Several years ago, I discovered Binary Code through the release of their Moonsblood album. After reviewing and serving up high praise for that record, the LP showed up on my favorite albums of 2016 list. The material was immensely dynamic and showed an experimental, melodic, and open-minded take on progressive rock/metal. In anticipation of further material, I followed guitarist Jesse Zuretti on social media, which inevitably lead to seeing a post that wasn't only self-humbling, but truly pulled at my heartstrings. Zuretti openly and emotionally shared how he found his girlfriend, hours after she had taken her own life. In conjunction with that tragic event and all others who have gone through a similar loss, the band made the bold and selfless decision to have all sales of this latest record, Memento Mori, to be donated towards suicide prevention.
The term "memento mori" translates to "an object serving as a warning or reminder of death" and considering that acts as this album's title, the dark connotation of death is certainly present here. With that said, this record is neither wholly negative in nature nor is it a virtue signal to bring sympathy towards the band's loss. On the contrary, Memento Mori serves as, what I can imagine is, catharsis and healing for Zuretti, and thus such an effect transfers to the listener. Consuming the lyrical themes and musical depths within this record, myself and all others who take part will likely also feel some form of therapeutic release and empowerment.
Without digging too deep into the tracklisting, there is a clear mood shift and therefore a different musical atmosphere being explored in comparison to the last LP. Regarding this darker and denser tone looming over the material, it’s admittedly easy to sift through the entire record without being initially grabbed by many of the tracks in the way Moonsblood did. It took me many listens to be finally swallowed up in the colossal weight within Memento Mori. A full distraction-free listening experience allows for the minute details to emerge. The heady wall-of-sound qualities prove to be eventually suffocating in an immersive enjoyability where the lyrical lines reveal a relatable and personal bitterness, sour with distraught while also equally empowering.
Although I encourage a dedicated listen in its entirety, I understand that taste-testing songs is usually more practical for most metalheads in determining if they align with the band. In that case, I’d recommend “Unborn” to start. The riffs hit hard, the vocals have breadth, yet are direct, and the song as a whole is memorable, indicating a perfect lead single. Instead, the tracks that were chosen as pre-release singles were a bit hit or miss. First off was “The Absolute Nothing,” which in the beginning was honestly underwhelming, but eventually grew on me due to its gradual evolution. The second single was a cover of an artist that I'm admittedly not too familiar with but nonetheless had a fairly lasting impression.
Their rendition of Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You" provokes a melancholic and romantic dirge combining Failure atmosphere and Deftones riffs to reveal a diversity that surprisingly works and is deeply self-reflection inducing. And thirdly was "Those I Sought to Spare," by far the most hard rock/metal radio-friendly on the album due to the vocal tone, clean guitar, and song structure. Granted, the guitar solo by Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, Nevermore) along with the following aggressive passage was somewhat redeemable, but still, not my favorite piece on here. For those who checked out the pre-release singles and shared a similar mixed, hesitant sentiment, I can assure you that there is more gripping material and relistinability in store for you.
And while I again want to instill that a full listen approach is the correct way to consume this album, I tend to return to a few other songs in particular nonetheless, despite them not having instant gratification. The opener "Filaments Dissolve" begins with a brief, yet impactful piano intro followed by a post-rock part that gradually transitions to an equally dreary and uplifting post-metal style. Additionally, the twinkling keys melody included reminded me of Dreamless-era Fallujah. While not as powerful, the following song "Into the Maw" falls into a similar category as "The Absolute Nothing" in that it takes many listens to grasp the finite details and magic in the expansive aura of the composition. "Notion of Gravity" takes a turn to a more straight-forward djenty approach alike Monuments before expressing gorgeous lead guitar work, proving to be a stand-out track. An absolutely fantastic display of their progressive, extreme metal sensibilities, "Away With Oneself" grasps at Gojira or Devin Townsend-like influence and production.
Considering I approached this album with the impact of Moonsblood heavily in mind, I feel it's important to wrap this up by comparing the two. To be frank, I do miss the electronic synth atmospheres heavily showcased on their previous album. And while there are tidbits of ethereal electronic soundscapes in this new material, comparatively, there’s a real lack of those intriguing spacey noises. In exchange though, there’s greater inclusion of orchestral instrumentation, due to Zuretti's experience composing music for Marvel. The epic choral and orchestral climax in "The Absolute Nothing" and the tense strings played in the latter half of "Away with Oneself" are good examples of this.
From a perspective of growth, I'd argue that Memento Mori is Binary Code’s step towards a more viscerally empathetic direction, shedding the skin of their previously youthfully sharp and energetic compositions. Furthermore, while listening to Moonsblood I'd often think "damn, that song had insane riffs and melodies" where on Memento Mori, I'm in the mindset of "wow, that track got under my skin and took me for an emotional ride." Both albums have a strong impact, just in different ways. All in all, this record definitely falls into the grower category, where it takes multiple listens to grasp the matured and densely layered Katatonia-meets-Gojira unique style. It's not a perfect record in that there's a very strong start and finish, yet a mushy mid-tempo center. With the exploration of many subgenres from prog rock and doom/death metal to hard rock and cinematic, post-metal as well as a vice tight grip on your emotions, Memento Mori is absolutely worthy of many immersive listens.