Interview: AS from Malokarpatan
As I’ve extensively said in the past, both here and in other places, Malokarpatan is easily one of the best, most interesting, and most exciting new bands in black metal. Stylistically, they draw from oft-disregarded ancient wells of inspiration such as Master’s Hammer, Root, and many others that they talk about in the interview below. Lyrically, they stay away from English and focus on the myths and folklore of their Slovakian homeland, giving them an additional unique touch and mysticism that not many bands dare emulate. Each record so far, including the one that’s coming out in March, has been an evolution from the last one without losing anything that makes Malokarpatan special- another rarity. Below is a long interview I did with principal songwriter and band founder A.S.
Adam, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me! I imagine it’s rather busy in the Malokarpatan camp as the new album release countdown begins; what is the band doing to prepare for Krupinské ohne to drop?
No problem! Actually quite calm right now, we will only start a couple of rehearsals in February for the upcoming European tour supporting Cult of Fire who are also releasing their third full-length at the same time. So right now I’m just doing the first bunch of interviews to promote the album, since you were quick you are the second in row!
Krupinské ohne is the third Malokarpatan album, and comes to more rabid fan eagerness than ever. Did you guys ever foresee a glimmer of your current success with those first drum machine demos you posted to forums, years ago? How do you feel about the band’s popularity, in and out of the black metal scene?
Absolutely not, like I said in many interviews, there was zero calculation and not even that much ambition when first starting this. I was playing a different, more experimental and complex stuff in my old band for some years already and I started craving for a more primal, old school influenced music, since I always loved classic 80s bands. We had a short lived demo band called Lady Reaper back in the early 2000s which is where I first tried playing this sort of Venom/Mercyful Fate/Bathory influenced music. Back then it was just me and my older brother, we recorded two demo songs in bedroom conditions (“drums” played manually on a keyboard, guitar through a cheap digital pedal and vocals recorded through headphones as that was the only microphone we had) which were only spread among a few people. Over the years I had some more ideas in this vein and finally around 2013-2014 I started having enough material lying around to possibly do an album. Combining the old stuff – including the basic riffs from those two demo songs done in 2003 – with newly written material, I decided during autumn 2014 to finally make this into a real thing. It felt extremely refreshing compared to what I was doing before and from an initially solo project it very rapidly evolved into a full band as offers to play live soon appeared. All that being said, we are still just an underground band, so it’s not like we became rockstars overnight, we just managed to get success more or less worldwide which is definitely something to be proud of when coming from a country like ours, where no band has really broke out (maybe excluding Death Karma, depending on if you see them as a Slovak or Czech band). But that’s about it, I never had any silly musician ego and loathe people who do have one.
Though the band has seen its lineup expand from just two instrumentalists and a drum machine (plus a vocalist) into a full lineup featuring members on each instrument, the core of the Malokarpatan’s music still comes from the same place, and you remain the mouthpiece of the band. Has your lineup expanding caused any dynamic shifts when songwriting or is it still mostly you?
I still write all of the music and lyrics, come up with album concepts, etc. But I try to give others enough freedom for their arrangements, so for example on the new album there is a lot more stuff coming from others than on any previous of our works. There is a fine line in this though, as sometimes their ideas are too far removed from what I see is fit for the Malokarpatan universe, so I also have to reject some of these ideas in order to keep the band’s specific face. We all listen to rather different kinds of music, so including everything in the mix would make one big mess.
Malokarpatan is comprised of people you’ve worked with before, both in the original lineup and with the members who have since joined. What is the value of lineup stability to you, and what keeps you coming back to the same group of co-conspirators?
