Memoriam - Interview
"Rise To Power" is the fifth album of the second album trilogy Memoriam have released (read review here). After being compared as a follow-up to mighty Bolt Thrower the British guys have found more and more their own style and stepped out of this huge legacy and burden with each album. As always I had a very nice chat via Zoom with Karl Willetts where we talked about the album of course but also about future plans for the band and his other interesting project he does with Memoriam guitarist Scott Fairfax. Enjoy reading!
Hi Karl, have you calmed down a little bit since the Andernach Metal Days?
Oh, it took a while to recover as it does these days more than in the past. Age is an issue. You picked us up at the airport and had to drive, it's a long day.
Haha, yeah but I meant it because you were forced to quit the last three songs there…
Yeah, that was a little bit of disaster. We had an issue with the sound energy and couldn't get our intro to work. They didn't adjust the time for us and so we lost three songs of the set which is ultimately to straighten that considering in the thirty years of me working as a musician I've never had that situation where the road crew didn't say you've got five minutes. There was no warning and for the fans that was a little bit abrupt and rather rude and unprofessional. So I wasn't very impressed and it was not the best gig to be honest. But it is what it is and we had a good time when we did the show and to meet some people in the crowd to have some nice chat with the fans and friends. That's really what it is about for me and makes it worth doing it. This summer we're gonna be doing some more shows but last year we did too much and kind of burnt ourselves out. So we decided to be a little bit more exclusive, not do so many and our policy at this point really is to press on with the writing of album number six, the final album of the second trilogy.
The release of "Rise To Power" lies back some months now. Looking back to all the reactions from the fans and press – are you happy with the feedback you got?
I'm definitely very pleased with the reception the album got. It achieved a quite high chart position in the German national album charts, something we always are very pleased of – I think it was #10 which was quite nice. In Germany a lot of people are gonna get it and then there is always this discussion because it sounds too much like Bolt Thrower or it doesn't sound enough like Bolt Thrower, an issue always arises but I think we are moving away from that comparison and defining our own sound and making our own stuff. We've been doing this since day one. I think we finally achieved it on the two last albums and I can't really understate the influence of our new drummer. Spike brought in a new flavor to what we do and a level of technicality when it comes to the sound of what we do quite considerably and it's been a nice progression within the last three albums. Also the relationship with Reaper Entertainment seems to be pushed on to a comfortable level. We are also a bit more comfortable in ourselves and what we do as well. So we're very pleased with the reception it received and it's a very very strong album.
On the album cover the story of the "Warmaster" is continued in reverse – right now he is sitting on his throne with an orb and scepter. Can you tell a little bit more about the idea behind the cover? Are there maybe some hidden easter eggs or a hidden agenda behind the choice of color?
Well, absolutely. The color is majestic royal purple, the color of kings and royalty. It is also kind of aligned with the crowning of our new king which was the weekend we played away – do you watch the crowning or do you driving around in a van with you, Michael? We went for the latter which was good (laughs). I mean, we work in reverse. "To The End" was the end point of this leader figure's life, we saw him at that point he's leading his troops into battle where he ultimately dies which triggers off the first trilogy albums visually. So this one is the second one and it's moving back in his life to the point where he rises to power. So this is the point in his life where he is most powerful. So this is all around the concept of power. It works really well and on the next one we'll be moving further backwards in his life, maybe towards the beginning, the dawning of his career. Not sure where we're going visually but I do have some ideas.
So let me guess – you're playing some more ballads and the cover will be pink because he doesn't have so much power, haha!
Absolutely! The cover will be pink picture with an embryo. It's gonna be wild songs and not lullabies mainly, haha!! No, as I said, we've already written them. Scott is a monster, you cannot stop him. Every time I talk with him he's writing, he's unstoppable. It's great and takes the time to sit back and write the lyrics to 10 or 12 songs he's put together and filed it over to me in Dropbox.
With 'Never Forget, Never Forgive (6 Million Dead)' you have a clear statement against fascism as an opener. You use some spoken samples from different people saying "I am the enemy". Do you want to state that everybody can become a perpetrator in such a system once it is installed, likewise it was in Nazi Germany?
Yeah, absolutely. We used it as an intro that links into the track 'I Am The Enemy', it's a precursor to that track. We got all our family and friends, and my kids – we got everybody that we knew involved on the album in some way. I thought it was a really good statement and it works going into that "6 Million Dead" track which as you pointed out is what about the concept of being palpable and being how to blame for the system as a whole and of a regime where you turn your head and look away – you're innocent and that's not the case. We wear responsibility for the actions of people around us and it's a statement that we all can be a part. It's just human nature to go along with what's happening around them because it's too difficult to challenge the regime in power. That's what's ultimately happens. Not only in Nazi-Germany but all across world in different regimes. When you think of the mass executions in Eastern Europe where people marched into the woods and being shot. That was even before the gas chambers and it is an ideological growth and it's a frightening design of human nature which is fascinating and abhorrent at the same time. It's endemic , it's there and it's a possibility within us all with the genocide and inhumanity in Ukraine right now with civilians being killed and all that stuff. The whole album is pretty much focused on this topic and that song in particular was born some years before but it took me a long time to write. I never felt that the lyrics I wrote gave it the gravity and the justice the song deserved but this time around the mournful tone to the guitar sound and the structure of the song really lend towards that. This time sitting down reading, watching documentaries of people's experience in the death camps that's where I drew the influence on the lyrics from. Even directly from their words. So once I got them it was very easy to write. Through all these years of trying I finally managed to do it. I'm very proud of that song and I'm very proud that it is the opening track on the album as well.
