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Memories of Old - The Zeramin Game

Memories of Old
The Zeramin Game
by Kira Schlechter at 19 October 2020, 12:14 PM

There’s a school of thought with a debut album to give everything away, let listeners have it with both barrels, hold nothing back. That’s what UK-based epic power metal band MEMORIES OF OLD has done with their debut album, “The Zeramin Game,” composed by guitarist Billy Jeffs. A stentorian-voiced narrator sizes up the situation in the introduction, “In Exordium” – “No one to rule, no law of the land…what is to become of this imperiled world? ”The “Overture” is a big, bright power metal instrumental with a sprightly marching tempo, airy and heavily influenced by classical music and reminiscent of TSO and such bands. It has a sense of beginning, of optimism, with plenty of fire and power and lots of keyboard orchestration but enough guitar to dirty it up.

“The Land of Xia” is set up by Anthony’s keyboard and synth, and this is definitely a keyboard-based band, but Billy’s guitars give it needed muscle. Tommy is a clarion tenor, potent in the mid and higher registers – his tongue gets a workout in the chorus to try to get all the words in, though, and he should be brought up a bit more in the mix. The part that starts the bridge is very sort of ‘70s arena rock in some ways before the power metal gallop begins once again. Xia is a fictional world “forgotten and alone” that seems to have been torn apart in some way (civil war maybe), one in which “there is no promise of redemption.” But as per usual in these things, there is a prophecy of a mysterious savior, “one man to be a mighty warrior to save us all.” Our narrator leads into the next chapter in the story (“one claim to power unjustly seized by the dreaded and loathsome fiends, the Pirates of the Seas”) and indeed there are sounds of battle, a cry of “Fire!”

A dark flourish and a more sinister plodding tempo starts “Zera’s Shadow” off, the keyboard again setting the melody that the guitars echo. The spooky organ and gritty guitar is an effective set-up to the verse as the pounding tempo takes over again. Again, Tommy seems hard-pressed to spit out the words fast enough and the density of the arrangements drowns him out a bit. Here, Zera is introduced, a cursed island, perhaps of the dead, “where nobody dares to go” (“Hundreds of fallen heroes/Who marched into the unknown/They knew of the terrible terrors/But dead men tell no tales/The secrets of this evil place/Remain forever veiled”). Someone is apparently trying to discover what happened here (“Coming and going for weeks at a time/On a quest to uncover the truth,” “It’s become this old man’s destiny/To learn and stand up and fight”). A solo section with a choir mentions the “chosen one” again, and our narrator introduces our traveler to evil Zera by name, Fowlen. He also hints that “unbeknown to all/There lives another/A boy longing to prove himself a man” who apparently has seen Zera in dreams – ah, the plot twist. Some of the long instrumental parts here could be easily trimmed without losing anything – that’s true on many of the songs – but ending with that same spooky organ part makes for good continuity.

“Some Day Soon” has the keyboard again setting the stately and instantly hummable melody. Tommy’s voice is thoughtful and musing as he speaks as the boy, chafing at his inaction, sensing he can be something greater (“I’ve learned so many things/That I am not supposed to know”) and wanting to solve the mystery, the “unexpected void in history.” The second verse is him saying he’s a disappointment to his father with all his dreaming and he’s pretty self-critical (“I’m the one with whom they say the maker slipped and broke the mould”). Apparently, too, he knows about Fowlen and his little outings and he’s only waiting for the time when he can make the journey himself. Throughout, through, Tommy could be brought more to the fore in the mix. The chorus is like a sea chanty, inspirational and stirring, a call to action (“We’ll explore into the unknown/And our names will be carved in stone/Once our mettle has been shown/We will be worthy”), and when the final one modulates, it’s pitched lower instead of higher. This is a standout track, short, punchy and a perfect introduction to this character.

“Destiny” starts with minstrel-style acoustic guitar before the electric guitar picks up the melody; keyboards take a back seat here and maybe for a reason – this is not a dreaming and contemplating track, but an action one. Tommy’s voice is resonant and lilting, but when he kicks it up a register in the second prechorus, it’s a little jarring – the song has a richness and a nice bottom end and that kind of spoils it. The bridge is a group-singing type thing and it works well, considering that here we are setting off on the journey to Zera – our boy has decided to head out (“We’ve had enough of learning/And waiting for the day,” he says) and defiantly so, perhaps even in secret (“You have failed to believe/In our raw determination”). It ends with the same folk-tinged guitar as it begins to close the musical circle.

“Across the Seas” starts with a little concertina melody, like we’re on board the ship, and thunder as if a storm is threatening, before it heads into keyboards and the band’s signature quick tempo. The chorus has two distinct parts, a slower one and a faster one, which throws a little texture into it; the solo is terse and almost frantic, held under tight rein. But it does go on a bit and it’s a long, long bridge before we hit the final chorus. This is of course the traveling song, but it’s kind of marching in place because nothing really happens in it except for perhaps an encounter with the pirates mentioned in “The Land of Xia” (“An enemy appears,” then “Now on their ship we stand/Our passage to the island of our nightmares and our dreams”– were they captured? It’s not especially clear).

