It’s incredible that even at this point in our career, we are still experiencing doing new things for the first time, which is still fresh and exciting.
With their latest album Rise To Power, Memoriam deliver the goods again with a collection of rousing metal anthems, as we have come to expect with them, that continue to deal with the horrors of war. The UK metal legends have been extremely consistent with their output and Gavin Brown caught up with vocalist Karl Willetts to discuss this and all things related to Memoriam and Rise To Power, working with artist Dan Seagrave and his time in Bolt Thrower.
E&D: Your new album Rise To Power has just been released. What has the reaction to be like so far?
Karl: Universally very well received. Very pleased with the way it’s been the received by the people that matter, the people that are out there to buy it. We managed to chart in the German national network charts at position number 10, which is pretty good. We knocked Taylor Swift off her spot, which is quite nice! All in all, some great positive reviews, a few people just haven’t got it and I don’t expect everyone to, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to make music we enjoy playing and we’re lucky enough that there’s a lot of people out there that like what we do and get what we’re doing. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re very pleased with how it’s been received.
E&D: Was the making of the album a smooth process?
Karl: Yeah, we are consummate professionals. We are creatures of habit in a way but we’re still learning as well. That’s kind of a positive thing at this stage of our careers. We’re constantly taking onboard new ideas or new ways of doing things, which makes things flow a lot easier. For example, the first three albums, we had these time schedule where we thought, right, we’re going to do one a year, every year. We tried to create that old school vibe like it was when we first started out in the late 80s, early 90s, where bands did albums every year. We kind of continued on that tangent for the first three albums, and obviously covid came along, which did impact our ability to move at such a fast pace. We learned from that really, because it took us 18 months to release album number four. We took that on board and it worked really well for us, that extra 6 months in pre production was a good thing to learn. As a result of that, we put that into practice for this album as well, so we were very well prepared. The last two albums, I’ve demoed the vocals in advance, which is something I’ve never done in my thirty years career and it’s quite nice to have the opportunity to have that bit of space to rework the lyrics if they don’t quite fit before you’re in the studio. Make sure the timing structures are correct and work properly because often when you write lyrics in your head, they’re perfect, then when you try and deliver in the studio, they just don’t work. To get all that stuff done before we go into the studio has really put us in a strong position that really reflects on both this album and the one previous to it, To The End. We always go to Parlour Studios now, that is our home, our recording home so it’s always good to go back there and see Russ Russell, who always makes it feel very comfortable. Yeah, it was a very smooth process and we’re gonna maintain that process. We are already actually in the process of writing material for album number 6. Most of the music is completely done, so it’s just up to me now to catch up and write some lyrics.
E&D: When are you looking to getting that out?
Karl: We’re gonna follow that 18 month process. We envisage the next album album, the sixth, the last album of the second trilogy will be out in 18 months time depending on the labels release schedule. We’re in a very strong position, and we are having a great time, enjoying it.
E&D: Memoriam have been very prolific releasing albums, this is your fifth album in 7 years. Do you always want to keep busy with your music?
Karl: Yeah, I mean, we’re very aware of where we are at in our career. So we try to maintain that profile and constant delivery. We’re pretty much driven by the prolific songwriting ability of Mr Scott Fairfax, he’s the one that’s the driving force behind this. Every night, he writes music and it’s great to see that process in play, that’s what he lives for! The riff master, we’ve got what we call the 6 million dollar riff box, packed full of songs ready for us to pilfer! We’ve probably got enough for 3 or 4 albums to be perfectly honest! We’ve always got the music there, the creativity is always present and we are driven by that constant supply of killer riffs, which is the key, from Mr Fairfax, so long may that continue.
E&D: When you are writing songs, do you always start with the riffs?
Karl: Always. It’s always been about the riffs. The key to spark my ideas off always comes from the riffs and the structures that are in the songs that come to me. We’ve got process in place and it works. Scott spends every night writing music, puts the ones that he likes over to us in Dropbox, we have a listen through and say, Okay, that’s quite good, but it’s probably a bit too long, take these sections and it works, so we’re rolling with that. He’s busy doing stuff with his other bands as well. Me and him, we’ve got a little side project which we’re currently writing a couple tracks for at the moment as well. He’s a constant supply of material for all these different projects that he’s involved with, which is incredible, but he loves it.
