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The year 1998 and the strange reincarnation of death metal in this year will never cease to amaze me. We witnessed the decline of death metal which started in 1993 and was almost completed by 1996. There is no denying the fact that there were masterpieces in each year but definitely the number of quality releases had certainly taken a back seat. But come 1998 and out of nowhere we have so many awesome releases. The Chasm's "Deathcult for Eternity", Incantation's "Diabolical Conquest" to name a few. But one often tends to forget this immensely underrated band Runemagick who gave us with one of the most towering death metal record with this album.
Sweden has produced one of the greatest death metal records way back in early 90s and of course inspired by the acts in their own country and few from the US death metal scene, Runemagick was formed in early 90s. They released few demos before finally finding a label and they released this album under Century Records. While their early demos were more in the vein of Bathory they developed this more mature death metal sound with this album. Most of the songs were recorded in early 90s but the album was recorded in 1998. My encounter and appreciation of Runemagick was very strange. Obviously this album is pretty well known among the underground death metal fans, I listened to them last year and I wasn't able to appreciate it. But I decided to spin this album one more time before discarding it from my ipod, and obviously I was in for a surprise. I instantly opened the archives page and was amazed to find 10 full-lengths and 5 EPs within a span of 10 years. While this may be a very common thing for some dark ambient or drone bands but this is death metal goddamn it! I have already listened to it multiple times while I am submitting this review and thanks to the internet that I found most of their releases.
Enough of beating about the bush, let's get down to business. The album begins with a slow doomy riff only to be replaced by double bass pounding to be replaced by another set of riffs. This practically goes on throughout the album. The typical "double bass-Cymbal hits-Drum roll-double bass" pattern on the first track will force even a paralyzed guy to bang his head. This album shows you how death metal can be awesome without being insanely fast. There are appropriate representation of faster brutal parts with slow mid-paced and doomy sections. It does well to keep the listener interested throughout.
We have good amount of Bolt Thrower worship going on here. While the band doesn't mention Bolt Thrower as their influence. But the music here is pretty similar to what we hear in "The IVth Crusade". By that I certainly don't mean that they have tried to rip off Bolt Thrower, that's just to give you an idea what to expect from this album. This album has in it something for fans of all sub-genres of death metal. Add to that brilliant production values which tends to turn off many fans. Every instrument is represented well and sounds crystal with pretty heavy bass lines. The vocals need a special mention here. They are deep growling in the style of John Tardy or Karl Willetts and are pretty much decipherable. That makes the listening experience even better 'cause you can actually headbang and growl along! The lyrics are short and well written. And when the vocalist goes like ...
"When death is the key
I spread my wings
When death is the key
I open the gate
I spread my wings
And let my soul free"
on the song "When Death is the Key" you can't help but headbang and this is the best moment on the album.
"Heavy as fuck" would be such an understatement for them. While their riffs are pretty reminiscent of early Scandinavian death metal acts but while they switch to the mid-paced sections they often switch to sabbathish and sludgy riffing. I was totally amazed to find just 4 reviews for this band's discography. They certainly deserve much more attention.
Highlights - At The Horizons End, When Death Is The Key, The Supreme Force.
I’m almost certain The Supreme Force of Eternity is probably one of the most overlooked albums in all of death metal. Through some horrid twist of fate, Runemagick would later gain notoriety for releasing entirely derivative and forgettable pieces of trite nostalgia like Requiem of the Apocalypse--but buried underneath all the bullshit and the hype courtesy of scenes and such is a work of inexplicable dark, brooding, and unearthly power.
Firstly, describing the style of Runemagick at this point is easy, and at the same time, a complete mindfuck. The overwhelming aesthetic is that of classic early 90s death metal. You know, when death metal actually had restraint and moderation. Into the Grave and Human come to mind--albums with some post thrash speed, but often broken up by sections of plodding groove. The subtleties are really what make this sound difficult to explain. At this point Rudolfsson (the sole essence of Runemagick) carries a lot of black metal baggage with him, which can be witnessed with early Swordmaster and (well...duh) Sacramentum. Some of the themes commonly associated with black metal, mysticism, the summoning of dark power, and even an aversion towards orthodox metal composition (the riffing from The Black Wall could have very well been penned by Abbath during Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism) permeate the music. It’s never enough to confront the listener, but it’s entirely enough to captivate the listener as effectively as something blatant like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. The lead guitar also carries with it a very subtle quality that undoubtedly did not come from old school death metal. Its style is just as reliant on tone and tempo as that of Jesper Stromland/Glenn Ljungstrom, using ambience and slow hand playing to sustain the captivating simplicity of the core melodic passages. The notes themselves can be best described as quintessential Viking metal--they carry a heroic but somber sense of duty with them, reveling in the glory of death in battle, and at the same time, acknowledging death is a lonesome journey (see Amon Amarth).
The music itself always offers something for the patient, something for the seasoned death metal fan, and something for those seeking music that simply transcends itself. For the patient, almost every track has a pay off lead, or a modest yet captivating hook, while tracks like Nocturnal Creation will have the old school death metal fan feeling obliged to pee on any Nile or Immolation album/fan in sight. Last but not least, for those looking for the transcendental will be enthralled with songs that are nothing short of modern incantations, lethargically summoning forth dark power in trance like soundscapes (For You My Death, The Black Wall...pay special attention to the harmony created by bass lines), and at the same time, protecting the majestic secrets of that power (The Sign of Eternity) with vague, sublime, and most of all, mystical clean guitar work.
The end result of this work is full conceptual coherence--the lyrical focus of unearthly power and penchant for ancient and esoteric iconography is fully expressed through brooding bass lines, larger than life riffs and leads, and at the same, obscured by the mystic beauty of the few passages of clean guitar and keys. Ultimately, while other Runemagick albums are certainly entertaining, none of them carry the meaning and aura of The Supreme Force of Eternity. Every fan of death or black metal should own this, but especially those who appreciate works with captivating themes and soundscapes (Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, Heart of the Ages) above and beyond itself.