Well first of all it’s incredibly difficult to get the right type of people here in Slovakia for the kind of music I do. You can either get those who like the same bands as you do – these types tends to have more enthusiasm/spirit than musicianship, or those who are skilled musicians though not necessarily on the same taste page with you. So I try to get the best in between of those two options, working with people who are my long time acquaintances from way back in the past. If I lived in Sweden or something, I could find dozens of guys to whom I could just say “I want this part to have a vibe like this particular song from Black Hole’s Land of Mystery” – in Slovakia you are lucky to find a person who even knows who Black Hole are. We are a country drenched in horrible local hip hop (just imagine a really bad version of the American one, done by Slavic thug types) and the few people into metal here largely tend to be into the modern, plastic mainstream metal stuff, with very little knowledge or care for older music or underground scenes. So overall it’s kind of a miracle I have a relatively stable line-up (we just had the original singer leaving, because he was tired of playing live).
Your music is deeply rooted in pre-modern black metal and heavy metal, drawing far more from the ‘80s and seemingly even the ‘70s than from almost any contemporaries. Does the conscious rejection of certain influences ever inhibit you, or is musical evolution a natural part of your process regardless of where you’re drawing from?
No, I actually have tons of creative freedom within those few basic rules – there are just a couple of elements that are completely out of the question in Malokarpatan – for example we never used blastbeats. It’s not even that I have a huge problem with blastbeats, but it’s just so overused in metal at this point – a lot of bands ever since the late 90s seem to be unable to play a different rhythm, at best their drummer will go into some equally boring double bass section for “variation”. There’s so much stuff you can do outside of that – just listen to classic drummers like Kim Ruzz who had this fantastic groove to their playing – their use of hi-hat alone had tons of more variety than most modern metal drummers. The reason is simple – in metal’s earlier days, people were inspired by older music they grew up with – I think it was Tobias Forge who once correctly said that Morbid Angel weren’t listening to Morbid Angel while writing Altars of Madness. I love the variety a lot of early 80s metal albums had – from 70s progressive/psychedelic influences to even goddamn disco – all these different sounds that still worked perfectly on the early records from Accept, Manilla Road, Sarcofagus, Legend, Jesters of Destiny, Heavy Metal Army… Just the 70s alone are so incredibly wide in stylistic scope, I could write albums influenced by that era forever. But I don’t really think like “OK, this riff sounds like it could be 1995 or newer” – I will use anything that works musically within the song. You could definitely find some 90s sounding parts in any of our albums, and basically even more modern when it comes to the way certain different elements are put together.
We are not a derivative retro band who pretends the year is 1984 – I play this music because I think it’s better than modern metal and my idea is to expand upon the sound, not mimic without adding own personality. If you take our friends from Chevalier – they are exactly that type of band too. Heavily influenced by the classics, but not blindly aping any specific style, instead doing their own thing while remaining true to the roots.
Is there any inherent link between black and heavy metal to you?
Well back in the very early days, everything was just heavy metal, even though journalists and sometimes bands themselves started coming up with new fancy names already during the 80s. So in a way, black metal inherently is heavy metal. But you are asking about the type of metal that is regarded as heavy metal today, I get your question. Even that way, it came directly from the same music with Venom and Mercyful Fate, except there were some punk elements added early on which contributed to the more brutal aspects of the genre. It just so happened, that this Mercyful Fate influenced style wasn’t very prominent as during the late 80s/early 90s the overall trend was to become faster, more extreme, more of everything. It was also more difficult to play than doing a primitive Bathory sound which became the standard for Scandinavian bands since 91-92. But it never really went away, just kind of stayed behind the scenes, with the few odd bands going on like Mortuary Drape, Japanese Sabbat, and of course the early Czechoslovakian and Greek scene. For me the two most crystal clear examples of this specific sound are 666 by Kat and 7th Day of Doom by Tormentor – you get the atmospheric, Satanic elements in perfect balance with classic metal influenced guitars. Basically, for a record to be a good black metal album, for me it often needs to be a good heavy metal album too, if you know what I mean. Black metal part comes from the ideology, the Satanic/dark elements – if you add this atmosphere and worldview to a good metal composition, it is a winning recipe. I could of course find exceptions as black metal is a very diverse genre – not much classic metal influence is to be found in Abruptum or Beherit albums, though they are still iconic black metal records.
When did your fascination with metal start, and particularly with black metal? How did you come to start playing in black metal bands as a teenager, and what’s kept you so exclusively with the genre over, say, starting a heavy metal or speed metal band?
For me it started very early on. People laugh at Fenriz when he says he got interested in this music by getting an Uriah Heep LP from his uncle at the age of three, but I had pretty much a similar experience, only two decades later. My father was into classic rock as he grew up in the 70s, so he had the usual stuff like Led Zeppelin & Deep Purple, but most importantly I have an older brother who was 10 at the time and just getting into metal, which during those late Czechoslovakia years was for a moment surprisingly huge over here – you could watch Master’s Hammer and Root videos on the national television channel (on a show called Janaray Hard Show). Of course being a small kid, I had a limited understanding, but this music was extremely fascinating (big part of it being how scary it sounded to me then) so as the younger sibling I started imitating my brother in his new interest. He pretended playing drums by bashing whatever was at hand with kitchen utensils for drum sticks and I was mastering the art of fake guitar by playing a toy guitar my father made for me and imitating the sound with my mouth. Today I still play guitar and brother is still a drummer, so as you can see, these obsessions can be a lifelong affair, haha. The first time I heard black metal were the early Czech bands and some time later brother had tapes of Blasphemy, Beherit and Marduk which were available here from Polish tape labels, that were often total bootleg businesses (the infamous MG Records for example). But back then I can’t remember talking of this as black metal specifically, it was just brutal metal for us, same as Massacre or Cannibal Corpse or whatever you could get. Getting obsessed with black metal as a genre came in 1996 when a local version of Metal Hammer magazine had this rather tabloid style feature, mostly dealing with the criminal stuff in Norway of course – quite similar to the well-known Kerrang article from 1993. Being a school kid, that was really quite something, to read about all the occurences there with the arsons, suicides and murders. Brother also started taping the Headbangers Ball show on British MTV, which had this feature called Into the Pit where they would play the most extreme bands – it was on those VHS tapes I first saw videos like Blashyrkh, Dunkelheit, The Loss and Curse of Reverence – the imagery was so strong there. From then on, black metal became my favorite, as I was deeply fascinated by its strange atmosphere, it simply had something deeper in it than listening to an Anthrax or Monstrosity record. It also naturally resonated with me as someone being interested in spiritual and paranormal topics – I was the sort of weirdo kid that preferred staying at home with books rather than running around the streets with school mates. I never stopped liking other forms of metal music though and also thanks to interviews with the second wave bands I started getting into stuff like Bathory, Venom, King Diamond, Tormentor – the old guard. I think I would love to play in a purely heavy metal band, but basically I use those kinds of ideas in Malokarpatan already, so all is well!
What to you differentiates the new album from your previous ones, both on a surface and a more personal level?
It’s our most serious work to date, also the most ambitious. Though not much consciously, I think what partially influenced me was my hatred towards those shallow types of people who see us as some fun, party rocknroll band – there’s nothing that irritates me more than this false idea. I love Venom to death, I admire big sunglasses and cheap B movies, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to write songs about witch tits or drinking beers in a graveyard or whatever people tend to associate with this. For the first time, this is a fully conceptual album, with lots of attention given to details – like music directly following happenings in the lyrics. Sometimes it was hell to make in the studio, as there were too much things going on at the same time, so we had to change arrangements last minute and re-record several parts. It was kind of like when Black Sabbath were going into their mid-late 70s era, I imagine this was exactly what Ozzy hated about the studio sessions back then, haha (the difference of course being, they had loads of time and money, we just had a four day studio session booked). But in the end it was worth all the hard work – I think it will always stand out in our discography as a very specific album different to all others. With that, I also think it will be a divisive one, with people either loving or hating it. Which is perfectly fine, I like when my favorite bands have a varied discography where I can find my personal odd favorites.
Krupinské ohne has the longest Malokarpatan compositions to date, and the least overall pieces in the track listing. What drew you this time around to lengthier songs?