E&D: With all your songs and lyrics about the horrors of war, what is it about the subject of war that makes it continuously fascinating for you even after all these years?
Karl: It’s a strange one. I’m pretty much known for my lyrical content that I’ve done for about 30 years. That’s the stuff that I was allowed to write about with my former band. That was the formula and that’s what it’s all about. With Memoriam, I’ve got a bit of a more of a blank canvas, so I can write songs about other stuff as well, songs about life in general, songs of joy and sorrow and suffering and grief and the things that we all go through in our everyday lives. That’s important for me to get those songs. I do like to write songs these days that have got some kind of social, political, cultural, conduct, some commentary about the world around us and make comment on the things that I feel that are important but generally I tend to take reference from things that are happening in the world around me. It just so happens, that at this very point in time, we are potentially on the verge of world war 3 so the issues that are happening in Ukraine with the Russian invasion of the European sovereign state live very heavily on my mind and formulate quite a strong influence on the lyrical content that featured on this new album Rise To Power which is ironic really. I’ve been writing songs about that for about 30 years and it just seems at this point in time, now more than ever, they seem more relevant than ever In the past, It’s always been about, say, a historical event or an event that happens in a dystopian future, but right here, right now, it’s happening. I would have never envisaged that happening in 2023, that there is a major war on our doorstep, so yeah, of course there is a strongly lyrical war influence on this album for sure.
E&D: You have you been making music for 35 plus years now. Is it still a thrill for you creating new music?
Karl: It is completely. Being in a band is all about creating music and sometimes when you’re in a band for a long time, the fire burns out a little bit and the productivity isn’t so regular, but for me, being in a band is just about creating new music and making music and getting out there and playing it. That’s the beauty of it and with Memoriam, we’re not really tied with old school with death metal, you’re always going to get that but we’ve got pretty much an open mind to incorporating different ideas and trying out different things. Sometimes things don’t work but we are quite willing to try. For example, on this new album there’s a riff on ‘All Is Lost’ which has almost got a bit of a black metal feel to it. It kind of works within the song. We are quite willing to take on board different influences and different spheres of music. There are parts that are very influenced by Killing Joke and that’s one of my things that kind of probably comes across sometimes. We’re quite prepared to try out new things and, work with new ideas. That’s the glory of making new music. We really enjoy doing it, and we’re still doing it this far into our career, and we’re still pushing each album, we do slight amendments and different textures to what we do, and that’s what it’s all about, and the bottom line is we enjoy doing it.
E&D: Going back to Rise Of Power, how was it working with Dan Seagrave on the artwork? You’ve worked with him before, do you see him as someone you’d always want to use?
Karl: The dystopian way in which they’re done is absolutely key to what we do. I am a man of 80s vinyl. When I grew up listening to music, it was all about buying records, and it’s all about the visual effects the artwork has for me. The album cover is key for the music in many respects, because it just draws your eye. We’ve had Dan Seagrave involved from the word go, from our first album and now here we are on our fifth album, we’ve got five album covers with him. It’s integral to what we do and that works for us. We’re almost at a point now where we feel that it wouldn’t be a Memoriam album if it didn’t have a done Seagrave cover! He tells a story with each album and he portrays what we’re trying to convey with the music and the lyrical content and it’s amazing to be part of that creative process with Dan because when you’ve got a rough idea in your head, he comes back with a rough sketch and during different times with different views of it. He selects which direction you want to go down and that part of that creative process, you see it all come together through the sketching and then the inking process and the oils, and it’s great when you see the final project which has come from your brain to the visual effect that finally happens, it’s incredible.
E&D: What are some of your other favourite album covers that Dan has done?
Karl: Obviously, Altars Of Madness, it’s a classic. Imperial Doom by Monstrosity too, but he’s got so many. The one that really jumps into my mind when you ask that question is Altars Of Madness which is the best Morbid Angel album as well.
