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From the archives: Karl Willets from Memoriam and Bolt Thrower (March 2017)

From the archives: Karl Willets from Memoriam and Bolt Thrower (March 2017)

  • Post category:Interviews

Former Bolt Thrower front man, Karl Willets, needs no introduction to those with even a passing interest in death metal. Willets is back with a new band, a familiar sound and most importantly, the most articulate vocal stylings in death metal.  

“I’m glad to be able to share this moment with you… [Laughs]. I can feel the love all the way across the planet, across the globe. I can feel that love coming through the line.” 

There was a friendly air when I caught up with Willets on Valentine’s Day. The man with the big voice is easily one of the most cordial artists I have had the pleasure of interviewing. Offering a platitude for my promptness for calling through at precisely the designated time, Willets then reflected on his time in Australia.

“(Bolt Thrower) was last in Australia around ’92 or ’93, something like that. We had a great time when we were there,” he said.

“I always highlight that one of the pinnacles of my career is when I had a small epiphany when we were in Perth on the beach, watching the ocean roll in. We all stood there, looked at one another, and thought, ‘Okay. We’re not doing too badly for a bunch of guys from the west Midlands’. That was a great defining moment in the history of Bolt Thrower.”  

In the years since his tour of Australia, Willets obtained a degree in Cultural Studies from the University of Birmingham. Musician, lyricist, scribe, and now qualified in the Humanities and Arts. I put it to Willets that he sounds like an old-fashioned renaissance man.

“Yes, absolutely! I consider myself a modern-day dandy. Even before I went to university, I was always diligent with the lyrics and vocals I wrote,” he said.

“When I went to university, that grounded what I knew and thought, it almost defined what I was doing. The actual course was about post-modern theory, social theory and different types of social thought. It made me realise that there is no concept of the truth, just various competing versions of the truth.

What comes from different things and viewpoints turned into chaos theory. A lot of deconstruction and critical theory were involved in completing the course. It tied into the kind of lyrics that I tend to like as well. I’m quite a critical analyser of the world around us.” 

‘A critical analyser of the world around us… ‘. I rattle off a host of current affairs and items likely to inspire vigorous debate occupying the media’s attention in 2017. What’s Willets take on the more prominent events absorbing the public psyche? Has there been an influence on his lyrics? 

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve got to that point in my life where I don’t care what other people think about what I think. And I’m quite prepared to stand up in the pulpit and say what I think these days,” he said.

“Maybe 10 or 20 years ago, I may have shied away from writing songs with more of a political aspect. In Bolt Thrower, we had a set formula that worked, and we were quite happy working to that. With Memoriam, all that’s out the window. We’re working with a completely blank canvas, and all the rule books are out the window.

So, we’ve done the album For The Fallen; there are a couple of songs on there and “Reduced to Zero” is one in particular. “Corrupted System” is probably one of my favourite ones on the album, to be perfectly honest, because it is so different from anything before, particularly in light of what’s going on in the world: the rise of the right-wing ideology and the general lurch in the world towards nationalism, xenophobia, hatred and fear.”  

Memoriam could never be described as an ‘activist’ band. However, the lyrical content is imbued with a message one could describe as political.  

“I’ve enjoyed writing some new songs with political content, which I possibly wouldn’t have done in the past. So, that’s been a great change for me. I wouldn’t say a challenge, but a great opportunity for me to do that,” said Willets.

Willets expresses his disdain for populist political ideologies.  

“I’m quite pleased to be in a position where I can stand up, say something about (current affairs), and do something about it. On Twitter, sharing my critical opinions on these matters,” he said.

Willets offers insight into his view of ‘Brexit’ and The Donald’s rise to POTUS elect.

“I’m a staunch believer in Europe. We are a strong trading block and have a strong cultural unity with the European Union. I’ve got forefathers from two world wars who fought to unify us and to get to where we are now. Moving away from that definitely scares me, and Donald Trump’s rise is farcical,” he said.

“It still seems to be reactionary politics, driven by the right-wing media, and it’s all about power, not inclusion. It’s all about separation. Building walls, cutting people off and denying people that are different from us. For me, accepting difference is what makes this world that we live in such a great place.”  

I can expound that the world is at least a better place given the opportunity to listen to Willets and his merry band of minstrels concoct the death metal album of the past few years, For The Fallen.

Memoriam may be a new band; however, there are more than a few familiar faces, and the line-up is rounded out by former members of Benediction and a comrade from Bolt Thrower.  

“I’m 50 this year, and I’ve never been in a band that’s recorded a demo. I’ve never been in a band that’s released a 7” single. So, all these new experiences are just fresh. They’re fresh, and they’re inspiring for me. That’s been the whole purpose of why we did it in the first place, is to create, try and get that feeling back, try and get that fire back somehow of how we felt when we were in our early twenties, back in the 80s when we first started,” he said.

“We’ve achieved everything we really wanted to do in a relatively short time with Memoriam. Bear in mind we’ve only been going for just over a year. And in that short time, we’ve achieved an incredible amount of stuff. Something I’m proud of. And long may it continue.”  

With these types of trans-global interviews, both the artist and journalist work on a schedule. We both agree to catch up later and continue the discussion; Willets was just getting started!

MEMORIAM release their debut album For The Fallen on 24th March via Nuclear Blast.

First published in Hot Metal, March 2017.

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