolith, is strong. It's a smashing finish, complete with mythic lyrical themes, epic rhythm guitar work on both the distorted and acoustic side of the ledger, and Shaw's monstrous drumming.
Some material is less desirable, particularly the interesting but somewhat out of place Little Annie's Not An Angel. The cover of Michael Schenker's Lost Horizons is quite pleasing to my ears, but I acknowledge that it is a note-for-note reproduction of the original, and therefore more a homage to the guitar legend rather than a different take on the song. Lost Horizons is my favorite MSG song, so for me it is fun to hear it covered, and particularly interesting to hear Messiah sing it (and pull it off quite well, I might add).
Overall, the vibe Memento Mori hooks into is one I'm buying hook, line, and sinker. Killer doom riffing with fantastic guitar touches and the distinctive vocal stylings of Marcolin -- I find very little basis on which to complain. By contrast, I did find the band's future work to be hit-and-miss. This first CD is wonderful and I wholeheartedly recommend it.