A History of Czech and Slovak Heavy Sounds
Czech Republic (now known as Czechia) and Slovakia have a deep and very interesting history both geographically and musically. The region has been an interest of mine since I was first aware of there being a metal scene back when Iron Maiden did their “Behind the Iron Curtain” tour and documentary. In the documentary they were playing in nearby Poland and Hungary as well as Yugoslavia. However, the band didn’t get to play anywhere in Czechslovakia as their 1988 Prague stop was cancelled by the authorities. Although, by the time ‘Maiden were able to finally play live in the area the one country was now two: Czech Republic in the west and Slovakia in the east. On the plus side, Bruce and the boys were able to play in Ostrava (in Czech Rep) and Bratislava (in Slovakia). Also, each show had a local opening act—Zeus for the Czech show and the weirdly named Sexit for the Slovak show.
Geographically speaking, there’re 3 main regions: Bohemia in the west, Moravia in the east and south, as well as Silesia in the northeast, near southern Poland. Despite their history of being in the Soviet-sphere, Czechia prefers to be placed in Central Europe, not Eastern Europe. Prague (the capital) is in Bohemia, whereas the smaller, more industrial Ostrava is in Moravia. For a good summary of the back and forth geography and politics of the region, go here.
Fun fact: The compound word for “metal culture” in Czech is “metalova” which sounds like “metal lover” but with a Slavic accent. All bands covered here with few exceptions sing entirely in Czech or Slovak. Moving forward to the early ’00s—a friend involved in the hardcore scene told me about raging bands like Prague’s See You In Hell along with growly death grinders like Ingrowing. Sure enough there was quite a decent-sized scene in these Central European countries. More research has found there’s heavy tunes from Czech Rep going back as early as the ’70s.
The wild and diverse musical world of Jiri
Jiri Schelinger was a very eccentric vocalist and songwriter from Prague. He was able to sing in a load of different genres such as the “Schlager meets Sabbath”* number like 1977’s “Lasky splin – Skec Oboe” to hard funky jams like “Skec Chlumes – Hrr na ne…”. Other Schelinger songs are based around country, moody love ballads, boogie rock, and even boogie punk/metal stuff like the title track of “Lupič Willy” (from somewhere between ’76-’80). Oddly, all of these songs appear on the same album. Why there’s not a documentary on Schelinger by now is beyond me.
On his 1975 debut Nemám Hlas Jako, Zvon Schelinger covers Neil Young, Santana, and Black Sabbath. More importantly he doesn’t attempt yet another “Iron Man”/”Paranoid” cover** Instead he interprets “A National Acrobat” in his native tongue. The fact that the song was only a year old makes it even more astounding. So while society under the Iron Curtain may have been cut off in many ways, Schelinger was hip to the heavy sounds. So much so he also decided to cover Sabbath’s “Into the Void” in 1975.
Thrashin’ your brain – Debustrol, Arakain and more
Thrash metal in Czechoslovakia got going as early as 1989 with releases like the oddly-titled 1989 demo by Sax called Death Steel (With Satan in the Body). Full-length albums such as Assesor‘s Invaze started in 1991. Said record is fast as fukk and on that gnarly edge between ultra-thrash and death metal à la Demolition Hammer. Their bassist also comes through really well on this, and it’s damn perfect in any language.
Debustrol is one of more intense-sounding Czech thrash bands and has a killer bass-y, shouted vocal sound. Metal-Archives lists their lyrical topics as “reality, slaying, brutality” which goes along with their music perfectly. Their debut Neuropatolog (“Neuropathologist”) has Freddy Krueger on the cover yet unlike F.K.U. there’s no tribute song to our fave four-finger slasher.**
Arakain started way back in 1982 and their 1989 debut Trash the Thrash is quite an excellent release in the genre with a mix of thrash and power metal à la early Grave Digger mixed with Iron Angel. Aleš Brichta’s vocals are pretty unique—maybe it’s just because he’s singing in Czech but it’s pretty phenomenal. Their later stuff is decent but basic heavy metal that didn’t seem to age out of 1990, so just go for the first two albums. The band was featured on the national TV show “Tublatanka Metal Party.” along with more straight-ahead heavy metal acts such as Deres, Kern, Metalinda and Titanic.
