Essential Black Metal Listening: MASTER'S HAMMER Ritual
The first wave of Black Metal is almost always associated with the Scandinavian peninsula, but there were so many things going on in the crazy and small world that several bands tended to have similar ideas at the same time. Master's Hammer are a Czech band with plenty of great black metal sound; theirs is one rich in the tradition which Quorthon started in 1984. While Venom are forefathers in name Bathory gave the genre more legs than had been previously available and the sound spread much more quickly than either Cronos, Quorthon, or the Norwegian scene could have ever imagined.
The album has an intro track and then 'Pad Modly' which features quite a bit of the sounds of Under The Sign Of The Black Mark as well as Blood Fire Death especially in the vocal style, and rapid galloping beats conveyed by drummer Valenta. Storm powers away on his guitar as he shreds his vocal chords much like his Swedish mentor did on 'Pace Till Death'. speaking of which 'Každý Z Nás' is a pure example of just how fast paced this style of music can be espeically in such a rudimentary form. The subtleties which were new to metal at the time, required a deeper listen than the brash thrash metal and burgeoning death metal of the time; even more so others, this was an audiophile's style of metal. 'Ritual' is a much more traditional sounding metal song but there are moments of harsh production that remind you of what this album is trying to convey; pure unadulterated evil in sonic form. With tracks like this one in particular (since no vocals are present) you can really see where a tond of Black metal bands draw their influence, whether it be the poor production quality or the humble sounding guitars, there really is a lot to love here.
'Geniové' (or 'Geniuses' in English) is an appropriate title for this track as you get some of the eventual grim and frostbitten sound of later bands such as Immortal. The synthesizer being played at points makes you feel as though you are being watched by a mythical being or trapped in the wilderness; you know Emperor style. I'm not sure what the winters in Czech Republic are like but damn if I don't feel like I'm stuck in Norway when I listen to this. Black metal fans must forgive me as I (as with many others) started by Black metal quest with Transilvanian Hunger and Pure Holocaust, but the black metal chops here are hard to ignore, even touches of King Diamond's demonic vocal style are present at points, further cementing his place in the black metal lexicon. 'Černá Svatozář' seems to be the most recognizable black metal song out of this entire album up to this point as it features very prominent tremolo picked riffs as well as a wealth of expertly placed synth lines, making for more of the wonderful atmospheric aesthetic that is in essence, black metal. Just listen to the grandure displayed below and tell me that it doesn't scream black metal to you.
'Věčný Návra' has a ton of riffs on it and so many that it may give Immortal's 'One By One' a run for it's money in places, specifically during certain sections, as the tempo goes from blazing fast to mid paced and right back to the high octane hijinks that make black metal fans happy in the pants region. While sloppy in parts, this album more than sticks out as one of the earliest examples of lo-fi black metal, which I have to assume was unintentional at this stage of the game. 'Jama Pekel' (a song which I recently included on a mixed CD I gave to a student) is a track that may best exemplify what Master's Hamer was trying to do with this entire album from the get go. The song literally means Pit of Hell and it can really feel like it at times, the drum beat smashes you over the head and barely lets up to let Storm come in and say the song's title. 'Zapálili Jsme Onen Svět' begins with what sounds like some Venom styled silliness, yet it builds up into this grandiose black metal opus which would make the Norwegian church burners happy as it translates to 'We Burnt The World To Come'. Also on display here are Storm and Necrocock's guitar dynamics as the guitar lines tie in together and fit rather well, not your typical Thin Lizzy or Iron Maiden fair but just a different application of the same basic idea. The chilling synth line acts as the song's backbone and leads it into another track.
'Vykoupení' is more on the side of beauty, with prettier riffs than your standard Alcest song, granted the idea behind this isn't completely emotive but enough so at this early part of black metal, we can see where this eventually went in the development of this genre's genesis. It cannot be stated enough as to just how important each and every track on this album is and as you move on through all 50 minutes, you'll soon get the picture. Ending with a nice bass intro 'Utok' aims to bring this to a close more than fitting of the black metal genre. The music taken from a funeral procession is more than fitting of the grim atmosphere that a large part of this album has focused on. The album is ending and so is life in part as well, life as communist ridden Czech Republic was finally breaking down at the time, but still enough of this was part of each of the band's members' respective childhoods to warrant a song that marks the unfortunate side of death for all the listeners to experience firsthand.
Just as you look back to Immortal, Darkthrone, Emperor, and Mayhem; you too must look back to those crazy main land Europeans who weren't far off with their own, and in some ways superior sound. While it might not be your first experience with black metal or it might even be your 1000th one, Master's Hammer should warrant more than enough of your time as one of the best and (if not the most) underrated black metal bands of all time.