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The year-on-year quickfire release schedule of Runemagick that had lasted so gloriously since the turn of the century came to an abrupt end with the smugly titled Dawn of the End, essentially the epitome of Envenom and Invocation of Magic, the single malt essence of all the gruesomeness and grandioseness that now characterizes this tight three-strong unit of arcane practitioners. After this Runemagick went on hold, and very little has been heard since, apart from Century Media's Dark Dead Earth compilation of their first three albums.
Vicious but very very slow is Runemagick's agenda, and they'd spent two or three years perfecting the nth degree of that idea by this point. There is nothing actually new here, the last major departure was Envenom, but the two albums following that both build ever more impressive, expansive fortresses of doom around that formula. The introductory instrumental title track spends nearly six minutes just previewing some of the ominous atmospheres and eerie guitars that will be heard alongside the evil drums during the rest of the album. The lead guitars are lonely, eastern sounding, reminding of a sidewinder moving through the sand. The tremolo-picked sections hiss like hornets over the huge and chugging rhythms, and sharp, aggressive drum patterns jut out frequently from the black mass of guitar feedback, much like the steady, slow gait of the Stegosaurus - until that spiked tail swings round at your thin, thin skull.
There are only five full songs here as three tracks are instrumental, and half of 'Voyage to Desolation' and a sixth of the album's total runtime has elapsed before any vocals are heard. When Nicklas does unleash his vocal petroleum however, he lets loose with an even rougher howl than on Invocation of Magick, black metal rasps via a death metal timbre. As on Invocation and Envenom, the first full track is nothing short of mighty, an awesome monstrosity of overbearing riffs and with Mojjo even getting a fair old pace going on the kit.
On that note the drums are as good as ever. Ah, the drums, I've mentioned them in probably every single Runemagick review I've written, which is a lot, but you really won't find very many better doom/ stoner doom drummers. Notwithstanding the raw talent of the Rudolfsson family, with a more usual drummer, someone like Ed Warby, I don't know, Runemagick would lose a fair bit of atmosphere. These songs sound creepy, dark and huge precisely because of the scattering, meandering drum imprints.
The mood created by Runemagick is second to none, as usual. A song like 'Chthonic Temple Smoke' is almost lulling, despite the gargling riffs and vocals, but 'Retaliation' wakes me up from my imagined opium haze with blazing, chugging riffs and the best lyrics to start a song like this - "creatchaarrr, frrooommm, beeeyonnddd!" It features out of place palm-muted melodic riffs that pierce through the wall of drums and gush into tremolo-picked flashes of venom. It's impossible to turn this album off - once 'Retaliation' oozes into the abrasive and irresistible 'Volcano Throne' I'm nailed to my speakers, or headphones, for the remaining half an hour. 'Magus of Fire' is essentially the finale to Runemagick's career pre-hiatus, if not their discography altogether, and it's a big fat one, all grinding chugging guitar wrath at a snail's pace and a mix of whispered, chanted and snarled vocals. It crescendos into a grimly beautiful climax of emotionless tremolo-picked riffs over the fuzz of the rhythm guitars. Astounding. Overall, the album is just slightly inferior to Invocation, by merit of not having a song quite equal to 'Black Magic Sorceress' in sheer power, but it doesn't have the same tail-off at the end and in my book both are absolutely essential if you like anything else by this band or in this genre.
It's taken me almost a year - well ten months, but with this I'll have finally reviewed my way through Runemagick's entire studio discography, if we're just counting official full-lengths. Not usually one to finish a review talking about some insignificant personal crusade, but can I just say what fucking fun it's been. This band is really the finest death doom entity I've ever had the pleasure of. I like the old British trio of My Dying Bride, Anathema, Paradise Lost, as well as the old school nastiness of Autopsy, Obituary and Asphyx, the sludgy gore of Coffins and the defining heavy death doom of Thorr's Hammer, among dozens more, but Runemagick take this particular biscuit. Whether it's their 2002-2004 output which as doom fairly vibrated with residual energy and bile from their old death metal days, or the trippy, discomfiting ugliness of all that came after, it's the best death doom catalogue you'll find.