Also of note are “nuclear thrashers” Atomic, whose 1991 Opus Pro Smrtihlava sounds rabid and hurried but also knows to pull back a bit to feature some anticipatory riffs. I would be also amiss to exclude Kryptor who often used blast beats and d-beats. While they’re certainly playing metal, it often comes off as some kind of UK82 hardcore sound à la GBH or The Exploited crossed with Nailbomb. Yet their 1993 album Greedpeace is more Arise-era Sepultura-influenced.
Even the simply named Brian released some rather tight Bay Area-inspired thrash in 1991 via their Čelem Ke Zdi (“Facing the Wall”) album. Said album has a crow on the cover with a snare drum falling into hell. Certainly one of the weirder album covers I’ve seen so far. Finally, for the current era of Czech thrash, I’d recommend Kaar, who sound like a mix of Kreator and I dunno…early Sick of It All?!? Bajonet—ripping crossover with wild as hell vocals à la Sodom. Also of note is the very Anthrax/Death Angel-like Exocrcizphobia who unlike most bands mentioned so far sing entirely in English.
Motörmetal from Ostrava – Malignant Tumor
Moravian metal band Malignant Tumor started as grindcore and eventually took on strong Motörhead/ GBH influence. The band has toured several countries and have several really fun music videos out. Namely the video for “Earthshaker” shows the band as giants invading Prague, pissing on famous buildings and later one of the band members takes a dump in the stadium for Ostrava rival soccer team AC Sparta Praha. Other videos include the ISIS propaganda parody of “Saddam Hussein is Rock N’ Roll” along with the “metalheads vs. normies” dance competition concept for “Walk As We Talk”.
Black as pitch – Black Metal Czech Style
666 was an early—like REALLY early—black metal band that featured members of Master’s Hammer, Törr and thrashers Kryptor. Their 1983 demo has bizarre titles such as “The death of three six-year-old orphans falling from a Ferris wheel in the Julius Fučík Park of Culture and Leisure”. It starts with a bit of ska (!??) then goes into the chaotic metal symphony tune up à la “Hit the Lights” by Metallica. Elsewhere there’s a number of parallels you could make to what was a young Tommy G. Warrior was doing a few countries away. The sludge and raw thrashin’ of this demo is a definite highlight of the early extremity of the Czech scene. This also underscores the use of the phrasing and how goddamn METAL their language sounds. The hammer-ons by way of Eddie Van Halen and Venom‘s Mantas work perfectly here and the weird echo-y vocals on “Válka s Nebem” could’ve easily been a Bathory song. The title track starts with a a pure Halloween-time buncha screaming and laughing into a burgeoning bass and heavy, steady riffing and more crazed vocals. All of this comes off like if Ian Curtis went to school in Moravia. So much madness yet so fucking morbid sounding with a hint of Imperial Dogs‘/Blue Oyster Cult‘s “This Ain’t the Summer of Love”***
Otherwise, the timeline for the nascent black metal scene was 1989-90. This scene was generally undefined as only a few years prior it was still being used interchangeably with death metal and at times even thrash metal. In 1990 the then independent label Monitor released the Ultra Metal compilation with both Master’s Hammer and fellow-black/dark metal band Moirorr along with thrashers like Debustrol, V.A.R., Ferat, and Kabát. Along with this compilation there was a concert featuring all of the bands also called “Ultra Metal”. From this wider era of 1988-91 came several other significant black and death metal bands including: Törr, Crux, Tudor, Root, Moirorr (sonically not unlike Master’s Hammer with deep vocals), Tortura, EKG, Immorality, Krabathor, Insania (whose 1988 demo Possessed By Insania is pure bonkers and pure hesher teen lo-fi chaos), Total Death, and Murria who made some pretty interesting raw death metal and later became the grind band Dobytčí Mor (“Cattle Plague”).
