Secret of the Runes

Damn Metallica to hell. These former thrash kings did more damage to the genre with 1999’s collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony on S & M than any other band in metal history. And depending on whether you thought the mighty Met threw in the integrity towel with ’96s Load (which was just that), ’91s Black Album, or even ’88s …And Justice For All, Hetfield and co. did indeed commit one heinous act: they opened the door for any slob with guitar, drums and amps to wed classical music to heavy metal.

Though Therion have been doing the classical thing long before it dawned on Metallica-’95’s Theli saw the band embrace this style in earnest – these Swedes have followed a similar path: they began heavy with ’91s Of Darkness, peaked with ’95s Lepaca Kliffoth, and have endured a bumpy descent ever since. Bandleader Christofer Johnsson’s real challenge has been selling the idea of operatic metal to the masses, much like Skyclad pushing their pun-laden bombast or Tempest marketing their Irish folk metal.

Thankfully, Secret Of The Runes is not last year’s Deggial, a silly record that was more Broadway metal than goth mediocrity. But even though Secret is decidedly heavier in the riff department, the album still yearns for acceptance on the Great White Way. Based on Nordic rune tradition, “Ginnungagap” starts out with the rhythms of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” flaunting Middle Eastern tonal qualities that either resemble Nile at 16 rpm or make Tiamat’s 1992 opus Clouds so darn enticing. In fact, the chord progressions in “Nifelheim” are hauntingly comparable to the same from Tiamat’s “In A Dream” (from that same album), while “Muspelheim” starts with Moody Blues-ish symphonics and ends with hair(band)-brained guitar wankery reserved for Malmsteen and his militia. “Ljusalfheim” boasts too many Queen-isms to mention, and “Jotunheim” has Mexican horns that smack of the AM radio hit from ’72, “Conquistador,” by Robin Trower’s Procol Harem (ironically, another classical-tinged rock band).

Swallowing the album’s vocals is difficult at best: “Asgard” and “Midgard” are good examples, for they house a female choir and soloists, which remind one of a cathedral Xmas program, and their male counterparts, whose voices swing to memories of the Seven Dwarves and all other terrible Disney soundtracks. Granted, you might find this, as the bio states, “a disc that contains so much depth and talent yet is so hard to explain.” I just don’t see the attraction.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Dan Woolley
October 8th, 2001


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