That collective guilt of Germans came to my mind at first thought, just like Daniel Jonah Goldhagen stated in his book "Hitler's Willing Executioners" from 1996.
I mean, it's etched on the German conscience, isn't it? Your generation is still kind of dealing with the guilt of it. It's fair enough, it is something we all must remember. It is not only the guilt of the German nation but of the world itself. All knew what was happening so it's a collective guilt we all must share. And there was also the Iron Front which was the original anti-fascist movement that emerged in Germany in the late 20s and early 30s as a direct response to the rise of National Socialism. So there is good and bad in every nation and there were elements of people who were trying to do something about it. We should learn from it and make sure we do not go down that track once more. We have to stop it.
Totally agree with you though I think it will be difficult to not go this way again considering all the stuff that happens these days. With the war in the Ukraine you already talked about, you have another topic that you can use. Did you think that such a war would happen in modern times? I have the feeling that all the foundations we thought would be incontrovertible have been torn down in the last years….
Yes, it is shocking. It's been brewing for the last ten years with the annexation of Crimea and the shooting down of the MH17 over the Ukraine, there were many signs but the world chose to ignore and look away. Nobody think anything was really gonna happen and didn't expect the unexpected. With the global endemic of nationalism rising, it's not only Russian nationalism that is all what it's all about, it's a culture of fear coming over the people as a first step. That was something the Nazis in Germany did with the outing of different people and we see that across the globe, on every country across the planet. It's a worrying issue. But what's the cause? Religious fundamentalism in the Middle East affecting the West - it's a massive deep trench of human failure and inhumanity which lies deep and is a rich vein of lyrical content for me.
When I listen to "Rise To Power", I find the atmosphere darker and more oppressive than on the other albums. Is it because Spikey contributed much more or did you change anything in the approach to compose the tracks?
I think it's a combination of some factors. The guitars create that dark atmosphere and then the drums enhance that atmosphere. The gloomy darkness was created by Scotts songwriting which I think has developed considerably over the past five years. His confidence and his ability has grown tenfold. That is what really led us to that sound. And this in turn led us to me and my songwriting so all these factors come up added to make the album to sum up total what it is. So I think it is a progression and it will be interesting to see where the next album will take us. On this album there was this formula that worked always for us, there were all the same elements that will work for us, Dan Seagrave with the art, Russ Russell and his studio and the only major difference is the addition of Spike. He has made an impact and a great input into our sound and maybe this is what made the songs more heavier and more atmospheric.
How far are you with the plans for the 6th album?
I got some rough ideas in my head. Obviously it's gonna be a three-word-album title cause everything we've done has been three-word album titles. So we kind of keep that formula. The colors I've been thinking of reflecting birth and the start of a new dawn – I thinks there's gonna be hopefully an element of hope channeled into this new album that we're doing. An as Scott continues writing track after track after track, we've got plenty of track to choose from. So it's up to me now to find some time to sit down and get my lyric-writing head on. I've got a few ideas, some song titles hanging around. Hopefully we get to the studio to record it early part of 24, February, March.
So is it going to be another trilogy?
I don't know if we have enough years left to do another trilogy but I'd like to. From my perspective another trilogy would be a nice square number. A trilogy of trilogies. I gotta convince the rest of the band and Florian from Reaper Entertainment to do another three albums (laughs). And we'll see where that goes. I'm not really sure where we're gonna take this one because we've gone through the concept of life with it. It might be a journey through the underworld or maybe a separate stand alone one if I can't convince the band to do another trilogy.
With H Project Zero you are involved in a totally different project together with Scott. What did you drink to start such a band?
Well, we just stumbled across it in Covid, really. Obviously Scott is writing all this material. He writes for As The World Dies, he writes for us and he's quite into these 80s symphony stuff. He wrote a couple of songs just for himself, really, and then I heard what he had written and my first idea was I did some guest vocals for Rogga (Johannson; M.) on a Paganizer album and he kind of took the lyrics and stuck them on top of this electronic thing he'd written. I didn't quite fit but it kinda worked so it gave us the idea, the catalyst that we could do something. We did the first two tracks on "Syntax Zero One" and we just enjoy it. A different bit of a release. It's an emotional release as you use it a bit as a release of personal loss. It's a vehicle for my grieving in many respects as regards to my brother on the last one and the loss of one of my close friends on the next one. It's written and I did the first vocals on two tracks and we're gonna be finishing them off next week. We're aiming to get the second 10' released at the end of this year around, before Christmas. So we're rolling on and aiming to do one of those every year for the next few years and then maybe combine it all together as an album at the end, that's probably the idea where we're gonna take that. It's just a studio project and nothing that we never do live because it would get too complicated really.
So the last words are yours.
It was an absolute pleasure once again to speak to you my friend and thank you for being such a gentleman and driving us around in Germany.
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