Sauntering on, weighed upon by the mournful wailing of death-obsessed onlookers the drapery of the ghast slips loose in reveal of two bone-white arms, glowing by their own obnoxious light. In slow shaken sheets of dust the dry grinding articulations begin to snap into swinging momentum enough for pauldron’d forelimbs to knock upon the sepulcher, divining its contents by way of some magickry of infernal echolocation through the resonance of an iron-cased crypt. Thirteen knocks upon the altar of the tomb and Swedish arcane death/doom metal quartet Runemagick awaken yet again as a thinking, feeling ghoul readied to spread the curse it’d conjured in five years of slumber. A wizened, adaptive organism built to thrive in its own obscure pools of primitive death for eons, the quartet return for a third three wave beyond their 2018 return from the grave with yet another refinement of their cryptic, surreal corridor. ‘Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind‘ serves as voice of an entirely unique beast, one which is equally heavy on engaging aggression and subtle sewn nuance but decidedly not pulling from any other source beyond its own decades of experience. In this thirteenth idiosyncratically seething curse they’d confirm what we all see, the slow death of humanity’s last generation as a complete loss of purpose follows the death of the pursuit of knowledge, here they describe our slow walk toward an unmarked grave.
During their decade long original run as Runemagick the quartet had a couple of points of reputation in the worldwide death metal spheres at large, the first being that they were an unusually prolific band for their time having gotten some great momentum starting off as a Century Media signed (initially) blackened death metal band heavily influenced by Bolt Thrower in the late 90’s. Over the course of ten years they released ten full-lengths alongside several vestigial records as they’d eventually work their way towards a stoner/doom metal influenced death/doom metal style by 2007. It’d seemed that as doom metal changed in its broader definition so did their brand of death metal and that period of the band is infinitely interesting to me as a longtime fan. If you’d like a perhaps too enthusiastic review of their discography and how I’d seen it about five years ago you can check out my review of their comeback record ‘Evoked From Abysmal Sleep‘ (2018). There were plenty of notes to gather from that return, but the important thing was that main composer Nicklas Rudolfsson (The Funeral Orchestra, ex-Deathwitch) had developed several other projects between 2008 and 2018, most importantly the now renamed Heavydeath and we could no doubt find many of the acquired traits and style of riffcraft experimented with in that band’s twelve demos, four full-lengths, et al. within the bones of that return from the void.
The “new” sound of Runemagick upon return was decidedly free-form in some respects, a unique approach to the riff which rang dissonant and oozed slow in psychedelic creeping motions that’d develop steadily across the length of each full album. While the mind could very well wander about during the later days of the band’s first tend album roll, these new releases were in a different voice and style of phrase which demanded attention paid by the listener. The second return from the band (‘Into Desolate Realms‘, 2019) now included contributions from second guitarist Jonas Blom (Death Reich) and focused on richer bass presence, a deeper separation between the two main rhythm guitar tracts and as a result it’d felt more sophisticated in motion but also more bluntly death metal affixed in its rhythms. To put it blunt as possible, it was all a bit less of a drone and there were some huge riffs (see: “Decay to Nothing”) that’d hit throughout the full listen and to the point that it’d become one of my favorites from the group when I’d reviewed it. Demanding as the slow-to-mid paced dissonant jog of their style can be, it’d be fair to say that very few death/doom metal bands today have quite the same character, or, unique rhythmic voice in the way that Runemagick does and it counts for quite a lot as they return unscathed on this full-length.
Runemagick‘s sound and style today should instantly appeal to fans of the surrealism available to Finnish death/doom in its most sonically charged, lustrous forms (Krypts, Solothus) while also remaining readably ‘old school’ per structures fortified by groups like Candlemass and Celtic Frost in the early-to-mid 80’s. While this naturally draws comparisons to the very timbre of certain Bolt Thrower albums, ‘Lost Paradise‘ and non-Van Drunen lead Asphyx records those observations haven’t been easily applied to these Swedes and their craft since ~2002. Perhaps the wrench in those expectations are longer threads of riff which avoid ‘epic’ metal notions for a reach into left-hand techniques that have more in common with the contemplative dissonance of certain Earth records. The gloom they create on this even more richly produced album is thalassic, impossibly black in its depth.
