Memento Mori’s 1993 album Rhymes of Lunacy is something I wish I had picked up when it was released in 1993. This spectacular piece of work is something I cannot believe I missed the first time around.
It’s just so damn good, it hurts.
Whereas death metal was probably near, if not at, its highest point of popularity and thrash had gone into the mainstream, what some people like to call “power” or “progressive” metal seemed kind of like an afterthought. It was a niche genre that seemed to have hit its high point when Queensryche won at the MTV Video Awards for the very nonmetal song “Silent Lucidity.”
While it may not have made a huge impact in the U.S., Rhymes of Lunacy serves as an early example of what was to come next for the power/progressive genre with bands like Nevermore making a big impact. And they, in turn, were followed by bands like Blind Guardian and DragonForce.
And let’s be clear, Memento Mori are a very powerful band.
Rhymes of Lunacy sounds clean, but not overproduced, and feels large thanks to the guitar work of Mike Mead and Nikky Argento providing memorable melodies and mighty chords for an almost arena-quality feel.
Of course, a bands frontman is largely the one who sinks it or raises it above the water. Messiah Marcolin, who for the promotional art for this album looks akin to a human lion with his mass of curly long hair, lifts things pretty high. He is a singer with a powerful wailing voice that complements Mead and Argento well, essentially creating a three-headed monster of sound that I can in no way slay.
The band is rounded out by Marty Marteen on bass and Snowy Shaw on drums. While they might not be in your face like the other pieces of the band, they provide a foundation strong enough to keep the band from crashing down. They also sound really good, which I think is a credit to whoever produced it. You feel the bass lines and beats provided by Marteen and Shaw instead of just hearing them, which is often a problem in metal albums. Just look at how bad the bass drum sounds in early Anthrax.
Things start out pretty sweet with the short instrumental “The Rhyme.” It’s got a great melody and flows smoothly into the second song’s (“The Seeds of Hatred“) double bass drumming. “The Seeds of Hatred” is where things really kick off, with the epic power metal melodies and Marcolin’s wailing vocals. It’s definitely a standout track and the right way to just draw the listener in immediately.
Things continue to pick up a notch with “Morbid Fear.” This track for goes the steady rhythmic guitar attack of “The Seeds of Hatred” and instead let’s Shaw shine on the drugs. There’s some spectacular solo work, especially between verses, which just shred. There’s definitely a Mercyful Fate influence here … at least I think.
Things slow down a bit for “Caravan of Souls” and “Lost Horizons” before kicking back into epic power metal gear with “When Nothing Remains.” “When Nothing Remains” is relentless in its rhythm. Steady. Driving. This song wants to nail you down.
“Forbidden Dreams” is what you’d expect out of an instrumental. A little self indulgent with different elements thrown in, largely because either no words would sound right over them or they just couldn’t fit into any songs. There is some vocals, but they are limited to a few seconds of “na na na.” Thoroughly enjoyable, though.
“Little Anne’s not an Angel” is definitely a stand out. It’s hard to picture a Swede getting soulful. That’s not a diss, I’m partly Swedish with relatives still living there, but being expressional and emotional just isn’t something that one sees coming easily from them. But Marcolin manages to stick a little more “umph” into this number about a woman named, of course, Anne. It’s a hard-hitting number that’s lyrically pretty memorable compared to other songs which, much like the music, is at a high level that it can be challenging to get a full vocal picture right away.
Things close with “Monolith.” “Monolith” as it sounds is a big song at nearly eight minutes long. As you can picture, it has a slow buildup, driven by Marteen’s steady bass and Shaw’s drums, accompanied by electro-acoustic sounds from Mead and Argento. Marcolin’s voice touches a wide range here, from his normal wailing to monotone voice over.
Throughout, Mead and Argento provide a guitar team that make this album stand above a lot of the metal at that time. Even today, their work sounds about as fresh as the stuff you here from Blind Guardian or Nightwish.
Buy this damn album. I’m sure these guys still get royalties for their work.
Rhymes of Lunacy is just too damn good not to listen to. I’m still kicking myself for not making the effort to find it the first time around. But you know, better late than never.
Do I have to tell you? Definitely recommended.