Quiet and tense, “Arrival” succeeds at evoking place, because we’ve been told Zera is not pleasant. The prechorus boasts an interesting contrast between the legato vocals and the staccato tempo beneath; the ensuing chorus then becomes one unified feel. It’s optimistic in that chorus, but the verses are full of “doubts and fears.” It mentions Fowlen here (“Does Fowlen know/The secrets that await/Beyond these walls”) but we are no closer to knowing who he is. It could have ended at about minute 6, but we get more of Tommy’s sometimes shrill wails and some foreboding takes on and explorations of the melody.

“A Hooded Traveller,” another quick spoken piece from our esteemed narrator, has the pirates dropping off the boy and his force on Zera, and notes “their covert voyage has not gone unnoticed” – they have been watched by “a man with an untold story of his own.” Various synth parts establish the melody in “Fowlen’s Revenge.” The first verse sounds much like QUEEN, but the instrumental section between the verses slows the pace – you want the action to continue and this dilutes the focus. Fowlen is here to protect the boys, as we learn his son died at Zera as well (maybe), so this is personal for him, hence all the time he spent studying the place. The chorus is like a hymn of praise, like he’s here to save the day, written from his point of view. But again the long instrumental noodlings tend to take away from the story – they’re pleasant-enough listening, but they don’t add to the story or to the song. By about three minutes’ worth of it, you’ve forgotten what’s going on in the story – Fowlen at last arrives on the scene, and the final chorus takes its good old time getting there with the “Zera’s time has come” cliffhanger.

The whopping title track – all eight parts and 14 minutes of it – starts with the instrumental “Into the Fray” before heading into “Wisdom,” with its decidedly metal punch. Here, a lesson is learned: the heroes arrive at the fortress, see a door they must get to, but an “army of demons” bars the way. Vi (as we now learn is our hero’s name) has seen this is “a test, not a battlefield” and that these are “fallen heroes forced to fight eternally” – the key is to not fight them, and so he doesn’t. Our omniscient narrator says this is all well and good, but they’re not done yet. (By the way, the band has officially used up its allotment of the phrase “and little did they know” or some variation thereof – it’s used at least three times throughout the album.)

Slight changes in music mark each movement, like the sweet swing of “Determination,” in which Tommy bears more than a passing resemblance to DENNIS DEYOUNG (weird, but true). This is another marching-in-place kind of segment that doesn’t really advance the story – they see another door in the distance, they are tired but vow to prevail. The arrangement gets tense in “The Saviour,” a critical point in the action, but it also has a certain gloriousness to it. Our heroes were “saved and rescued in our darkest hour/By a friend we never knew we had before” but that friend can no longer fight and they resolve to carry on.

“The Ultimate Sacrifice” is another spoken section by the narrator, and it takes on an odd hip-hop quality because his voice and the music are exactly in time – it’s rather strange and out of place and kind of comical. We learn what the sacrifice is, that “only one can claim the prize/The other must meet his demise.” Another instrumental, “Succession in Victory,” heralds the end with “The Angels of Xia/Fowlen’s Goodbye.” Of course it’s ominous, with thunder rumbling, a certain sadness and sense of loss in the music, and the choral vocals acting as the “angels” to really kick the drama over the top. It goes on a bit long before a piano melody leads into Tommy’s gentle and sad take on the dying Fowlen. There’s a nice bit of ambiguity as he speaks of his lost son – is this Vi, is he his son? Or is he speaking to his lost son whom he is now joining? Our narrator again leads into the final bit, “A Worthy King” (that Xia has been saved by our hero and he’s now king) as we return to “The Land of Xia” thematically, and Tommy ends things on another stratospheric wail.

The instrumental “Finale” is probably unnecessary –  the end of the previous song was a fine end, and instead of there being familiar musical themes in it, it presents new ones for no real purpose. Through all of this, I still never exactly understood why Zera was bad and so forbidden. I mean, sure, a dismal island housing an army of the dead isn’t fun, but why was the knowledge of it kept so secret? A little thinking out loud…Such things – the too-long instrumental portions, the little storytelling holes – are debut album growing pains. “The Zeramin Game” is a promising start for MEMORIES OF OLD, but hopefully they’ll learn conciseness and a bit of restraint for next time. The kitchen sink is usually best left in the kitchen.

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 7

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. In Exordium
2. Overture
3. The Land Of Xia
4. Zera’s Shadow
5. Some Day Soon
6. Destiny
7. Across The Seas
8. Arrival
9. A Hooded Traveller
10. Fowlen’s Revenge
11. The Zeramin Game
12. Finale
Lineup:
Tommy Johansson - Vocals
Billy Jeffs - Guitar
Anthony Thompson - Keyboards
Erick Tekilla - Bass
James Chapman - Drums
Record Label: Limb Music
     


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