Album Review: Runemagick – Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind

Album Review: Runemagick - Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind
Reviewed by Sam Jones

Runemagick are far from being strangers amongst Sweden’s sprawling extreme metal scene. Formed way back in 1990 originally as Desiderius before changing to Runemagic in the same year, the band released a few Demos before splitting in 1993. Cue four years later and the band reformed under the modified name of Runemagick where they released their first full length work, The Supreme Work Of Eternity, in 1998. Numerous records follow suit, demonstrating their keen work ethic however, those gears ran dry and resulted in the band breaking up by 2007. A decade later and time heals some wounds, ever we see the band reformed and releasing an aptly titled record named Evoked From Abysmal Sleep. My first exposure to the band came with their 2019 work, Into Desolate Realms, where I became an avid watcher for new material from the band. This is where Beyond The Cenotaph Of Mankind comes into play, their first record in four years and once I was keenly excited to get into. Now onto their thirteenth record, I was interested to see how the band could continue their legacy so far into their career.

It takes a particular sort of courage, and confidence, to open up your new record with a near-twelve minute piece, even when you’re as experienced and learned as Runemagick are. Considering the record doesn’t sport many songs, we soon realise this opening track is around a quarter of our entire time spent with the band in this instance. Fortunately the band play their cards well and ensure this behemoth of an opening song is handled with careful pacing as such that they don’t try and detonate too quickly out of the gate; such a choice for so long would leave audiences bored quickly as it is tricky to guarantee warranted attention to intensity for such a long time without a break in songwriting. It’s often a gamble when concerning a lengthy opening opus and I’d argue Runemagick did well here as it gets audiences involved in what’s going on and what kind of tone we should expect from the rest to come. In this instance, we learn this will be a dark, somber record that hints towards an explosive edge we are best bracing ourselves for.

What I’ve come to enjoy greatly regarding Runemagick, especially considering their Swedish heritage, is how they’ve opted for a far grander, mystic approach to death metal than their buzzsaw contemporaries would otherwise choose. The riffs on display are clean and enable us to follow their direction, no matter what pacing the songwriting otherwise sets it; with that said though, the guitar work isn’t entirely disinfected and polished. The band’s performance has this slightly dirty underbody that can be felt at all times throughout their performance; it’s far from being deemed as muddy or coarse but there’s just enough for us to get behind the band’s savage nature, knowing we’re experiencing a performance that wants to take you out of your current surroundings yet has no intention on displacing your attention away from their sound owing to a potentially scathing soundscape. More importantly, the guitar work harnesses this grand, operatic scale that sees notes and chords ring out far into the distance. The band took their feet completely off any limiters riffs may have been faced with, allowing the guitars to feel as massive as their album does.

Album Review: Runemagick - Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind

The band may only have six tracks to speak of throughout this record but the band certainly make the full forty-eight minutes feel as such. The band are opting for a steadier, trudging approach that definitely differs from many of their likeminded peers, who may otherwise be tempted into bursting out into rage and vollies of thunder. Granted, there are moments where Runemagick’s songwriting does assume more ruthless tones, and the weight of this record absorbs more mass to bring down on us, for the most part, from start to finish, the band give us a firm notion as per the direction their sound is going to take. You’re not going to find blast beats not visceral vocal demonstrations nor any blisteringly wild guitar solos; Runemagick establish themselves here early on, during that aforementioned opening piece, as a band that aren’t looking to entertain through superficial means or unnecessary bluster. The band are here to elicit one particular style and if that isn’t for you, there’s no judgement reserved for this opinions; Runemagick understand who they are and what fans are looking to find from them.

Elevating the band’s songwriting and presence periodically is the inclusion of select ambient elements that help to bring the band’s performance to greater heights, and only deepen our attention to their tones. The majority of songwriting herein emanates from the band’s own performance and how their songwriting impacts our perception of their soundscape yet, owing to the length of tracks used, we need some inclusion of ambience to offer something more ethereal to the music that rudimentary vocals and instrumentation can’t quite cut. These moments are few and far between, demonstrating the evident preferences towards what the band members themselves can conjure, but it doesn’t hurt to hear a little more being injected into their soundscape that goes beyond their individual performances. It’s all the more prevalent during the title track, where such ambient elements, small as they are, make a considerable impact on how we perceive the song. Like the rest of their music, Runemagick don’t launch us right into the fray but slowly submerge us time and again until we’re neck deep.

In conclusion, Beyond The Cenotaph Of Mankind is hardly an album that sports incredible intensities nor does it try and rattle your head the instant you’re listening, instead the band seek to envelop you amidst this thick, churning cauldron that is their songwriting. At nearly fifty minutes long, and knowing what kind of songwriting the band are championing herein, it’s an all the more impressive success they manage to keep us enthralled and attentive at all times. Full scale onslaughts may not be their prerogative but that doesn’t diminish the power their sound already has; their impact lies in that monotonous, crawling aesthetic their performance imbues the record with. I think it’s a death/doom record some may find a little safe as far as this sub-genre goes, opting for more devastating or cacophonous options, but for those who enjoy this creeping, vicious style, Beyond The Cenotaph Of Mankind is well worth checking out.

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