Once upon a time there was a lone hawk and his guitar, soaring about the skies. He let his riffs and solos rip from his lofty height and went by the name of NifRiffs. After considerable time and some acclaim by the mice and other furry animals scurrying about the ground, NifRiffs decided to get serious and start a real band.
Having a knack for weird and unusual names, he called the band Aephanemer. A first demo EP named Know Thyself was published soon thereafter. Now, the name was there, but the band was still a one-man show. After much more hand-wringing, a proper band saw the light of day to drive things forward more seriously. And now – in the Year of the Lord 2016 – the band graces the dewy-eyed listeners with their début full length album Memento Mori. So that we may remember that we are all mortal.
Now, why am I using such a cockamamie tale to kick off a review? Because the first thing striking you in this record is the ever-present, almost overwhelming lead guitar. It’s inescapable sound buzzes about your ears relentlessly and risks to wear itself out on ye. Memento Mori seems to be constructed around this specific main pillar. Very similar to what Gone in April did with drums back in time.
This leaves no doubt that Aephanemer is Martin Hamiche‘s brainchild and it shows at every turn of this windy road that is Memento Mori. So much so that the rhythm guitar and – indeed – the growls of Marion Bascoul almost get lost at sea.
Having said that, the quality of delivery of the lead guitar by Hamiche is very good. Yet again, the riffs and solos always evoke that slight sense of déjà-vu, kind of visiting places where we just were moments ago. And – to add insult to injury – they are, whilst well executed, always of a simpler brand than what you would expect. In other words, all of this guitar goodness is thus not quite up there yet in shredding nirvana with the masters. With Anthony Delmas‘ bass totally locked in to the lead to boot, which is a pity. Records are always that much better once the bass has a voice.
I liked the relentless use of growls – almost at Black Metal rasp level sometimes – on Memento Mori. This spices the tracks up to the right level and gives a tasty counter-weight to the ever-present lead guitar. Unfortunately, the band injected some clear voice into some of their tracks too, which – well – they shouldn’t have done. Maybe sticking to unclean vocals might be a better grab for fame next time.
Memento Mori brandishes a very specific type of Melodic Death Metal. True to the Toulouse-based band’s statement, you will find a trifle Norse influence in their tune. Not too present though, but some of that cold wind is indeed part of the sub-structure of the album. Aephanemer blacken some of their tracks nicely with tremolo picking and mix a multitude of symphonic elements into their tune. Linked to that is their special and thoughtful use of keyboards and synthesizers. This is quite unusual for the genre. Their trespass onto Power Metal territory at certain moments of the album just adds to the allure of the disc.
All elements strung together, their tune sometimes sounds like some metal version of a soundtrack without a film. This nicely sets them apart from the already overcrowded Melodeath mainstream. In addition, their 10-track epos hardly lets up steam. It’s is amazing how they lead off strongly and don’t let go of the pressure until the instrumental – Gilgamesh – at the very end.
Now, technically high-standing as this album may be, it always errs on the side of caution. Looks like nobody really pushed the boundaries and they went for the well-known instead. And this is a pity, because it renders the album somewhat repetitive – almost ubiquitous – as a whole. You don’t need to lean too much out over the abyss and take mad risks. But there is a difference between tweaking the known with the unknown a little or doing nothing.
That said, you will find more good than ugly on the album. I would particularly like to recommend the starting track Unstoppable, followed by Sisyphus’ Bliss. Both of them getting into the essence of Memento Mori real quick, garnished by some cool riffing and soloing. And they jump right in without boring you to death with an endless intro.
Despite a very scratchy start that made me wince, The Oathsworn by far comes across as one of the best and most varied tracks on this album. Even if this one contains one of the dreaded clear voice passages. Other than that, The Call of the Wind and – for sure – the title track with its nice solo stand out nicely. I just could not get warm with the aforementioned Gilgamesh. Being an instrumental track, I would have expected something stellar, not just more of the same.
Memento Mori will for sure serve you with a juicy, rock solid piece of Melodic Death Metal with a twist. Outstanding riffing, spiced with great solos in many of the tracks. This combined with crunchy growls, acoustics and symphonic parts, the album will not let you down and you will get value for your money.
Aephanemer still has a lot of room to grow and improve from here. The band needs to move on, from an owner’s private showcase to a real band effort. And until that happens, they still have ways to go. But then again, this is their first full length and second record overall. Would be frightening if they were perfect already, wouldn’t it?
[Edited and newly published version]