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A conversation with Memoriam’s Karl Willetts (ex-Bolt Thrower) on new album ‘Requiem for Mankind’

Posted by on July 17, 2019

UK death metal giants Memoriam’s new album Requiem For Mankind was released last month via Nuclear Blast (order here). This mark’s the group’s overall third full-length effort as they’ve consecutively released an album three years in a row since 2017’s For the Fallen. We caught up frontman Karl Willetts (ex-Bolt Thrower) to discuss more about the new album, the evolution in death metal, touring, and more. 

What was the process like to record Requiem For Mankind compared to For the Fallen?

That’s a good place to start. I think very, very good. I think the new album Requiem for Mankind is very much a product of the previous two albums in many respects. We’ve moved at a very quick pace to our relatively short career of three years with Memoriam, and released three albums in three years. I think on the first album, our debut album we were very much learning how we play together as musicians and trying to develop a sound, and it takes a while I think for a band to achieve that.

When we first started out there were a lot of expectations upon us, based on our heritage and the bands we’ve been in previously. It was quite difficult, and that’s a big help, it’s a big help for a person to have that, but also in another way it’s quite a hindrance, because people’s expectations are of a certain level and we were clear that we wanted to create something different. We didn’t want to just do a Benediction or Bolt Thrower part two album, we wanted to create a band that had its own sound. We’ve tried to do that on other albums we’ve experimented, changed things and try things and I think finally now three years in with our third album we’ve finally achieved that. With Memoriam we’ve achieved what we consider to be the definitive Memoriam album. That’s a real product of the work that we’ve put on the previous two albums over three years. 

The major factor of difference. I mean there’s not a lot different than how the recording process, how we just go about writing songs or how we go about recording the songs in the studio. The major difference this time around, is the fact that we’ve engaged the services of an independent specialist in the name of Mr. Russ Russell. We’ve got someone else involved, an external perspective to help us produce the album and that’s really what’s made this huge, massive step up on this new album in my opinion. The fact that he was involved in almost the song writing parts with us as well, because we knew we were going to use him for about 8 months before we went to the studio we said, “We’ve always wanted to work with Russ forever, but never really got around to it because our schedules have never… ” We fired all the songs over to Russ at a really early stage when we were writing them in their demo form. 

He had a really clear idea of what we were trying to achieve and listened to the songs and got a feel for them, well before we went to record them. So finally when we actually went to the studio in February Parlour Studios in Kettering to work with Russ Russell in February of this year. We had it all.. we had the blueprint, we knew what we were doing. So it went really smoothly. It’s probably in my thirty years of working in this industry and working and putting out records, it’s probably was the smoothest and most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had in the studio with the band and recording an album. It was a sheer pleasure to work with Russ. He’s an absolute wizard behind that mixing desk.

 

What do you think fans should expect from the third record?

Well it takes the element of the previous two albums. The structure’s still the same and aggressiveness, the rawness, is still there. This time around we’ve found the missing link, we’ve found the final piece in the gene pool, which we’ve been searching for, for the past two or three years which is that big, epic, kind of old school death metal kind of, majestic sound that really make the album sound big, it’s a big sounding album. The structural flow of the songs, the way they flow together throughout the album really works well, as well. I think people will be more than satisfied when they hear the album. We feel it’s the best album that we’ve put together and released so far.

It’s already getting really good reviews from people that’ve heard it and I think people will be pleased when they hear it, people that like Memoriam will be pleased and the people that don’t particularly like Memoriam they may kind of like to get turned into it. It’s old school death metal, that’s what it is. That’s what we do. It’s got a bit of an element of like a modern twist to it, which is mainly fit to age. The production technique of Russ Russell was used and the influence of the guitarist who is influenced by a different kind of genre, a different generation of music, so what we are as our old school death metal. I think people will be pleased with what they hear. We are.

 

Can you discuss a few lyric themes on the new album? 

Yeah I kind of tend to stick to the same lyrical themes that I always kind of… The past thirty years my main lyrical content and inspiration throughout my heritage has always been a thing of war. That will always be there… but interpret that how you wish. People often expect it’s metaphorical and you can obviously relate the lyrics to the war of life. Everyday existence can be seen as a war, a battle in many aspects. The songs on the album that convey direct reference to warfare. I can just pick off the top of my head the lead track ‘Shell Shock’ which is the record label released that as the first lead track for people to see as a lyric that directly relates to the effects of PTSD in the first World War.

Then the closing track “Interment” is about savage brutality of face to face, hand to hand combat. Then there is “The Veteran” which is going to… you know he’s got a military kind of title, that it’s all about that’s about homelessness basically it’s about the … way that a large percentage of homeless population are ex-military servicemen and are not being taken care of by the government. 

They almost, in my opinion, failed in their duty of care to honor the military convenance and take care of the ex-forces. So we’ve got a video put together for that track as well which we’ll release here in a couple of weeks which is done by an ex-serviceman a veteran himself who’s gone through the process of being in Iraq, and coming home and suffering from PTSD and the video is a very, very, it’s very personal. It’s from his own perspective. It kind of documents his experiences whilst on his tour of duty and then when he comes home and hospitals and having to deal with, there’s the stress and angry, and the pain of dealing with that.

So we’re looking forward to the response of that, that track is going to get when it’s released in the video at the end of this month. That’s the main lyrical concepts… one of the main themes, but alongside that there’s other themes as well. They also need a constant theme of sorrow and grief and morning from which Memoriam is all about. We’ve explored that kind of theme throughout the album, the three albums we’ve done.

Alongside that there’s a political edge, I take great joy in writing songs that have got some kind of political meaning to them. Songs Refuse to be Led and Austerity Kills are directly filled with my own political agenda, and my own political rhetoric in there. Of course, there are songs about empowerment as well, there’s songs about survival, songs about experiencing an – and getting on with it and moving on. 

The sounds exciting. And moving on. We all go through life, and we all experience different kind of pain and sorrow and joy and different experiences, but it’s really ultimately how we all engage with those experiences and get through them and learn from the experiences and become fuller, better individuals through that process. I think that’s something we can all relate to. I mean, the songs can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It can be interpreted in the forms of lets say domestic abuse and things like that. it’s about survival, it’s about empowerment, it’s about taking strength and moving on with your life. There’s basically the four thematic themes that kind of roam throughout the trilogy of albums that we’ve put out since we’ve started three years ago. They’re really strong on this album, they come through really, really well and hopefully it will be well received.

 

Since Memoriam formed, you’ve released an album every year. You have a lot of creative energy and not every band can pull it off these days. 

We intentionally set out to do this when we first started when we realized we’d got a contract, a contractual offer. That’s kind of trying to recreate that feeling of when we first started out in bands back in the mid 80s. Back then bands … and certainly new bands do tend to release albums at a quick pace when they first start out in a way to kind of try to identify themselves. So yeah we were trying to recreate the feeling of how it was for us when we first started out in bands. We were involved in bands previously that got to that point in their career where creatively, they weren’t so politic in their deliverance and creativity of making new albums. For me personally, from a personal perspective, writing music, creating music and doing albums are really inherently what being in a band is all about, it’s the part of it that really motivates me, and I really enjoy. I really enjoyed writing lyrics and making words fit together and writing song with a meaning. I miss that process, I really did miss that process. 

It was an opportunity for me to kind of get back into that creative saddle and write lyrics. We’ve pushed forward at a really, really fast pace. Really kind of not tending to dwell too much on what we’re doing and kind of releasing an album and then start really concentrating on focusing on writing the next album. We’ve done that successfully over the past two or three years and here we are on album number three, and I’ll say I think we’ve got to that point now where we’re entirely satisfied with what we’d achieved over the past three years and specifically with this last album as I say, what we were seeking to achieve. 

It’s been definitive Memoriam album, so I think at this point after three years of writing at this gracious pace. I think it’s maybe time for us now to stand still and maybe take a breath, and take a look at what we’ve achieved and appreciate what we’ve achieved and enjoy the moment for what it is and maybe not rush into doing another album straight away and take some time out of the album writing process. Leave it for a year maybe and just enjoy what we’ve achieved and go out and do shows and gigs and things like that. Just to promote the album and the previous two and have some fun with it. Not worry about too much about doing another album at this point. I think we’ve got to that point now where we’ve got some options available to us and that’s what we’re exploring right now. 

 

If it was up to you, do you have enough material to release another album?

Yeah we’ve always got enough material. We’re lucky to have the creative talent in the band which is Mr. Scott Fairfax. He has got… we call it the million dollar riff vault that he’s got, which is basically all of these riffs that he’s got stored on his computer at home, which he’s written over the past ten, twenty years, which have never been used. We’ve been plundering this riff vault for the past three years and there’s still a lot more in there we haven’t used. On top of that he’s consistently writing new riffs and things like that. I think he’s going to do the band good because it has been quite an exhausting pace really writing and recording and doing gigs.

I think if we do continue at this pace it may have a negative affect and possibly kill us. At least you won’t get a bit burnt out. I think now is the time for us to sit back, enjoy what we’ve achieved, go out and do a hell of a lot of shows to promote what we’ve done. There are some of those things in mind that we want to do as well. Scott’s got a bit of a side project he’s working on that’s called The World Dies, and Andrew Whale is working on a bit of a side project called Darkened, and I’m potentially going to be working with Dave Ingram. So they’ve got some other little side things we want to have a play with as well. Alongside that as well, we really want to… we’re quite keen on going into the studio and releasing a series of maybe seven inches or an EP or and album, just independently on our own, which is covering the songs that inspired us to want to be in bands in the first place.

This is what we wanted to do when we first got the band together three years ago. We thought yeah we’ll just listen to a song, of songs that inspired us and made us who we are. We just never got around to doing it because we got so wrapped up and carried away with writing new material. Special material and our own songs so the opportunity now is to maybe sit back and maybe do these couple songs that we’ve always wanted to do and never got around to doing and release them. Maybe independently through Cosmic Chaos or something like that. So yeah we’ve got plenty of options right now, and it’s a great place to be and we’re just really enjoying the moment for what it is.

Are there any specific songs you’d like to cover?

Well yeah I’m talking not specific but the bands that I’m talking about are bands from the old UK punk scene. Songs by Discharged, Clash, Amebix, Antisect, Sacrilege. All those songs that were around in the mid to late 80s which kind of from which we formulated our identity and foreign path on musical heritage, we liked to kind of showcase some of those songs to engage them or show them to maybe an audience that’s never heard of that kind of style before. We got punk to our musical roots and where we come from. We got excited about the process of doing that.

Speaking of musical roots and how music has changed over the years. In your opinion how has death metal evolved over the years?

It’s evolved in many ways. Thirty years on down the line. It’s a very different beast from how it was when we first got together. In fact when we first got together there was no such thing as death metal, it was kind of comedic kind of tag that the music industry used to put on this extreme music together. They’ve all got very, very different sounds that we were all kind of called death metal. They’ve all got very different kind of feel.

Basically the genre emerged in the late 80s and it was a very healthy place a creative wave that we were surfing and it was great to be a part of that short phase of the death metal scene. Things change and what we generally tend to find is that different generations come along and they need to create a kind of music that belongs to them. That old school death metal is what our music would be, it’s our heritage, it belongs to us that’s where we come from it’s not we form our identities but sometimes, I believe the next generation that comes through has to do some thinking but sort of opposite to challenge that. Create something that they can create their own identities through.

The past twenty, thirty years you see different phases of extreme metal kind of emerging. You saw the emergence of black metal in the mid 90s and then the emergence of a more progressive technical death metal coming out towards the end, the beginning of the 2000’s. Different variations such as hardcore, very different phases, metalcore, pop metal, there’s all sorts of different phases of extreme metal within the genre that’s out there now. I think that’s a process of age and time and as I said people coming on and creating new music that belongs to them which is really important. That’s ultimately what’s kept the scene so diverse and so healthy. There’s room for… it’s a big place, it’s a big market, there’s room for everyone to do things that they want to do and a place even they feel important to them.

I may not like what other bands are doing or specific genres, I’m not a huge fan of black metal to be perfectly honest. I understand that there’s a place for it and people like it, and that great it’s all healthy and its kept the scene alive and its kept it devolving and right now in 2019 I think it’s a really good healthy state of being, I’d like to think exciting, a little bit more open, a little bit more diverse and opportunity for different voices to be heard within the scene as well which I think can only be a positive thing. Its got to happen and its great. It’s enabling force to allow these difference resources, different opinions different ideals to come through. That’s great and that’s only seen as good. 

 

Do you guys have any touring plans later this year?

The reality of it is, we’re not what I consider to be a touring band. We made a conscious decision when we first started out, we’re not really the kind of band that’s ever going to jump on a tour coach and go off for six to eight weeks and do an extended tour of any specific territory in the world. We just don’t want to operate like that. We’re all a little bit older now in our lives and at this point in our lives we’ve all got different perspectives on things, you’ve got different commitments, you’ve got different responsibilities. For example, we’ve all got jobs we can’t rely on this as a source of income, unless be did go out on the road for eight to nine months and we’re not prepared to do that. We just don’t want to do that.

We’ve kind of done it in our previous band and it’s great, it’s brilliant but right now at this point it really doesn’t hold any idea of joy or glory to me. We’ve got commitments, we’ve got jobs, I’ve got two young children so I like to be around them as much as possible. My mother has dementia so I look after her a few days a week so all that is important to us and doing Memoriam in many ways is a release from the average, everyday mundane responsibilities we have at home.

It’s a welcome release it’s our escape from that and so we tend to generally do shows that we’ll fly in and fly out and do a couple of shows over a weekend and we do festivals we are quite active in that respect. We do probably go away every other weekend and do end up doing maybe three, four, five shows a month which is good it keeps us active, it keeps us fired up, and it keeps us motivated. Because we’re doing it on our terms we enjoy it that much more and I think when we enjoy it that much more it makes it that much more special for us and that again comes through in our live performances.

I think the audience appreciate that and understand that and that works for us, we are weekend warriors and we’re proud of that it works for us and we stick to that principle, because I don’t really want to play The Back of Beyond on a Tuesday night for thirty people. I don’t really need to do that at this point in my career. I’m quite happy just doing it on weekends and that’s when most people really go to shows these days. In my opinion very rarely we all actually go out on a weekday to see a band unless it’s one I really, really want to see. So yeah that’s what we do and we’re sticking to our agenda and we’ve got plenty of stuff lined up which will keep us busy throughout this year and way into 2020 as well. Lots of gigs at festivals and club shows that we’ve got lined up which is keeping our diary quite full.

 

How is it balancing everything out between your personal life, day job, and music?

It’s taught me that sometimes it packs up on each in many aspects, but I think because we are not dependent on this as a source of income that takes a lot of pressure off of us. We do it purely for the joy in doing it, which is really the key to why we started doing it in the first place. It was to create some joy and have some fun. 

I think at this point in our careers we appreciate what we’re doing a lot more. We really enjoy what we’re doing. We want the experiences of that of the past and we just appreciate what it is for what it is and it’s just great to be able to do it on our own terms. As I said, we’re very busy in our social lives, you know we work and kids and all those things which is great, brilliant. When we go away on weekends, it’s kind of our time, it’s our escape. It’s great to go away with your mates and have a weekend away, every other weekend, play some shows, have a few beers and have a great time. 

We’re all in our… not for Scott, we’re in our fifties now so we’re very privileged, very lucky to have this opportunity to do this at this point in our lives. If you’d ask me thirty years ago when we first started out in bands, would I be doing this in thirty years time right now I’d had probably answered that, yeah, but here we are! We’re doing it, I’m talking and sharing about our third album now and it’s fantastic, it’s been an amazing experience and very life affirming experience to be able to do this as well. We’re very aware that we’re only in this position due to the support that we receive from the people that follow us. We’re very grateful for that support. So yeah we’re really, really pleased with what we’ve done out of the past three years and the past thirty years, and long may it last!

 

I have to say, it’s admirable with your busy schedule that you’re still able to get three albums out three years in a row.

Yes! Absolutely it’s been amazing to do that and we’ve really enjoyed every minute of doing that, but as I said I think now it’s the time to do … to ease back… I think if we carry on with this pace it’ll probably kill us, so maybe it’s time to ease back, ease on the brakes, enjoy what we’ve achieved and have some fun and then yeah we will be doing another album obviously in the future, but maybe not next year. We’ll might wait until 2021, my lucky number is 21 so yeah 2021 sounds like a good year to release another album in my opinion. We may take a year out and enjoy what we’ve achieved and go out there and promote it and have some fun, do shows, gigs and have a great time doing it!

 

Is there anything else that you want to say or add ?

Thanks for your support. Thanks for everyone that reads or listens to this. Thanks for your support over, not just over the past three years, but throughout the thirty odd years within the industry and we are very proud of what we’ve achieved during that time and our legacy and what we’re doing right now. So thanks for your support, without you we wouldn’t be able to do it.

Please show us your support by checking out our website www.Memoriam.UK.com checking out what we’re doing on there and merchandise available. That keeps us going and price for our rehearsals raise support in that way. Buy the new album, enjoy the new album, and also most importantly harass your local promoter. We’ve never had any serious offers to get over to America and it’s something we’d like to do even if it’s just for a handful of shows you know east coast to the west coast, maybe do two schedules. We’d like to do it so harass your local promoter and make them put an offer in our direction and make it so we can get over to America and do some shows for you there.

 

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