Master’s Hammer are one of the best one of the aforementioned bands, and their 1990 debut Ritual was mentioned by Fenriz of Darkthrone as “the best Norwegian black metal album and it’s not even Norwegian”. This quote though does underlie the importance of the international-ness of the first two waves of black metal and the Eastern European influence as Attila from Hungary’s Tormentor later became vocalist for Mayhem and of course recorded with them on the legendary De Mysteriis Dom Satanas. Additionally, Fenriz among others were privvy to early demos from Polish bands like Vader, as well as records by Russian thrashers Aria and Korrozzia Metalla.****
While this here good Toilet has previously reviewed Master’s Hammer’s 2nd and 3rd records Jilemnický okultista” and “Šlágry” – their debut was quite a bit different than those two. Here the classic sound of Czech black/heavy metal is found deep within the layers of Ritual. Its 1990 release date begs the question “isn’t this also the 2nd wave of Black Metal?” But maybe more apt to be the 1.5th wave? Maybe since it’s after Bathory but active during Mayhem’s early recordings yet before Darkthrone.
One of the many incredible songs on this album is “Cerna Svatozar” (aka: “Black Halo”) which features a very Mercyful Fate-ish riff along with tremolo picking albeit not exactly the way certain dudes from Oslo and Bergen picked up on. This also features some eerie keyboards à la Morbid Angel‘s and some of the best ever drum and timpani fills I’ve heard. The video for this song looks like it was shot at a medieval-era castle with a sweet stage set up. All this is complete with winding walls that Franta & co. “sell” its mysterious factor in the video in a very pro-wrestling style. Additionally, Master’s Hammer has only made one US live appearance which was at the 2018 Maryland Deathfest. Despite being a band known mostly in their home country, they got pretty solid praise from the crowd. In addition, I remember seeing Agalloch‘s John Haughm wearing a Master’s Hammer “Ritual” shirt when I saw Agalloch play in San Francisco in 2003 and in 2006.
Getting back to Czech death metal—bands like Krabathor have been around since at least 1988. Plus, they’ve recorded with US expat Paul Speckman (of Master and Death Strike) who now lives in and often plays shows in Czech Rep. Another worth mention is Snet—a newer death metal band from Prague who have a strong albeit well-tread often Nordic (re: Swedish and Finnish) style guitar tone. Their 2-song demo sounds pretty damn good though and a lot of promise despite it being only one instrumental and a 2nd track with vocals. The vocals are the more US style à la Incantation mixed with more shouty stuff à la early Entombed or Dismember which makes them pretty dang interesting.
Skull churches and revelations – Törr and Root
Törr and Root began roughly at the same time but stylistically the two couldn’t be further apart. Törr has a much more thrash-based and aggressive sound. Like Master’s Hammer they were very active in the Czech scene early on including their excellent Witchhammer demo of 1986-89. This demo mixes raw thrash and punk tempos, plus Czech sung vocals that make Cronos from Venom sound more like Josh Groban. Their debut shows a bit more focus with varied, moody and at times doom tempos such as the 2nd track “Zal”. Their next album, Institute of Clinical Death, mixes some trippy high-pitched vocal parts with a ton of rhythmic “necro riffing” by way of Celtic Frost. Whereas their follow up Chcípni o kus dál is an awesome mix of Nasty Savage, Voivod and Coroner (albeit not as technical as these 3 but still a ripper album). Later-era Törr is still very heavy albeit at times shifting from mid-paced groove tunes (but nothing like say Machine Head). Plus their 1996 cover of The Osmonds‘ “Crazy Horses” or as they call it “Šílený koně” kicks ass! The band got pretty dang goofy and dance-rock like on the next album Tanec svatýho Víta but even in recent years they still play songs from their demo era.
