Shores Of Náströnd
Review by Fernando on August 8, 2023.
Australia’s black metal scene is an interesting one, while many would associate the subcontinent nation with blackened thrash, it’s as varied and eclectic as the US, mainly in the sense that there’s no definitive template sound unless you really like Deströyer 666 or Gospel Of The Horns. Regardless, what we have today is Runespell, a pagan black metal entity that has consistently released material like clockwork since 2017, and in 2023, mainman Nightwolf unleashes Shores Of Náströnd, once again through Iron Bonehead Productions.
Runespell for those not in the know, is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and denizen of the obscure Australian metal underground Nightwolf, who single handedly crafted this project on his own with four inevitable full-lengths and a handful of side releases. The sound of Runespell is deeply rooted not just in old school black metal from the Baltic countries, but also has various glimpses of classic heavy metal, and all rounded up with pagan leanings which give the music an epic and majestic aura. While the previous records were a complete solo show by Nightwolf, who did and excellent job with no real misses, for Shores Of Náströnd, Nightwolf has brought on new musicians to expand his music, and suffice to say he chose well, on drums it’s his countryman and also a veteran of the Aussie black metal underground Basilysk, of Pestilential Shadows and Temple Nightside fame, and on keyboards it’s Irrwycht of cult German band Baxaxaxa and Grabunhold. Nightwolf still carries the lion’s share of the instruments, handling everything else; the presence of these very talented brothers-in-arms have certainly added something new and fresh to the unmistakable sound of Runespell.
For starters and to reassure Runespell fanatics out there. The best qualities of the band are still here with a vengeance. The epic yet sorrowful riffs and acoustic melodies, the dark atmospherics and Nightwolf’s ability to make predominantly mid-paced black metal sound intense and engaging. But something that’s worth noting with this record and its preceding EP, is how Nightwolf’s music has been favoring the more melodic leanings and has also been improving the sound quality ever so slightly, this is actually the best produced Runespell record yet, and every single instrument is given enough space to shine, and on that note this is where the new members truly shine.
Obviously Basilysk is a major standout as he’s one of those drummers in black metal today that can be as fierce as he is technical, and he really displays it in this record, especially in the mid-paced songs, his drumming gives the music a groove and rhythm that evokes that classic heavy metal grit, but he also successfully manages to keep a primitive and primal intensity that’s in line with the pagan atmospheres of Runespell. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum however is Irrwycht, while his contributions on the keyboard aren’t as bombastic as Basilysk’s, he is still an indispensable part of this album’s whole, his keys not only enhance the atmospherics and offer a nice flourish to the riffs and melodies, but he is able to keep the album within the realm of black metal, it’s hard to describe without you just hearing the music for yourself, but the Irrwycht’s arrangements and flourishes give the album a mournful feel throughout, and when paired with Nightwolf’s acoustic guitars and Basilysk’s pounding drumming you can truly feel the sounds of the mythical shores in Hel where Nidhogg devours murderers and oathbreakers.
There’s very little I can add about Nightwolf since the man’s body of work already speaks volumes of his talent, but bringing new blood into his project has certainly granted him an opening to flex his guitar and bass skills, which he does with panache. The biggest display of how good the strings are is in the last track ‘Vigirdr Fields’, the song’s main riff is as triumphant and it is morose, which as a whole is a perfect encapsulation of the entire record. The only real issue I have is the midpoint of the record, while the record is consistent from beginning to end, the middle track ‘Specters Of War’, it’s not a bad track at all, but it feels longer than it actually is, and it’s not even the longest track in the album, and it actually starts great with blast beats before slowing down effectively, however my issue is in how it is arranged, as it switches back and forth from blast beats to mid-pace rhythm and that’s about it, and the last half of the song just blasts away until the end. Again, this is not a bad track, but it’s definitely the less adventurous as every other song has one clincher that makes them stand out, and the fact that this song is followed by the actually gorgeous instrumental acoustic and keyboard driven interlude ‘Unfurled Night’ makes the atmospheric closing break of the previous track a bit redundant, but that’s just me, and besides, the last half of the record completely makes up for one less-than-stellar track.
Overall, Runespell delivers yet again with some quality pagan black metal that feels timeless yet classic in sound, presentation and overall execution, and the expansion of the lineup certainly added some much welcomed dynamics that keep the music fresh, and even with the sluggish mid-point it doesn’t take away from how good the record is as a whole.
Best tracks: ‘Mirrors Of The Dead’, ‘Shores Of Náströnd’, ‘Vigirdr Fields’
Rating: 8 out of 10358