Review Summary: The three-year wait has been fully justified: Memento Mori is as creatively excellent as we all hoped it would be, but is also the band's finest achievement.
It's been three seemingly long years since Sahg released arguably THE pinnacle of their career, the third full-length Delusions of Grandeur
. Full of galactic majesty, uplifting compositions and an unforgettably ethereal sound, it was a turning point in the band's career which enabled them to create a stronger, more varied fan-base and more respect in the world of rock and metal. So what happened? Why does it seem as if the band has remained in the shadows for the last few years rather than building on a well-deserved legacy beginning? It could be that Delusions of Grandeur
was such a big statement of intent to make, that Sahg decided to take the slow road to success rather than one that is rushed, full of mainstream-angled songwriting and bows to the half-hearted expectations of the masses.
Such is not the case with latest album Memento Mori
, a much darker-tinged effort than its predecessor which constantly seeks to test your patience as well as your focus. It absolutely features the same level of confidence and excitement which was heard on Delusions...
, but something here is different. Perhaps it's the rawer, rougher vocal delivery in songs such as "Devilspeed" or "Sanctimony". Perhaps it's the addition of more versatile song structures. It could also be something to do with how fiercer Sahg as a band sound. Whereas on Delusions...
the band merely seemed content to lift your spirits and make you feel as if you were in lofty heights, Memento Mori
deem them as a group who really want to rub their presence in your face. And that isn't a bad thing at all, thanks to the sheer consistency and replay value there is to appreciate here. Just take throbbing opener "Black Unicorn" for example. For a moment or so it seems as if Sahg are about to cover any of Pink Floyd's lengthier spacey jams pre-1972, but once that tantalising main riff rears its ugly head, it's hard not to feel the intoxicating doomy vibes as well as the band members themselves. Christ, it's an impressive song. The vocals are convincingly rough (compared to Iversen's usually cleaner style), the rhythm section is menacing yet performed with such finesse, and when the mid-section begins to spiral out of control, expectations are surpassed in glorious manner. The album's heavier songs continue in a similar fashion, but in no way are the likes of "Silence the Machines" or "Travellers of Space and Light" mere clones of the album opener. Instead, the former relates to a more mid-paced example of almost epic doom, whereas the latter is a stoner metal fan's wet dream, featuring some of the most driving riffs Sahg have put a name to.
The real advantage to Memento Mori
however, is not its delivery, but its creators' excellent songwriting talent. Near enough every song here is as consistent as each other, but in different ways. Thanks to songwriting as forward-thinking and relevant as in Delusions...
, the level of versatility here is higher than you'd think. It's not just about heavier songs ("Black Unicorn", "Travellers of Space and Light") complementing the softer tunes ("(Praise the) Electric Sun"), it's about different feelings and vibes emanating from each part of the album. For example, the lengthiest track of the album, "Sanctimony" is musically similar to "Devilspeed" and "Take It to the Grave", given the same level of pace maintained throughout. But they all feel
different to each other. "Sanctimony" is utterly melodious thanks to the finely-strummed riff work amidst a background of powerful rhythmic battery. "Devilspeed" simply drags you into the void with its ever-deepening downward spiral and Iversen's haunting vocals, whereas "Take It to the Grave" revels in its gentle, almost uplifting atmosphere, albeit featuring a very tense build-up to a menacing climax. As excellent as these aforementioned songs are however, they unfortunately are outshone by one of the album's two highlights: the softest cut from the record, "(Praise the) Electric Sun". It's the polar opposite of the album opener, being uncannily soft and gentle, basically Sahg's version of "Planet Caravan" but in a more modernised, harmonic way. Iversen outdoes himself with a vocal performance which proves both lilting and hypnotic as the song gradually becomes more and more transcendent by the minute. The real danger is that it could polarise its now salivating audience, and turn them into rabid animals who want more of the heavier material. Alas, the band decide not to explode when it would be completely unnecessary to do so. For instance, would a grating, heavy riff straight out of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
really work when "(Praise the) Electric Sun" is already a memorable affair, thanks to the level of instrumental finesse? If you ask me, it would ruin the experience.
Just like Delusions of Grandeur
, Memento Mori
deserves your complete time and effort. However, it also threatens to stretch your patience at numerous times, and at times even boldly goes into a world of overbearing self-indulgence, but it is nonetheless a worthwhile listen. I'll go ahead and say it: Memento Mori
is Sahg's finest record, but whether or not it will stand the test of time as well as its predecessor remains to be seen. It also turns out to be one of the finest records of its genre this year, and Sahg should be proud.