My love for 70s progressive rock! I love the classics like King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant , but also scenes beyond Britain, including the small but high quality one we had in Czechoslovakia. Phoenix from Romania has been an influence too, in how amazingly they were able to merge the prog elements with their local folklore. As the album is a full concept, I wanted it to be very narrative and theatrical, with lots of shifting moods, to immerse the listener as deep as possible into the overall story. Kind of like making my own little movie. On the metal side of things, you have the old Mercyful Fate epics, At War With Satan, or The Dwelling by Sabbat – kind of a lost art in this type of black metal I wanted to bring back.
As with Nordkarpatenland before it, Krupinské ohne comes with some clear new experimentation for Malokarpatan ranging from the inclusion of some Viking-era Bathory influence to sections of clean vocals to the calmer meditative sections in the first song. Do you consciously decide before writing to incorporate new elements such as these, or do they just happen as the songs come together? Do you ever reject new elements as being too far from the band’s core sound?
It comes rather naturally! I like a lot of different music and I have these obsessive binges of listening to certain types of music – these always influence whatever album I’m working on at the moment. So for example when writing Nordkarpatenland, I was listening to a lot of NWOBHM and generally records from the early 80s era when metal was still young and had a lot of eclectic influence from the previous decade. This time around I was listening mostly to 70s prog and old Czechoslovakian metal scene of the 80s/early 90s – the mixture of these two elements made the basic skeleton of the album. Viking era Bathory is something I always listen to no matter what time of the year, so it had to find its way in eventually. There’s a lot of possibilities where to go next time with each album, I always just follow what feels right at the moment. But sure, there are things I have to reject. I rejected a few small arrangement parts from the other guys which had too much of an “art rock” vibe, as I always want to keep the albums metal enough and it has to have a dark feeling behind it. I also rejected a few of my own ideas where I felt I was over-arranging, so I cut out a guitar solo here, classical guitar there and so on.
How did you achieve the guitar tone you got on the new record? Do gear and recording choices change much across your recordings?
This might be surprising, but I actually used an old Zoom 505 II! I am not much of a gear guy, so I go through constant trial and error with different things. I used some analogue pedals and they never had that specific eerie tone I wanted and I finally found it in returning to the old Japanese digital pedals which most “serious musicians” hate with a passion. I wanted something like old Törr/Bathory/Venom with the weird chorus and flanger combination. We ran it through fancy studio speakers and it sounded killer, much to the surprise of even the studio engineer. The only problem is that live it always sounds like ass because most sound guys aren’t able to give it the sound it needs, so due to that I stopped using it for gigs. For the other guitar we had sort of a Spinal Tap situation – the other guitarist brought a basic distortion pedal and we felt like it needs something extra, so after trying whatever was in the studio, we put on this pedal that imitates sounds of other pedals and picked one of its settings. Then it turned out it imitates the very same pedal he was using in the first place! Somehow here it sounded better, so we used that. I also told the engineer to put a lot of mids into the overall guitar sound, so that’s another part of it – a trick I learned from the Negative Plane guys. As for gear & recording choices changing for albums – absolutely. Since all of our albums are different to each other, I also want to always try a new sound. I also always feel the final mix is too clean for my taste (except the debut album which was drenched in filth), so it’s a neverending quest and battle with the engineers, that gives me something to strive for the next recording again. One day I might get it 100% right!
In addition to the standard instruments played in your music, you’ve contributed recordings several others over the last two albums. What do these instruments bring to Malokarpatan that guitar, bass, and a drum kit alone could not?
I want to create a more cinematic and/or theatrical atmosphere with them. I have a collection of these less standard instruments, some would never fit into the Malokarpatan concept but I used many of them by now. For example we used a thing called Forest Devil – very fitting for us by the name alone! It comes from 15th century Europe where it was used for carnivals and masked processions. Some new stuff we used on Krupinské ohne were whirly tubes which are quite literally just plastic tubes, but they make this amazing eerie sound when you swirl them around, or the noises of a stylophone – the thing Bowie used in Space Oddity, just a more elaborate version. Most prominently, I played a glockenspiel on several parts because I love the magic sound of it – instantly makes me feel of folktales and the supernatural elements in them.
