Runemagick – Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind Review

Sweden’s Runemagick have been banging away at the extreme metal world since the late 90s. With a sound traveling from basic nuts n’ bolts death metal into doom-death, these magick wielders have put in over 3 decades of sweat equity with 12 albums to show for their efforts. That makes it all the weirder that I’ve never heard them until grabbing the promo for album number thirteen, Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind. Making my decades-long oversight all the more glaring, Katatonia drummer, Daniel Moilanen has manned the kit for Runemagick since 2002. Oh, the shame! With a poser check on Steel frantically underway at AMG HR, I ran back through their voluminous back catalog to sample their wares and for the most part, I’ve been impressed. The early stuff is simple, heavy death and the later stuff is burly doom-death with slightly psychedelic, trippy vibes. Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind is the third release in the band’s second-stage career following an 11-year hiatus, and it finds them still churning out interesting if not exactly ground-breaking doom-death, usually in the long-form format. There’s nothing going on here you haven’t heard before, but the band have sufficient talent and experience to keep things lively while pulverizing your kidney stones and ear canals.

Ginormous 11-plus minute opener “Archaic Magick (After the Red Sun)” is straightforward in its approach, alternating between heavy doom segments and more aggressive, vaguely d-beaty gallops to shake you up and keep you conscious. The mammoth doom plods that lead off are indeed spine-crushing, but things soon become overly rote and simplistic with quality dooming replaced by a standard issue chug. It isn’t until the 6-minute mark that things come alive and start charging forward like a rogue tank battalion, but by then the song already feels too long. It’s not bad and there are plenty of interesting moments along the way,1 but it’s definitely too stretched out for its own good. “Endless Night and Eternal End” infuses a healthy dose of blackened atmosphere and icy trems to weave a grim mood with subtle traces of Novembers Doom along the way, and “Revocation of Spectral Paths” has a certain vibe that reminds me of later era Dimmu Borgir as it slithers and creeps along in ghastly ways.

The clear standout for my AMG bucks is “The Storm Rode Beyond the Firmament” which embodies most of the things I love about doom-death, including a hideous and bleak atmosphere loaded with menace and ill tidings. The guitars trill eerie harmonies and pound your skull with loathsome doom riffs and everything feels dark, dank, and dangerous. Again, this isn’t reinventing the doom-death wheel, but the best genre tropes are leveraged well enough to leave a decent impression. From there however, Beyond the Cenotaph takes a slight downward turn, with the 9-minutes of “Nocturnal Deities of Winter” underwhelming despite occasional bits that remind me of Edge of Sanity, and the title track is a bit leaden before rallying in the back half to wind the album out decently. At just under 50 minutes, Beyond feels a bit too long. A few minutes trimmed off the longer cuts would make for a more focused, immediate outing, but that’s clearly not the point here. The production is good, however, with a heavy, resonating guitar tone and just enough murk and muck to feel dirty and ragged.

Founding vocalist/guitarist Nicklas Rudolfsson has been doing this a long, long time and knows what he’s about. His low-register death roars are compelling and nasty, and he’s got a good amount of weighty riffs in his war chest. He and Jonas Blom litter the album with effective doom leads of varying mass, and when things get urgent, they utilize classic Swedeath d-beats and also borrow from the Bolt Thrower armory for inspiration. The inclusion of blackened elements adds a nicely dark tone when utilized and the guitars do the heavy lifting to carry the album along. The biggest hurdle is the sometimes lackluster and unfocused writing. Some moments meander too long with too little going on, and some songs just meander generally. The good stuff is quite good, but the lesser stuff drags the album’s energy and momentum downward.

Runemagick have quite the body of work and I’ve definitely enjoyed slogging through the dusty, dimly-lit caverns they’ve created over the past few decades. While Beyond the Cenotaph isn’t one of their best releases, I can still see doom-death aficionados getting decent mileage out of this. Worth a spin with slightly muted expectations.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps
Label: Hammerheart
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: April 28th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. There’s a particularly enthused solo at 9:06.
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