Album Review: Gemini Syndrome – “Memento Mori”

Maybe I’m getting less grumpy as I get older, but I find myself quietly growing more tolerant of alternative metal, metalcore and nu-metal as time goes by. I don’t know exactly why myself, considering alternative metal and nu-metal tend to involve influences from alternative rock and hip hop respectively (neither of which are genres that I particularly enjoy) and metalcore generally falls into the “decent, but generally derivative and unimpressive” category for me, so developing a fondness for them is hard to explain. It’s possible that I’m just getting burnt out on other styles of metal and a change is a welcome change of pace, but, whatever the truth, I don’t find myself particularly prepared to slate those styles of metal any more.

So, with this change in mindset in mind, I’m going to give another shot to an album I got a good while back: Gemini Syndrome’s Memento Mori. Released in August of this year by Another Century Records (an imprint of Century Media Records), it’s the second record of alternative metal band Gemini Syndrome, who formed in 2010, and their follow up to their 2013 debut Lux, released by Warner Bros. Records. I originally heard it through their song “Remember We Die” popping up while I was on YouTube and, being curious, I decided to give it a shot. Usually, this results in disappointment, but I was actually really grabbed by the song, so I picked up the whole record…but, due to a bunch of factors, I never actually got around to listening to the whole record, so it sat on my laptop basically unlistened to except whenever I wanted to hear “Remember We Die” again.

Now, however, I feel it is only right that I finally give them a fair shot. So I have sat myself down with Memento Mori and my final opinion on it is that it’s…OK. I can see from this record why so many people found the alternative metal rise resulted in a lot of generic bands that aren’t worthy of people’s time and attention and I wouldn’t exactly call this a stellar record, but there’s some good elements to it which I can’t help respecting it for. It’s not brilliant, but I can’t really muster up any dislike of it either. Competent, but unremarkable seems about right here, if you have to press me to sum it up in as few words as possible.

The band’s sound, probably to the surprise of nobody who is a fan of this spectrum of music, is essentially the sort of sound that one would expect to have heard back in the 90s. It’s not quite to the extent of having crossover with the stereotypes of nu-metal, as the drumming is based more on the influences of rock and metal than hip hop and alternative rock and the general song construction definitely has the heavier influences that help it push closer towards metal than rock, but the overall sound definitely has similarities on a casual listen. It doesn’t help that the songwriting also seems to have overlaps with modern rock, as the songwriting tends to favour an undynamic sound which, while not a bad thing in its own right, does result in the sound feeling like there isn’t any subtleties to it. There ARE subtle moments to be found in the songwriting (a quiet break can be seen in “Remember We Die”) and you can sense dynamics (“Sorry Not Sorry” has a noticeable push towards heavier territory), but the general vibe of the record is basically that of a modern rock filter put over alternative metal. This isn’t a BAD sound, but it is definitely a sound that aims more towards a mainstream audience (where immediacy is more important than a dynamic sound) than a more hardcore audience (which tends to favour songwriting which has subtleties to it).

Not helping the band on this regard is that the songwriting, while decent, has some flaws which damage the record when taken as a whole. For starters, the material in general feels very much like every song is basically the same and can feel rather faceless as a result. The tempos of the record feel like they’re fairly similar to each other, so it’s very easy to start getting rather bored because the songs don’t really feel all that different from each other as the record proceeds. Combine this with the songwriting approach being one that isn’t exactly known for dynamics and the whole record can easily start blending together on a casual listen. It’s not necessarily BAD to make a record like this, but it means that it is hard to enjoy the record as a whole because listening to it starts to become a chore after a while. This is usually why the record has to fall back on how well the individual songs stand up…but the individual songs don’t really stand up especially well. Now, to be fair, the songs themselves aren’t too bad and I can’t say that I dislike them, but there’s aren’t any songs that really stand out from the others and most of them just get a general feeling of polite disinterest at worst or casual interest at best from me. Some songs are stronger than others, admittedly (“Remember We Die” is really great and the variety across “Sorry Not Sorry” could have made it a highlight had the heights of it been…well, higher), but it says a lot that the best songs feel less like they’re brilliant and more like they’re merely solid. That’s really the big issue I have with the songwriting: it’s consistent, but it’s consistently listenable rather than consistently enjoyable, which feels like small praise.

