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Bone Awl lull you into a calm, trance-like atmosphere with the intro track to their debut demo, Magnetism of War. Just when you start getting comfortable with the softly strummed acoustic guitars and carefree hand drums, an ominous rumble works its way into the track. The effect is similar to those horror movie scenes where the young people are having fun partying, but then the camera switches to the perspective of the killer lurking in the bushes just beyond the campfire light. After just over three minutes, the curtain is pulled back to reveal the band in its punky, blackened glory on first "real" track "In Eternal Dark." At first, the effect is more novelty than anything else, evoking thoughts like, "wow, those punk beats and riffs really work better with bleeding-throat black metal screams than I expected." By the time the song's "chorus" hits, it becomes obvious that Bone Awl are not taking this lightly.
The riffs on this debut release are just as developed as they ever get for Bone Awl: a couple of power chords, a few distortion pedals and lots of punk attitude. There aren't leads, there aren't solos and there isn't any tremolo picking. Just raw, in-your-face punk riffs for the duration of the song's six middle tracks. Nearly every song begins and ends with squealing feedback, a recorded testament to the band's punk ethos and DIY aesthetic. It's difficult to pick out an actual bass guitar but the riffs in most of the tracks have enough growl to them to insinuate that there's a bass in there somewhere. A few deviations from this approach do exist, such as the buzzing, multi-tracked guitar on "Heidrun." For the most part, though, choosing highlights is more a matter of choosing the most effective punk riffs of the lot rather than cherry-picking parts where the guitars do something different that stands out.
The drums are simple punk beats, devoid of flashy fills or double bass rolls. The fills that do show up are the rapid fire snare rolls common to punk. It's an energetic performance throughout and fits the rest of the music perfectly, so it's hard to really criticize. There are a few places where the drumming speeds up to blastbeat intensity ("Heidrun") and these serve as highlights of the drumming on Magnetism of War.
He Who Gnashes Teeth had already developed his absolutely scathing black metal screams long before Bone Awl put anything to tape as they're in top form even on this debut demo. The vocals are prominent throughout the duration of the release and their intensity is hard to quantify.
The production throughout the entire demo definitely falls into the raw side of things, clearly recorded on an analogue tape recorder of things. Fortunately, the overall production gives equal weight to the vocals, guitar/bass riffs and drums and the band's furious playing easily cuts through the minor tape hiss. There are a few parts where the volume of the mix shifts a bit, such as the subdued vocal track at the beginning of "Silver Grin of the Death's Head" but these are minor complaints and are pretty much to be expected on a self-released cassette demo.
The general songwriting and riff-craft on Magnetism of War isn't quite as "advanced" as it would be on later releases, but really the differences are subtle at best. The release is on the short side, with the nearly 8-minute, repetitive doomy instrumental "Noise of Bears Killing" that closes the demo doing a lot to pad out the 23 and a half minute run time. If you've heard Bone Awl and were absolutely memorized by their blend of high speed punk and black metal vitriol, you may as well start here at the beginning, but if you only have a passing interest in the band there are longer releases with a higher average song quality later in their discography.