Review: Malokarpatan – Nordkarpatenland
I often lament that so little of black metal is dedicated to the ancient, primal sounds of the genre, when Master’s Hammer was the biggest influence on a lot of the nascent scene and before the birth of any sort of “defined” black metal sound.
There’s plenty of amazing black metal being made every year still, but not much of it really embraces the ancient sounds that I love the most; fortunately, the veterans at Malokarpatan agree that the call of the oldest of schools is the most compelling, and much as they have for years (both inside and outside of this particular band, which is a bit younger than some of their other projects) they’ve dedicated themselves here to bewitching the world with an adventurous, ambitious, and most of all amazing album that blends classic sounds in a new, fascinating way.
Malokarpatan refer to their own music as old school rural Slovak black metal, and merge their already rustic riffing with Slovakian folk elements; the album even opens with the sound of a Jew’s Harp being played alongside the happy noises of what’s presumably a Slovak cow, before a spoken word intro leads into the first (and absolutely ripping) complete song.
Though Malokarpatan’s first album, Stridžie dni, was absolutely fantastic and is a recent favorite of mine in the genre, Nordkarpatenland absolutely dwarves it in just about every way possible. The songs are more ambitious, better written, better produced, and though it’s strange to hold up a lack of convention as a beneficial trait, less tied to black metal; Malokarpatan has stepped outside of the boundaries of their chosen genre to deliver something that’s impossible to really narrow down or box up, because these mad Slovaks, much like their musical ancestors, care more about making rocking and drunken evil metal than they care about sounding like any particular band.
Riffs range from the galloping, fast horror of the faster Mortuary Drape songs to plodding, groovy classic heavy metal ones, and sharp Mercyful Fate influenced leads pop up over horrifying rhythms similar to those of pounding early Bathory songs. Black Sabbath type trilling doom rhythms crawl in a decidedly more evil context before speeding back up. Harmonies come in to extend a cool riff, synths carry spooky atmospheric sections, and refreshingly, tremolo picking takes a backseat to heavy riffs and leads that don’t at all rely on it.
The riffs never get a chance to lose appeal due to the aforementioned constant influence and tempo changes, which are tied together by a mixture of fantastic transitions. The non-metal intro isn’t the only departure from heavy music in the album by any means, and frequent (and extremely stylistically varied) interludes serve to connect the band’s disparate writing styles into a cohesive whole. A short classical piece overlaid with a hooting bird opens “V hustej hore na stračích nohách,” a horn closes the final track, the howling wind opens another, and so on; according to the band, these intros and interludes come from a mixture of samples from classic Slovakian films as well as from home-brewed ones created by the band themselves.
Atmosphere is everything to Malokarpatan, with each carefully-placed sample serving to further the descent into absurdity and folk-horror that the Slovakians curate. Unfortunately, I don’t actually speak Slovakian which probably hurts my understanding of the mood they want to set at least a little bit; while I normally don’t care much to read the lyrics of extreme metal while listening to the music, Malokarpatan has a rare talent for tying together their music with soul, breathing life into it with their words, and it feels like a shame reading the English translations of the song titles without being able to read the lyrics themselves. The first album had English translations included, and hopefully, this will as well; unfortunately, my promotional copy did not, so I have to rely entirely on the music itself to discuss it.
The fact that I even care about the lyrics lends credence to the idea that this is one of the best black metal albums that I’ve heard recently, and that it will likely remain in my list of favorites for some time to come. This is a must buy for any fan of black metal, and, really, for any fan of extreme metal, too. As a final aside, also make sure to at least check out the new Krolok album, which has a similarly ancient black metal edge and shares three members with Malokarpatan.