Memory Garden - Doomain 4/5

Reviewed: 9-1-13


1. The evangelist
2. Latent lunacy
3. Daughters of the sea
4. Barren lands
5. Violate & create
6. Doomain
7. The king of the dead
8. A diabolical mind
9. Misfortune

Swedish power/doom mavens Memory Garden have been out of the public eye for a few years. Their hard-to-find 4th full-length CD, ‘Carnage carnival’, was released on Vic Records back in 2008. From the ensuing silence, as well as lead guitarist Simon Johansson’s involvement with Wolf and Bibleblack, I feared that Memory Garden may have reached the end of the road. Thankfully, rumors of the band’s demise proved unfounded. In 2013, they have rejoined the Metal Blade Records stable (which was also the label home of Memory Garden’s ‘Verdict of posterity’ and ‘Mirage’ CDs in 1999 and 2000) and unleashed a corker of a new CD, entitled ‘Doomain’.

Reviewers (including yours truly) frequently compare Memory Garden to their esteemed countrymen, Candlemass. It’s a fair comparison, given that both acts ply a melodic doomy trade with leaden riffs, an abiding melancholy vibe, characteristic (and charismatic) lead vocals and more variety in tempos than one ordinarily expects from the “doom” tag. But the analogy only goes so far. Memory Garden’s sound is also steeped in the modern Swedish heavy/power metal style of acts like Morgana Lefay (a/k/a Lefay), Tad Morose, and so on. There are also elements of the twisted proggy doom style of Memento Mori, and more than a touch of post-reunion Mercyful Fate worship (circa ‘Time’ and ‘Into the unknown’). Put it all together and you have a very intriguing mix that may be too uptempo and power metally for the doomsters and altogether too doomy for the power metalheads. Regardless, Memory Garden have carved out a distinctive sound all their own, punctuated by Stefan Berglund’s emotive clean wails and Simon Johansson’s tasteful, fluid and often beautiful lead guitar work from the Mike Wead school of playing.

‘Doomain’ sees Memory Garden on top of their game, having honed their craft to a razor-sharp edge over the last 15+ years. The songwriting may not be particularly immediate, but listeners patient enough to give the CD a few spins before passing judgment will be mesmerized as the hooks and nuances of the tunes reveal themselves. Memory Garden have delivered a uniformly compelling batch of songs, from opener “The evangelist” (whose lyrics paint a stark picture of subjugation, manipulation and oppression of native peoples under the guise of religion) to the stirring “Daughters of the sea” (love the female backing vocals working in concert with Berglund’s to marvelous effect) to the positively speedy, chugging “Violate & create” (like the faster parts of “The tempter” or “At the gallow’s end”, tempo-wise). Co-producer Dan Swano even adds backing growls to the chorus on the sinister, lumbering “Barren lands”. So ‘Doomain’ really is a multifaceted, textured release that remains interesting and engrossing throughout its 44-minute running time. The truth of the matter, though, is that even if the songs weren’t terrific (which they are), this CD would be an enjoyable listen for the stellar lead guitar work and vocals alone.

The catch for American metalheads is that Metal Blade saw fit to release ‘Doomain’ only in Europe, which means it is available Stateside only as an expensive import. Ordinarily, I would excoriate the label for such a decision. This time, however, there are extenuating circumstances. The regrettable fact of the matter is that Memory Garden have never been hot sellers. When they were signed to Metal Blade before, copies of ‘Verdict of posterity’ and ‘Mirage’ frequently showed up in cut-out bins, $5 website clearance sales, and so on. For whatever reason, they didn’t move a lot of product. This power/doom style is such a narrow niche that it’s hard to imagine Memory Garden would garner a great deal of interest in the U.S. in 2013, either. It’s sad but true, in the words of Uncle Hetfield. In this context, Metal Blade’s decision to distribute ‘Doomain’ only in the Old World makes a lot of sense, though I wish it were not so. By the way, if you’re hunting the import merchants for this release, you’ll no doubt stumble across a limited 2-CD version. The 2nd CD contains a trio of interesting but unexceptional covers (“The needle lies”, “Nightmare be thy name”, and “Country girl”), plus a half-dozen demo versions of cuts that later appeared on ‘Verdict of posterity’. Ultimately, the bonus disc is non-essential, so save yourself a couple of bucks and grab the regular edition instead.




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