Malokarpatan uses samples heavily as song intros, interludes, and sometimes even playing over the top of riffs. Where does your love of samples stem from, and how do you decide when and where to use them? Are there any other bands you particularly care for that make heavy or particularly effective use of samples?
First of all I am a huge movie fan and I always want to have sort of a film atmosphere in my music. Many of these samples come from old local movies – they help to create the dark folklore atmosphere of Malokarpatan, without turning to folk metal cheese which is so popular in Eastern Europe. The biggest inspiration for this extensive sample use was one of my all-time favorite albums – the much hated and misunderstood Recipe Ferrum from Tormentor. I told how much that album inspires me to Zsolt from Tormentor when I met him for the first time and he seemed to be genuinely touched by it giving me a hug, because so many people gave shit to that record and it was very much a product of his love for the old Hungarian folklore and fairy tales. Most western people just thought it’s some sort of a bad joke, as the folklore elements were too alien to them. I wanted to have that same feeling in our music, taken into our own cultural context.
Much of the band’s fanbase started on forums or other social media; when did the power of social media become apparent to you as a promotional tool? Similarly, you’ve made use of your Facebook page to promote underground bands that you feel are particularly noteworthy, or kindred in spirit; what made you decide to eschew the standard format of social media use and also use your presence online to promote other modern bands?
I don’t really overthink these things too much, it’s just the current way of easily getting in touch with information, so naturally I use it for our own aims. I feel bored to death when I have to post about stuff like merchandise and then answer questions about shirt sizes and LP colors, so I view that as sort of necessary evil to please the fans, but where my passion lies is discussing ideas behind the music and spreading great music in general. So I sometimes post old records which I think are overlooked and deserve more attention, but sometimes also new bands which I like – I was really struck by the Hexenbrett demo for example.
Over the years between various bands, you’ve written lyrics in and out of your native language. How do you decide which bands are best suited to solely one language, or to two, and which language is paired with which band?
English is far easier for me to write in, but it also kills a bit of the sonic originality. I found the perfect recipe by using this sort of half-made up Malokarpatan language, most of it comes from local West Slovak dialects, but I mix it up with a lot of archaic words and unusual words borrowed from old Slovakian poets – the new album so far is the most eclectic mix often borrowing words from even before 19th century. The official Slovak language sounds very soft and melodic – not quite the best choice for harsh vocals, but the bastardized version I use is a lot more grim sounding, so it works. I think when a band sing in their native language, it always adds a more original touch, even when their music is derivative of foreign groups.
What are some of your favorite bands that strayed from English aside from the obvious choices of Master’s Hammer and Root?
French bands like Sortilege and Satan Jokers, Brazilian extreme bands of the 80s, Kimmo Kuusniemi Band, Ossian and Pokolgép from Hungary, Kat from Poland, Evil from Japan, the early Norwegian scene and much more… From the old Czechoslovakian scene, that was pretty much the case for most bands and I have a lot of favorites there – Titanic, Citron, Tublatanka, Metalinda, Makar Čudra, Tudor, Fata Morgana, Necrotos, Moriorr, Kryptor… I also tried to talk the Vigilance guys from Slovenia to sing more in their native language, as I like it more than their English ones haha.
You’ve made it clear in the past that you’re not interested in much modern black metal, but you’ve also shared bands that buck the status quo online and aren’t closed off against modern music. What are some other modern black metal bands that you like, both that’d appeal to fans of Malokarpatan and just in general? Do you feel any particular fellowship with any other active extreme metal musicians from outside your own circle?
