Memento Mori, a Latin phrase that means "remember you will die," is a fitting title and theme for Flyleaf's sophomore album. Four years have passed since their self-titled debut brought the Texas rock band to national attention. Several successful singles for both mainstream and Christian radio and extensive touring with artists from Seether to Skillet have helped grow a fanbase eager for more. Wait no more -- Flyleaf is back with a collection of songs that explores contrasting themes of darkness, death, light, and life, through driving hard rock and reflective, personal lyrics.
Traditionally, "memento mori" is a genre of art that represents frailty, mortality, and death. As the title suggests, this album is a modern musical treatment of a classic theme, inspired by tragedies and illness that the band members have experienced. The result is a meditation on mortality that is by turns somber and hopeful. Sometimes it feels like a personal journey, with the driving music and Lacey Mosley's passionate, dynamic vocals telling stories of pain and redemption.
Lacey's vocals contribute a lot of power to Flyleaf's standout sound. She proved on the first album that she could scream and sing with the best of them, her voice sometimes floating and trembling on delicate melody before ripping into a fierce scream that could rival the best vocalists in the genre. The screamo tendencies are toned down this time around, but she's lost none of the intensity of earlier work. Intense hard rock that would fit right in with many mainstream rock acts provides the musical counterpoint to her voice. Sameer Bhattacharya and Jared Hartmann's guitar work can be dense and thick, or take on a more open, soaring sound for their mellower and anthemic songs.
Like most hard rock, Flyleaf's music has a dark edge, but even while exploring the shadows, Flyleaf is all about hope and redemption. The opening track, "Beautiful Bride," wastes no time letting all who listen know where they stand. The militant beat and wall of guitar are an anthem made for rock radio, but the lyrics are an unapologetic battle cry for the "beautiful bride, body of Christ." I'm still not sure how this fits in with the "remember you will die" theme, but it's a fun rocker that could probably be a new standard for Christian rock. "Jesus Freak" for a new generation? It's possible.
If Memento Mori is a loose concept album, then the lead single "Again" is where the story really seems to begin, a song of admiration and encouragement to a dedicated friend. From there, the first half of the album is darker, remembering the past while searching for hope. "Missing," a hooky, singable song that's a little more pop than the first couple tracks, acknowledges that "something's missing in me." "This Close" remembers a positive influence, and captures the tension of resisting help and love while longing for change: "I'm been looking in your window / And been dressing in your clothes / I've been walking dead, watching you / Long enough to know I can't go on." And then there's "The Kind." If a panic attack were a song, this might be it, with oppressive, chaotic instrumentation and frenzied vocals that channel just a bit of Paramore until bringing the song to a shrieking finish.
The climax comes halfway through the album with my two favorite tracks. "In the Dark," starts off soft, pained, but swells to dramatic heights as she pleas, "Jesus, heal me and save me / Raise me up to live again / Like You did." It's one of the darkest songs on the album, but the raw emotional power in her voice carries it effortlessly into the soaring lone guitar solo of "Set Apart This Dream." Death gives way to life and resurrection, longing for innocence and a future "where we only cry from joy." The ominous sound of the first songs melts into something more open and free, a perfect match to the joy and hope found in the lyrics. In a similar way, "Treasure" is song of love and worship to the God who redeemed her and a celebration of new life: "Just look at what He's done / How he's laying down His life / Take this life, a most dazzling precious treasure." This is one of the most beautiful and encouraging songs they've written, and as good as the closer "Arise" is, this could have been a great finish in itself.
For rock fans, there's a lot to love about Memento Mori, though it does have a few odd songs that get lost in the album's fourteen track runtime. "Tiny Heart," for example, is a poppy tune that feels a little out of place from the mood and theme, and even after a lot of listens, I had a hard time connecting with "Chasm" and "Circle." If anything, a trim of some of the weaker songs and a more consistent focus on the theme could have made a strong album even better.
Albums like Memento Mori are a rarity in Christian rock. Flyleaf has managed to connect with audiences both Christian and mainstream in the past few years and successfully mix a current style with lyrical honesty that doesn't feel sentimental, "emo," or preachy. This is the sort of art born from both great tragedy and great hope and, in this case, a wonderful progression for a talented band.- Review date: 11/3/09, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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