Monday, 13 May 2013

Memory Driven - Animus (2011) | 97%

C3PO and R2D2

Well, okay, how to start this review? I've been meaning to write this one for almost a year but this is such a rich album that it was an arduous task. But here it is, I finally managed to vomit my thoughts for your displeasure. I will not vomit on Dennis Cornelius though, he's one of the most underrated musician of his generation. His work in bands like Revelation, Doomstone, Under the Sun or even Place of Skulls is great and he's a true force of American doom metal. Memory Driven, his current baby, was formed after the split of Dwell Within (a traditional doom band, check out their demo, it's pretty damn good).

Animus is a very original release and perhaps the best progressive doom metal album ever recorded. It's as emotional as a mama bear protecting its babies and as a deep as the San Andreas Fault. Its true focus point is the perfect mix of styles. The progressive rock and the doom metal are without a doubt blood brothers here, there's a true interdependence between the two genres much more than in almost every other metal bands. They're mixing more than these 2 genres actually and that's the amalgam of many influences that is making this band so worthwhile.

The formula of the band consists of a solid instrumental background and an honest lyrical approach. There's an authenticity in the songwriting, a will to experiment within the confines of heavy music while keeping a clear guiding line throughout the course of the album. The direction goes hand in hand with the overall feel, it's dark and mysterious but it feels good to be with Dennis and company. It's like being in this crappy bar in Oklahoma with the musician and a bottle of whisky while he talks of his divorce or why his wife left him. You can actually feel the somber compassion coming through the lyrics, they're so personal and subtle. There's no anger or rage, just despair, bitterness and self-pity.

''A constant drain on me / An open tap of my will /To live on obscene / An empty soul to fill''

Their lyrical approach although relevant and interesting is not where Memory Driven is innovating, it's not something quite common in the traditional doom scene but it's not something alien either. Normally, the lyricists are more inclined at telling analogical stories or going full geeky with fantasy lyrics. While nothing entirely special, the themes here are representative of the doom metal atmosphere without the need to praise Jesus like some of Cornelius' comrades. Emotional, simple, honest and contemplative are apt adjectives for his lyrics. The lyrical side is also, in my eyes, a secondary identity of the band and that's fine. Fortunately, the quality is still present, it's only that the band could be a very interesting instrumental unit with ease and that the vocals are a welcome extra. I'm not commonly fond of the vocal-centric aesthetic of doom metal, the lyrics served the music and having great vocal lines is a plus for sure but don't forget the riffs. I mean I'm not listening to Black Sabbath because of Ozzy, the ''Prince of Darkness'' can eat a bat for all I care.

What is progressive about Memory Driven? There's the aforementioned mix of genres but it's much more than that. Although we can definitely feel the Maryland traditional doom influence, it's almost completely transformed into a beast of its own. The band writes ethereal music with a fondness for intricate musical foundations and a complete understanding of how chemistry in a band should work. While the spotlight is obviously on the guitars, the bass lines and the drums are really enjoyable. There's a lot of sweet cymbals moments and a knack for refined plays, A tempt has interesting drum patterns which helped making the song very interesting. The riffs are mostly slow and it can be very heavy. The guitar tone is loud and grounded in doom and I can almost sense some doom/death riffs here and there. There's an harsh warmness in the production that makes the guitars really interesting. It's an awesome production to be honest, one of the best I heard for this genre. The bass isn't too loud in the mix while still offering us a much appreciated wall of noise and the leads are interesting, Dennis is an original and great lead player and it's discernible in the song So It Seems. He knows when to be restrained and knows when to pull the artillery.

The band is progressive, yes but they're not the kind of band who'll use a Chapman Stick, a sterile production and conspiracy libertarian lyrics. Their approach is reminiscent of bands like Porcupine Tree, Anathema or particularly Opeth. There's acoustic guitars (the awesome instrumental song Avas Song) and there's ethnic percussion in Unveiled to illustrate the slight experimental side of the band. The vocal approach is rooted into American rock and more precisely the Grunge/heavy metal/alternative rock scene and that's surprisingly enjoyable even if it may seem strange. Cornelius is delivering his best vocal performance here, much better than the one on Memory Driven's lackluster debut or Oversoul (basically the same band, 10 years before Animus!). The vocals are clean and rockish and are proposing a sweet counterparts to the dark and smooth atmosphere found in the music.

There's a big influence of Alice in Chains to be found here and the vocals are not quite your typical doom metal ones. You can surely feel the influence of progressive doom underrated giants, Revelation (and their other project Against Nature) but there's an added atmospheric element and it's less mechanical than their stuff. Just like John Brenner's projects, there's a vivid Rush influence in Memory Driven as demonstrated by the second instrumental track These Aren't the Chords You're Looking For (hehe, read the title of my review again). This track reminded me of a songs like YYZ or La Villa Strangiato. It's a rare occasion that you encounter an instrumental and technical doom song and it's one of the highlights of Animus.

The first track Empty Gesture is a good example of their genre, it starts slowly with a melancholic intro and doesn't have vocals until 4 minutes or so into the song. While it may seem excessive, it's not, there's a purpose for everything on Animus. I didn't like the silent hole in the middle of the last 12 minutes song though, this method is always pissing me off and it's an obvious filler. I know it's to separate the soft part from the heavier one but I thought it was unnecessary and it broke the cohesion of the song. Still that's a tame complaint for an overall perfect album. The songwriting is really damn strong and it's really underrated, I feel that his crossover prog tendency made this a "hard to get" album or perhaps they only need more coverage and that's exactly what I'm aiming to accomplish!

Like the droids found by Luke Skywalker, doom and prog are in total harmony on this album,  R2D2 retained the memory of the old traditional doom metal scene and C3PO brought a shiny new golden progressive influence. This mastery was brought to life by a fabulous and veteran of the riffs, master Cornelius. If you're a prog music fan and think doom metal is too stagnant then Memory Driven is a required listen.

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