It should be no surprise that I’ve been a fan (and collector) of this group for a long while, not only has their “psychedelic” approach to death/doom metal been an inspiration in my path through music exploration but the lyrics have at times inspired some of the writing I’ve done over the years per their journey through the occult, the great unknown, and forces which are larger than ill-fated mankind. At this point it isn’t that I’m out of things to say about Runemagick‘s work but moreso that they’ve not made any particularly drastic changes to their craft since we’d last checked in circa 2019, in this case we are identifying a certain shade of darkness for its nuanced feeling more than its greater serpentine shape, that which is ever-slithering yet observable by a good hunter’s eye. The production has improved with each of the last three releases and finds its prime dynamic herein. I don’t mean to suggest that ‘Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind‘ is directly iterative or predictable but moreso that it is the result of a steady-focused craft, their own brand of chasm striding semi-dissonant death/doom as it continues to expand and contract in bloom of an already incredible palette.
In terms of the running order and the brilliant scope of the tracklist some generalizations and a few specifics should suffice as we find Rudolfsson‘s mastery of atmospheric death metal growing more impressive with each release in collaboration with Johan Bäckman (Necrocurse) who provides an ideal mix/master here, a chamber of incredible resonance for these pieces to ring, writhe, and storm within. Bäckman has long been involved with Heavydeath (now Den Tunga Döden) alongside several of the artist’s other projects in more recent years and at this point seems to truly have a grip on a larger than life feeling which still suits the organic heavy/doom metal pulse that Runemagick are built upon. Twelve plus minute opener “Archaic Magick (After the Red Sun)” is the perfect opener to introduce the full dynamic available as it plods at a mid-pace, almost mid-sentence as it arrives, and takes a hundred twists and turns into atmospheric doomed headspace and faster paced death metal jogging-forth as the scene-setting opener makes an incredible first impression. Here we can already see the lessons learned from ‘Into Desolate Realms‘ amplified, all pacing considered and atmosphere dripping with foggy synths and dueling rhythm guitar tones creating chasmic space, especially as we step into “Endless Night and Eternal End” one of the more punched at death metal pieces on the album that’ll likely catch the ear of fans of their earlier work, or, even the second Slugathor record for that matter.
The most hypnotic, pensive point of the album from my point of view comes with “Revocation of Spectral Paths” alongside “The Storm Rode Beyond the Firmament”, the former being the shortest and simplest composition available but a perfectly knotted piece which makes great use of guitar effects and the momentum built by the first two songs. The latter has the biggest riffs, the fastest pace, and the sharpest use of dissonance in phrase as they lean into a kicking ‘old school’ (read: early 90’s) feeling death metal kick and one of the best guitar solos on the record, a sort of harmonized lead alongside some cleaner rhythm tones which spark up in and around that section of the song. The gloom intensifies during this piece to a point of bursting as the final leads ride out with the song, this is kind of the moment that broke through easiest on the first listen and the song that truly sells the album for my taste. From there I suppose my notes begin to emphasize the same points, kicking classic death metal beats are back in their sound more often but we don’t lose the slithering, ominous dissonance and surrealistic atmospheric values which the band’ve brought back with ’em upon resurrection.
‘Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind‘ is the nigh perfect balance of the Runemagick way, not a cumulative look at the past but music created today by folks who still appear to have great passion for dark death metal music. It reads to me as not only a great work of unique death/doom metal voice, a gem-like rarity, but also a clear sign that there is life and blood inside of their creative wells which is yet capable of incredible presence and profound statement. It was a slow burn and an incredible descent but I’d eventually gotten to the point that all of their last thirteen full-lengths have arrived, a certain mastery of surrealistic death which sticks in mind and contorts unto morbid gloom. It is among the best releases of the month and certainly will be found on my personal best of the year list. A very high recommendation.
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