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Memento Mori has been a pet project of sorts for me, one of those little side efforts that may have meant little to the masses but nevertheless carved out a niche in my soul. The core of the band was Mike Wead and his insane, droning, classically-inspired doom approach. A stoner's Malmsteen, or perhaps more accurately described as the marriage of drugged-out noodling with plenty of talent applied. To me its a heck of an intoxicating mix, and although the final results have been mixed, I always fixated on the valiant attempts at greatness, even when the ultimate pinnacle of achievement has proven somewhat elusive.
For those willing souls traveling to the same destination as Wead -- the Psycho's Path -- the rewards are hefty indeed. There's material for a heavy guitar player to feast on, delivery of message and tone by one of metal's all-time great crooners, and contributions by other fine musicians and songwriters such as Nikkey Argento and Snowy Shaw. In short, this is more than just another flippant side project. It's nearly a supergroup, and in my humble judgement, Memento Mori should have been recognized by more and given a higher place in the metal consciousness than it received.
And so it was with pleasure that I noted the final effort from the band included the re-pairing of Wead and Marcolin. La Danse Macabre was more or less a Wead solo album, with Mike contributing all the song writing and a hefty portion of the production sensibilities. I wanted to hear more collaboration, and I got it in Songs for the Apocalypse vol 4.
The Things You See (And the Things You Don't) is a fitting opening. Slick and mechanical, it delivers a sort of updated approach, precisely written yet infectuous, almost poppy. Owing to its different subject matter or the slick, steely production values, the song sets a new tone for the band and succeeds due to its nice, crunchy rhythm and memorable chorus line. There is also some nicely placed syncopation and interplay between rhythm guitar and drums. I dig the tight E-string palm-muted rhythm and Marcolin's trademarked vocal delivery. To me, this is just "YEAH, THEY'RE BACK!" The lead break is muscular and glorious, topping off the whole affair.
One Sign Too Many begins with power doom in all its glory, then settles into a predictable but effective melody and vocal delivery. Without even looking at the linear notes, I can tell this was written largely by Wead. Once I hear that little noodling guitar lead part over the top of the crunchy detuned undercurrent -- that's Mike Wead. If there's a distinctive element to Memento Mori's approach, it's Wead's little guitar riffs, infecting you like a whisper that won't go away.
Burned by Light is classic Memento Mori, delivering power doom with an infectuous melodic overlay, crunching into your head and then sliding across your brain with its delicious melodic guitar lines, scoped perfectly with Marcolin's vocal delivery. This is Memento Mori. It's sarcastic, doomy, oddly -- poppy -- in its approach. When the rhythm stops for the chorus to begin, and then Wead hits that melodic dark guitar line, it makes me think of nuclear explosions and skeletons playing their concerto to the demise of the world. Oh hey, look -- that's the cover art! Burned by Light fits the pantheon of what Memento Mori was trying to achieve all along. Fantastic.
All this being said, there does appear to be some filler on Songs for the Apocalypse. The cover of Animal Magnetism falls flat, especially in light of the apt reproduction of Schenker's Lost Horizons on Rhymes of Lunacy. Animal Magnetism is a great Scorpions classic, but it's also a song that is difficult to add to in a historical sense. Here, the Memento Mori bunch just throw it out there, almost as an afterthought. I could have done without it. Messiah's self-written ode to the band itself is a nice little ditty, but it just doesn't linger in my brain like it should. It sounds too derivative of his other work with Candlemass, and somehow just doesn't come together as a whole like I wanted it to.
The final shot of glory for the band appears to be I Prayed. The lyrical material sort of fits in with Messiah's Candlemass roots, and indeed he wrote them. But the song structure and overall tone are provided by Wead. Beginning with a fine interplay between guitar and drums, then screeching off into a strange off-key jazz interlude, this works somehow. It's pretty chaotic until the main verses kick in, but ultimately settles on several variations of palm-muted low-register comping and changeup refrains and choruses. The lead breakdown is dissonant, grating -- wonderful.
All in all I was happy to have this final effort from the band before they took their final bow and rode off into the sunset -- or more precisely, to other projects in their respective musical careers. For Messiah, it was back to Candlemass, for a time. For Wead, it was on to the ranks of the King Diamond army. At this late date, Memento Mori is all but forgotten by most. But that just makes it all the more special for me. I really enjoyed this band's efforts, their approach, their whole deal. I will continue to drag these old CDs out from their dusty rack every now and then, and enjoy a slab of dark, doomy melody unlike any other act.