Negative Plane and their affiliated bands like Funereal Presence and Ominous Resurrection are some of the closest people to me musically and we also managed to become friends in real life, I also cannot forget about Faustcoven – band with their own vision and absolutely great, no bullshit sort of people – we spent some great times with them in Oslo last year. Cultes Des Ghoules and Doombringer from Poland are also bands I have much respect for and shared a few intoxicating sessions with – real black metal maniacs standing outside of any trends and fashions. Not a new band at all, but I also have to mention Lugubrum who for years have been doing their own thing with zero care for popularity and still only a few people get them – I am proud that we had the chance tocollaborate with them on the Holbaard Dzírobrad song. Chevalier from Finland I think are one of the best current metal bands and good friends of mine too – I often get a more black metal feeling from their music than from most nowadays black metal bands. I could mention more, but these are some of the people I feel lucky to have met through music. From bands which I was never in contact with, I think Zemial and Agatus are the closest to what we are doing on the new album, but they of course have their own specific style.
How is Slovakia’s modern black metal scene, your own bands notwithstanding?
A few bands keep going, a few new ones appeared, but to be brutally honest most of it is totally outside of my music taste, so generally hard for me to discuss as I have very little interest there. Overall I wish more bands would cultivate a personality of their own instead on focusing too much on foreign influences – some do that, but still a small percentage.
Some feel that black metal is best suited for personal listening, but Malokarpatan has aggressively pursued festival dates and has toured the United States. How do you feel about live black metal naysayers? Was Malokarpatan always intended to be a gigging entity, or did it come with interest in the band?
Well we basically just took the offers we got, it wasn’t any aggressive pushing from our side. Speaking for myself, I much prefer the silence of my home where I can work on new material, over playing clubs every weekend. But I also feel that if you want to be a fulltime real band, you should be able to perform your material live too. Right now at this moment, I’m in a state when I start to become tired of live playing again. We had some absolutely fantastic highlights in this – the gig in New York was incredible, some killer festivals like Into the Abyss or Beyond the Gates, some unexpectedly great gigs in countries we visited for the first time – like Romania or Slovenia, etc. There are always great promoters out there, but for all the ups you get your share of downs too – sometimes you end up sleeping in the kind of hostels where I wouldn’t send my worst enemies to, the travelling part is also exhausting and often you are lucky to get any extra money after all the expenses are covered. I am still excited though for the European tour we will be having with Cult of Fire in a few months – it will be a whole new experience and we will have (thanks to the COF guys) a professional tour bus nightliner, not a filthy van as is the case for many underground bands our size. Other than that we have some festivals which usually tend to be positive experiences and something special is in preparations for the latter part of the year which I can’t mention yet. But my plan is to take a break from gigs at least for 2021, I need to focus more on music itself rather than dealing with airplane flights problems, arguing over e-mails, sleeping in crappy places and other stuff that brings me more stress than joy. But to answer the core of your question – I think the more introspective types of black metal are not fit for live performances – one of my all time favorite bands is Forgotten Woods and I think it absolutely fits they never played live. But for more energetic bands that play, for example, in the Venom style, live gigs are perfectly fitting. We are somewhere in between of those two worlds, but I think most of our material works live.
What’s next for Malokarpatan after this next album? You always seem to be working on material already by the time a release actually makes it to press.
Ah yes, already working on the next album as usual! It’s never a good idea to talk of upcoming albums beforehand, because things can always change during the process. So I can just say that it will again be conceptually oriented, and again something a bit different than before musically. The lyrical part is quite easy this time, as it will have a theme which is rich for inspiration, so I already have about half of it done. Trickier part is the music, as I need to figure out which parts to keep, what to throw out and what to focus on the most, to serve the greater whole. Overall I think it will tone down the complexity of Krupinské ohne and will again focus more on simple, catchy songs. But sometimes this all can change during the course of one year, so you never know.
Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about or promote?
I would like people to check out the debut album of Metalinda from 1990, a classic of local metal but not very known abroad. Their singer provided some killer guest vocal lines for the last song on Krupinské ohne and was an absolutely great, professional yet humble and friendly guy to work with. YouTube is your friend, so start from there!