Eccentric. That little word can apply to avant-garde, cutting edge music just as easily as your crazy uncle Barnaby. You know, the one that collects cats and built the time machine out of used exercise equipment and urinal cakes. As the angel with the watering can on the cover suggests, Master’s Hammer, like Barnaby, is eccentric. This super cult Czech band was part of the second wave of black metal that came A.B. (after Bathory), and they had a different approach than those famously adopted by Norwegians like Mayhem, Burzum and Darkthrone. Their Ritual album was a seminal, groundbreaking black metal album, but it never received the same attention as those hailing from Norway. It’s an odd, album that took a foundation of mid-period Bathory (Under the Sign of the Black Mark) and added (very) strange vocals, catchy, simplistic riffing and offbeat instrumentation. It’s an underappreaciated black metal gem. Afterwards, their releases were a bit hit or miss for me, but always interesting and yes, eccentric. Now we get Vracejte Knove Na Mistro and it’s the same eccentric Master’s Hammer as always; loaded with innovation, quirks and foibles. It’s sometimes hard to understand, but well worth the effort.
This album is bursting at the seams with weird, interesting and unusual variations of the traditional black metal style. Any attempt I make to fully explain it will come up short. Some highlighting might work though. “Nordfrostkrampfland” opens with a straight-ahead, Bathory-like attack which gets the blood moving and includes typically offbeat vocals from Necrocock (“Master’s Hammer” takes on a whole new meaning now, doesn’t it?). Here, he uses his strange falsetto that sounds like a drag queen covering Mercyful Fate material. It’s double-tracked with his blackened rasp and its odd but catchy (even his bizarro bird noises kinda work). “Sumava” gets all funky and folksy with a jew’s harp and tribal drumming. It has a unique, fun vibe and it’s a real grower. “Dreaming Bulldog (Intermezzo)” sounds like a cross between jazz, cabaret music and a satanic ritual. The title track has heavy riffing, interesting leads, blast beats and a very cool segment at 1:36 with keys, chanting and rocked out riffing. “Lovecraft” brings in a lot of Sodom influence and I can almost hear “Bombenhagel” at times (except for the inclusion of a xylophone).
The overall sound comes closest to early Mayhem with plenty of Bathory influences, but that’s just a reference point before they spiral off into weirdness. Obviously, these chaps aren’t worried about taking chances and trying new things. In the past, it’s led to some uneven results, but here, it all seems to gel nicely and things are catchy and interesting. None of the songs get overwhelmed with experimentation and they all work as actual songs. Vracejte also manages to be surprisingly heavy.
Necrocock’s vocals are an acquired taste to be sure, but aside from his wacko falsetto and occassional bird-like cooing, he keeps it under control this time. Since his lyrics are all in Czechoslovakian, I can’t opine on the subject matter, but he sounds excited about whatever it is. Gardening tips maybe? He and Fratisek Storm throw out some interesting riffs and leads, none are overly technical, but they try a lot of different things and incorporate some traditional and power metal styles. While they remain a basic black metal unit, the inclusion of a host of other instruments sets Master’s Hammer apart and gives them their charm, and here they seem extra charming!
This won’t be to everyone’s liking and it’s clearly off the typical blackened path. I can easily see some finding it too wacky or too offbeat. While I’ll heroically refrain from a diatribe on the need for innovation in the black arts, most long-time readers know my stance on the issue. These guys have always done their own thing and I’ve always respected them for it. This time, their dedication to eccentricity has resulted in a great album, second only to Ritual. For the sake of Barnabies everywhere, check this thing out. It may be one of the cooler, weirder things you hear all year. By the way, I’m told the title translates as “put the watering cans back in place,” from a sign in a cemetery someplace in Czechoslovakia. How cool/weird is that?