Still, the performance side of the record has some good moments. While the guitar playing doesn’t really offer any real space for guitarists Daniel Sahagun and Charles Lee Salvaggio to show off their stuff, they certainly do a respectable job for what they’re being called upon to do (which, admittedly, isn’t a lot) and, despite the relatively faceless nature of the music, I never got the feeling that they were playing badly. This isn’t exactly high praise, because any good producer can encourage a technically fine performance on record from a performer as long as they aren’t blatantly trying to play something beyond their skill level (and, sometimes, even then), but it is still fair to say that the guys sound fine on record. The bass playing of Alessandro Pevari isn’t exactly complex, but it definitely feels like it adds something to the record and the guy knows what he is doing, so I don’t really have any complaints here. Drummer Brian Steele is probably the standout performer because he does a huge amount across the record (even getting some good double bass drumming in at points) and yet he never feels like he’s doing something unnecessary as the record goes along. I won’t make a claim of him being too good for the band he’s in, but, at least in terms of what he does on the record, Steele definitely shows himself to be the most capable musician here. He’s not on the level of, say, Mike Portnoy, but he does have some skill to his playing and I think it’d be hard to dispute that he shows the most impressive effort on here.

Aaron Nordstrom’s vocals aren’t bad, but he’s not exactly going to be receiving claims of being the best modern day vocalist in the alternative metal scene, let alone in the style’s history (mind you, this is the same scene which has Mike Patton in it, so maybe that isn’t a fair comment). His clean voice has a reasonable range to it, but his vocal tone comes across as generally being rather one note and there’s some obvious post-production work (likely Auto-tune, though I’ll be kind enough not to say it is just in case I’m wrong) at points across the record that gives his voice an obvious feeling of receiving support beyond what it should have been. He does have a harsher singing style which is clearly rooted in the metalcore screaming style, but it’s not a style he uses that much and he’s not particularly remarkable with it either, so it doesn’t really elevate his vocal skills much. I’ll be fair and acknowledge that his voice is not bad overall, but he doesn’t exactly do much to impress in the grand scheme of things and it’s easy to write his vocals off if you’re not into this style of music.

The production has flaws, but I will admit that I think it has a few really good strengths to it. The mixing of the record is hands down some of the best mixing I’ve heard all year, with a easy to hear bass presence that makes the instrument easy to hear while still adding to the overall sound very well, some good guitar mixing that keeps it easy to hear without dominating the mix, a solid drum mix that is also easy to hear and a mix on the vocals that takes centre stage without overwhelming the rest of the album. Seriously, the mix on this record is absolutely top notch and I really have to commend those involved in mixing the record, because they did an incredible job, because they really deserve more work than they’re getting.

Unfortunately, it’s in the rest of the production that I have to express criticism. The general sound of the record is very digitised, so the record doesn’t really have any grit to it, which hurts both the metal sound of the record’s sound (because it strips the music of any aggression it could have had) and the alternative side (because it strips the record of any real atmosphere it could have gained). I’ll be fair, it’s not the worst sound for a record I’ve ever heard, but it does rob the record of the impact it could have made. The mastering is also in the usual mainstream recording territory, so the mastering is louder than it should be. Not to extremes, luckily, but it’s still doesn’t sit well with me. So, production is basically “good mix, less-than-impressive everywhere else”.

Ultimately, despite all my complaints indicating otherwise, I don’t hate Memento Mori. It’s an adequate release: nothing worth getting infuriated over, but nothing worth getting all that passionate about either. It’s the kind of thing which, had it been released during the original alternative metal and nu-metal boom in the 90s and 2000s, would have been politely ignored by most people. I can’t say this is completely worth passing over, because it’s really not as bad as this review is making it out to be, but you’d have to be a HUGE fan of alternative metal to justify getting this and, even then, you’d probably be able to name a bunch of alternative metal releases that are more worthy of your time than this is. So, if you’re an alternative metal fan who doesn’t have any more alternative metal to listen to and this is the only thing you can find which you can check out, consider picking it up, otherwise, just give it a miss.

Memento Mori was released on the 19th of August by Another Century Media.