Oh, man. I mean: oh maaaaaan. There are bands that play by their own rules, there are real maverick bands, and then there is Runemagick. When I saw this in the review list for Ave Noctum, I could barely contain myself. It’s been more a little more than a year since their last album, “Evoked from Abysmal Sleep”, which in itself was their first record since 2007. In fairness, while “Evoked” was a decent record, it didn’t quite have the mystery and atmosphere of their earlier releases. I first stumbled across Runemagick somewhere around 2002, when I was on holiday in Poland, and the metal magazine I bought from a local store had a full version CD of “Requiem of the Apocalypse” as the free cover gift. I was hooked straight away: very doom-laden death metal which was wilfully obscure and not like anything I had heard up to that point.

Well, in 2019, Runemagick have stubbornly and unapologetically stuck to their guns. Still consisting of the hardcore of Nicklas Rudolfsson (Guitar and Vocals), Emma Rudolfsson (Bass) and sometime Katatonia drummer Daniel Moilanen (Drums), but now joined by guitarist Jonas Blom, “Into Desolate Realms” does exactly what it says on the tin. If you’ve never had the pleasure of listening to Runemagick, (and if you haven’t, get diving into their back catalogue now), you’re going to be faced with Celtic Frostian style death metal, put played slow. Veeeeeery slow. Slower than a snail that’s wearing a heavy back-pack and taken an industrial amount of very strong pain killers. Tracks like “The Opening of Dead Gates” sound like some prime-era Swedish death metal, but being pulled screaming at 33rpm from somewhere deep within your speakers. Every beat is torturous. To call this death-doom is really doing the album a grave disservice: this is death metal in the very finest of traditions. The musicianship is really brutal, though as with all Runemagick, atmosphere is king. Whether with the strung-out, sound-bending guitar solos, with their languid atonal wailing, or in the absolute pummelling drums, Runemagick don’t put a single musical step down without wanting to make you feel the desolation.

“Into Desolate Realms” is an epic album. Very few of the tracks here weigh in at any less than six minutes in length, and when the sheer weight of the riffs drop – as in the churning, leaden melody that opens the almost eight-minute hymn of “Decay to Nothing” – you will be transported into a different headspace entirely. There are many extreme metal bands that claim some kind of esoteric or mystical leanings, yet to my mind very few can conjure the bleak spectral atmosphere as well as Runemagick. Every track here sounds like it could be played in a dimly lit cave somewhere. The guitars of course have strange, dissonant clear sections alongside the below down-tuned six string and bass work, while the drums provide the marching rhythm to the war against good cheer. To my ears at least, Niklas’ voice has become a little less gruff than in earlier albums, reminding me somewhat more of David Vincent here. The production is also really excellent, allowing some of the more psychedelic guitar moments to really stand clearly among the gloom of the rest of the music. As an added bonus, three tracks from an EP released in September, “The Opening of Dead Gates” is available as the final numbers. They sit well among the rest of the album, and act as a really nice extra value to the prudent buyer.

All in all, this feels very firmly like Runemagick are back and firing at their absolute best. If you’re into dark, heavy, miserable music that has plenty of depth and angular surprises, this is going to be in your end of year lists. I know it’s going to be in mine.

(9/10 Chris Davison)