The first press release I saw for the debut album of Australia’s Runespell concluded by describing it as a “mesmerizing maelstrom of alternately grim/gorgeous frequencies”, presenting “flickering refractions of times distant and as yet lived, black metal wielded as weapon, totem, and portal simultaneously”. All those sentiments I’ve quoted are accurate, but the one that rang most true is the characterization of the music as a portal into the past.
In one sense that rings true because the music links arms with the venerated traditions of Scandinavian second-wave black metal, but it’s also true in another sense: The music has a mythic atmosphere, one that casts the mind’s eye back into distant centuries, to times (whether imagined or real) that have spawned sagas of warlike defiance and sacrifice, of bloodshed and bereavement, of heroic striving and irredeemable loss. To make your way through this vividly imagined and beautifully rendered album is to become moved, and enthralled.
And we will now give you a chance to make your own way through the album as we premiere a full stream of Unhallowed Blood Oath in advance of its September 29 release by Iron Bonehead Productions.
The music conveys sensations of wintry chill and barbarous savagery. It does blast and rip with a cold, grim fury, in a manner that will be familiar, with vocals that are often scaldingly vicious or monstrously roaring, but there is much more going on in these songs than the harshness and blood-lusting aggressiveness of such familiar attacks.
The songs all have powerful melodic hooks, melodies that give each one a distinctive character, each one strong emotional resonance, making each one quite memorable. In addition, many of the songs are also laced with sounds that resemble archaic Nordic or Celtic folk instruments. It may only be a guitar with cunning effects, but “White Death’s Wings” sounds as if the melodies are being carried by a bagpipe, a hurdy-gurdy, and/or a fiddle. And the sound of a fiddle again carries the melody in “All Thrones Perish” (which also includes a layer of majestic, panoramic melancholy as well as some classic heavy metal riffing). These are some of the elements that often give the music an almost medieval cast, along with the occasional appearance of heroic, nearly clean vocals.
Two of the songs are entirely instrumental, and entirely acoustic (other than the shimmer of ambient music as a backdrop). The reverberating strings of “As Old Gates Unfurl…” create a mystical and haunting atmosphere, which builds to the sound of thunder, while the closing track “And Wolves Guide Me Home” is also haunting, but enthrallingly beautiful.
There is great rhythmic variety within the songs as well — from jolting gallops to punk-like rocking to the cadences of a folk dance, and of course the torrential effects of blast-beats and double-bass. All of this helps shape and change the moods and energies of the songs, meshing very effectively with everything else that’s going on.
And so, many traditions are honored in this album, both musical and mythic, and the sole creator of Runespell has paid his homages in a very accomplished way. This is a compelling collection of songs that richly deserves your attention.
Look for Unhallowed Blood Oath on September 29th. For further release info, watch these spaces: