Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind

Far be it from me to understand  how or why certain bands make it bigger than others, why artists deserving of much more in the way of accolades and acclaim just never quite rise to certain levels of success. I’m sure the truth is probably that any number of factors come into play, not the least of which include timing, scene trends, lineup challenges and scheduling difficulties. Hell, in the world we live in now – it’s hard to fathom how any band finds success in any kind of traditional capacity, being that it’s constantly scheming new ways to keep hardworking, well-deserving bands trapped in a meat grinder.

But for the life of me, I’ve never been able to figure out how Sweden’s Runemagick has stayed under-the-radar as they have after thirty years of crushing Death Doom, because goddamn if they’re not a delight.

That’s not to say, obviously, that the band is even relatively unknown, but somehow in the pantheon of Death Doom greats, they just never seem to be mentioned in the same breath of the likes of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, or early Anathema and Katatonia, which is kind of a shame, really – if only for the point that front man Nicklas Rudolfson has time and again proven himself an absolute riff monster. His guitar work and song craft, at least in my own humble opinion, has always stood toe-to-toe with the genre’s titans, and yet the band always seems to be sitting just on the outside of that bleak Mt. Rushmore.


The good news however, is that it seems possible Runemagick are winning the long game, because whether you’re a longtime fan or just now finding out about these masters of all things morass and oppressively gloomy, they’ve never sounded better than they do on Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind. They’ve effectively struck that difficult balance of dank filth to make the outright heft of this album land with maximum force, with enough clarity that you can fully appreciate every element at play over the album’s 6 tracks. This proves especially beneficial with the band’s duel guitar attack from Rudolfsson and former drummer-turned-guitarist Jonas Blom. With the murky overall tone, it could easily become difficult to discern the two from one another, but instead the intricate, nuanced differences come through loud and clear, making for some really dynamic harmonies and really elevate the music. Opener “Archaic Magick (After the Red Sun)” makes this point clear right from the get-go, with a little bit of everything in Runemagick‘s arsenal on display: relentless, super groovy riffs that absolutely pummel (there’s a particularly tasty one around 7:30 in that friggin’ buries you), a couple rad leads/solos and a chunky D-Beat section that both impress and change up the pace nicely, and it’s all backed by one of the best rhythm sections in the business via bassist (and Nicklas’ wife) Emma Rudolfsson and the (in my mind) criminally underappreciated drummer Daniel Moilanen (Katatonia), who both set as solid and unbreakable a foundation as you’ll find, with Emma’s bass in particular just taking the darkness to even lower depths, sending a relentless, pulsating vibration through your ears and into your bones with every note.

As usual, the band are eager to showcase just how good they are at creating real atmosphere and setting, and they absolutely do not disappoint. On “Revocation of Spectral Paths,” the band beautifully utilizes a Rotary/Leslie effect on the lead melody that, when backed  by the chugging heft of the main riff, creates such a classically unsettling, mysterious effect that has you picturing images of cosmic beasts and portals to unknown dimensions. It’s by far the album’s briefest track, but it’s also one of its most effective at creating such vivid imagery through the music, and one that really helps to showcase just how unique an entity Runemagick are.  “The Storm Rode Beyond the Firmament” creates an absolutely massive, desolate space in which it seems only death can exist, starting off with a lone guitar that makes you feel like a lone explorer lost in the vast recess of outer space, and what follows feels like the eventual mental breakdown that would most certainly come with the inevitable, infinite nothingness. The dreary, doomy stretch that marks the beginning of the track is suddenly broken by a burst of energy that packs twice the punch in contrast to the plodding, churning course it took to get there. The genius of it all is the timing – just when the song was getting to a point where it may have started to feel a little one-dimensional and single-minded, the band changes course and you’re sucked right back into it again.

I don’t necessarily want to oversell this album as being any kind of re-think or reinvention of the Death Doom wheel, because it’s certainly not that. What it is, is an expertly executed example of the genre, one built by the confidence of a band, or perhaps more specifically, a guiding force in Nicklas Rudolfsson that has utilized his decades or experience to show everyone how it’s done, and in a world where (thankfully) the banner of Death Doom is being proudly waved more and more by a newer generation of artists, it’s awesome to see one of the old guard leading the way, especially one in Runemagick that maybe never quite got it’s full due. There are some of the general pitfalls that you’d expect with this genre – you can be lulled a bit by the length, the meandering, or the band’s steadfast resolution to see an idea to it’s very limits, but what do you want? It comes with the territory, and Beyond the Cenotaph of Mankind is more than deserving of your time and patience, because there’s a lot of greatness packed into it’s six tracks. You won’t regret putting the time in.


[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
May 24th, 2023


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