Root I would say are unique among the unique. Very deep vocals with a foreboding tone and big, catchy riffs. Structurally they seem to have a fairly strong influence from Mercyful Fate and at the same time coming off like other “weirdo” black metal bands à la Mystifier. Vocalist Jiří “Big Boss” Valter wore a form of corpse paint as early as 1990. He also has been on a talk show discussing Satanism and heavy metal as he formed the Czech chapter of the Church of Satan in the early ’90s. Songs like “Démon” show their ability to go from dark sludgy riffing to thrashing speed. The song has only one line and it works brilliantly. Root would continue playing live and recording up until today. They also played at Maryland Deathfest in 2017. Here’s Root doing an excellent version of “666” (sung as “Šest set Šedesát Šest”)
Not a four door but a Tudor
Before every dummkopf had their band described as “pitch black metal”—Prague’s Tudor said fuck it—we’re ‘Ultra Black Metal”. As alluded to earlier, doing this in 1989-90 was well ahead of its time. Moreover, their choice of playing often at a mid-pace and with very moody riffs was vastly unlike the 2nd wave of black metal from the Nordic nations. Anyway, Tudor made a video somewhere around 1989-90 during this “Ultra Black Metal” for the song “Hades”. This is filmed in what looks like a bomb shelter (love the localized pronunciation of “HA-Dez”, too). Guitar-wise it’s mostly closer to post-punk than it is to metal until the gallop parts but that’s how the kolache crumbles. Also, their 1991 album Bloody Mary is a bit more straight-forward thrashy, black / heavy metal.
Stíny Plamenů (“Shadows of Flames”) could be considered a 2nd wave band (dating back to 1999) and is strangely enough obsessed with sewers (talk about being a literal definition of “underground metal”). Stíny Plamenů’s most recent re-recording of old demo songs is excellent punky black/heavy metal. Avenger, while not a band with the most original name still creates some excellent epic Bathory-type black metal. To be fair they changed their name in 2017 to Bohemyst who play a great mix of mid-paced to blasting modern black and death metal.
Cult of Fire from Prague is a melodic black metal band that’s VERY obsessed with the dark side of Indian/Central Asian religions and beliefs—so much so they’ve released entire albums in Hindi. Their 2020 album Moksha has to do with a various types of funeral pyres throughout the region of India although it’s sung in Czech. As of this week Cult of Fire has played the Psycho Las Vegas Fest and were the first Czech band to do so. Arthedain, also from Prague, make epic black metal with of lot of great riffing. Their 2018 Infernal Cadence of the Desolate is definitely worth your time.
Unlike the more populous Czech side I unfortunately don’t have a deeper history of the Slovak metal scene. However, there’s been some notable bands from there over the years. For starters Gladiator from the small village of Alekšince released one of the best death metal albums not only from the country but of the genre. Their 1992 album Designation is a killer mix of Beneath The Remains-era Sepultura, with a a lot of fantastic, melodic solos and sometimes even Coroner-type switch ups. The riffing and drumming are something to behold. Other bands of note from Slovakia include the strange bicycle obsessed death/black metal band Bicyklothorturerere and Dementor, who’ve made brutal death metal since the early 2000s and the crossover thrash of Acid Force who are sort of a Slovak answer to Municipal Waste.
Some others to check out include Malokarpatan – one of the better known black metal bands from Slovakia in recent years. A lot of weird folk instrumentation and interesting vocals going on here. Ceremony of Silence from the central of the country in Zvolen make blasting-tech death/black metal that’s weirdly a mix of Portal, early Meshuggah, and maybe Blood Incantation. Dominion of Suffering are also an excellent death/black metal band with a range that goes from later-era Marduk to something like Germany’s Ascension. Plus, Killchain are an great grind/death band from the city of Košice. Lastly, Oldblood from make a fantastic Aura Noir type mix of Celtic Frost/Venom/Bathory 1st wave black metal for maniacs pure.
- No disrespect to Bert und Cindy’s wunderbar take on “Paranoid” – “Der Hund of Baskerville” also from the heavy side of 70’s Schalger.
- FKU – Freddy Kruger’s Underwear thrashers from Uppsala, Sweden have many a song about the razor-fingered slasher.
- Sure enough there was another band called 666 in northern Norway in fact. This other 666 features members the punk band Norgez Bank (who appear on the excellent comp “Bloodstains Across Norway”) who sound far more raw punk rock and a lot less metal. Whereas again the Czech 666 are far more rooted in metal, Imperial Dogs did the first version of “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” whereas BOC picked it up a few years later.
- Korozzia Metallia later became a dogshit Nazi band.