E&D: Do you still see Memoriam acting as an extension to the UK extreme metal scene was in the late 80s that you started in and how it is today?
Karl: In a way but I think that we do things our way, but yeah, the scene has evolved and generated and it’s an exciting place to be, and there’s lots and lots of great bands out there doing some great stuff. It’s just quite nice that we’ve still got a place within that genre to do what we do. And I think we were doing it back 30 years ago and it’s quite nice to see that the measure is created through our careers as a whole new generation of people doing something that draws reference directly from that style of music. Each generation comes along and changes and makes it its own, so we all draw our sense of identity through through what we do. Sometimes when, when the new generation comes along, they have to create their own stuff and that belongs to them. It’s theirs. We’re very proud of, and very pleased that we are in the position to do what we are doing after so many years of doing it, and we take on board and respect the work that the bands are doing, albeit different, and with different styles, It’s a very healthy place to be in.
E&D: Back then, how exciting was it having such different bands as Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death, Benediction, Extreme Noise Terror, Carcass and Doom, all coexisting and playing gigs together?
Karl: Yeah, it was it was it was one thing I think we’ll still hold on to. I don’t think there’s a sense of competition between bands with a large sense of cooperation, a sense of shared identity through what you do, and shared ideals or perspectives. Back then, it was great. We didn’t really know what we were doing to be perfectly honest, we were just doing it and looking back now, we were almost riding the crest of a of a new wave and you didn’t know how it was gonna go, If you asked me years ago, I was 21, when I first started doing it, and now I’m 56. If you asked me, will we be doing this in 30 years time? I’d have had said no way, but here we are and it’s incredible to do that and that’s purely down to the support of people, of family and friends and followers. It’s really down to the people there. They’ve the ones that buy your shirts. They’re the ones that support you and without them, we wouldn’t be able to do that. I’m eternally grateful and very proud and privileged to be in this position, so long may that last.
E&D: What are some of your favourite memories from your time with Bolt Thrower?
Karl: I get asked that quite a lot. It’s really hard to define any specific moment. It’s always the first time you experience something that makes it special. Going back before I was in the band, you listened to John Peel religiously every night, so that was a big first when we did a session for the show and obviously going into the studio, I joined the band two weeks before we went to record the first album. That was a big experience, you know, a great one. It’s always the first, so the first time we got over to Europe. We played with Autopsy and Pestilence, that was a massive, incredible tour. We went to America and we toured around in a Greyhound bus, which we bought, which broke down more often than not! It was an incredible experience going to Australia, things like oh, yeah, it’s always the first time that you experienced something that you always sticks in my mind, so yeah, there was plenty of them. We’re still experiencing that with Memoriam, for example, we did a full length feature video for the track ‘All Is Lost’. That’s something I’ve never done before, so it’s incredible that even at this point in our career, we are still experiencing doing new things for the first time, which is still fresh and exciting and new.
E&D: Are you looking forward to your upcoming live dates and the new songs from Rise To Power?
Karl: It’s gonna be difficult. We’ve got to sit down decide which songs we will play. We’ll go through them all and we work out which work best. We’ve hot to formulate a new live set which we incorporate three or four songs off the new album, and then we’ve got quite a few gigs lined up for this year. We’re never a band that’s gonna go on a long extended tour but we like to do gigs on our own terms the way we like doing it and that works for us. Last year was very busy because we were had to do a lot of shows that we were contractually obliged to do, shows that were cancelled or postponed from COVID, and then we did o shows on top of that.
E&D: Does it make you proud that so many bands site Bolt Thrower and Memoriam as well as a big influence?
Karl: Absolutely, yeah, there’s certainly bands out there that do obviously draw reference from the bands that I am involved with or been involved with in the past and I am very proud to be held as someone who has influenced other people’s lives. I’m always told how much the music I’ve made in my life has helped individuals through specific, difficult times in their lives, moments of joy and sorrow and that for me, makes it all worthwhile. All the hard work that you put into it, and we do it for ourselves and we enjoy doing it but sometimes it is nice to get back off people to know that there’s genuine sense of appreciation for what we’ve done in the past and what we’re doing now. We appreciate that.