Reduced to a duo, Depeche Mode signs a disc powerfully haunted by death and many sonic nods to the past.

There is on all Depeche Mode albums since the end of the 1980s at least one piece that stands out for its pure melodic line and a few scratchy notes on the guitar. On Memento Mori, it’s Ghosts Again, where Martin Gore and Dave Gahan contemplate nothing more or less than their own finality, made cruelly concrete by the sudden and untimely death of their friend Andrew Fletcher in May last year.

Ghosts Again is the song that stands out the most on this 15th album from the English pioneers of dark electro. The essence of Memento Mori does not have the almost catchy pulse of this title. Instead, Martin Gore develops tracks that sometimes sound surprisingly retro (Wagging Tongue evokes Jean-Michel Jarre, People Are Good, Kraftwerk, and Never Let Me Go sounds like Depeche Mode from the early 1980s with a pop-punk touch) and of gravity.

It’s no surprise: despite making its mark with danceable electronic music, Depeche Mode has always eyed the dark side of the heart. The difference here is that the duo aren’t trying to lighten the mood. On the contrary.

Don’t Say You Love Me sounds like a kind of blues with a menacing aura, endowed with an epic side like film music. My Perfect Stranger, which also deals with aging, has something tense and tortured about it. Before We Drown shines like a black jewel. The ironic People Are Good also stands out with its worried comments. There is a moment of hesitation right in the middle of Memento Mori (the double Soul With Me and Caroline’s Monkey), but Martin Gore, who is still the main musical architect of Depeche Mode, impresses us with the finesse of his electronic violin making and his subtle melodic juxtapositions.

Memento Mori isn’t a great Depeche Mode record, but it’s definitely their strongest since Playing the Angel, almost 20 years ago. Above all, it is the inhabited album of a bereaved group that has managed to survive itself.