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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.