Between the mid seventeenth century and the late eighteenth century what is now the Slovak Republic would reach an unusually late-to-the-party fever pitch in the practice of public trials on the matter of witchcraft and sorcery. What’d spurned the country to adopt this brutal form of unjust public execution a century beyond Pope Innocent VIII‘s late 1400’s call to spread the glory of torture aligns with the targeted spread of Roman Catholic subterfuge across eastern Europe by way of paranoia, unjust trials, and the elimination of ‘inconvenient’ peoples by fire and sword. The Roman-Catholic virus of the mind had spread slowly from south to north across the land amongst resilient peoples and so would the practice of witch trials slowly adopt, settling into cultures usurped by agents of the filth-ridden cloth. Inhabited by the Slavic people since the late stone age the town of Krupina in south-central Slovakia was never an explosive metropolis and it must have dawned upon the (relatively) small and tightly knit community there in the late eighteenth century that the cruelty still enforced by the church was not only outdated but a brazen hit-squad for the religious leadership of the area. Plagued, literally stricken with plague in 1710 and just a few years beyond devastating anti-monarchic Hungarian uprisings that’d razed the city with flames, records of public burnings and beheadings by way of witch trials would ease but still continued until ~1740. Access to public education would make all the difference. War and pestilence is enough to destroy a people, what truly benevolent ‘God’ would allow such corrupt cruelty to continue? Burn their churches. If they are your proud history then it is a rotten talisman of weakness to bear. Release the suffering souls they’d systematically murdered for centuries by the very fire they’d wield upon the different, the disruptive, and the inconvenient among us. Bluster and dance, drink and harlot, defy the rotten church and let Bratislavan black/heavy metal band Malokarpatan be the ancient fire of retribution deserved as their beguiling Slovak folklore marries with the defiant and ageless spirit of witching heavy metal for a third time, an incantation of the fires of Krupina, ‘Krupinské ohne’.
To form in 2014 and secure the already beautifully interlocking phenomena of traditional heavy (and speed) metal with the resultant ‘first wave’ of black metal isn’t necessarily a magickal idea in this day and age until considering how unleashed Malokarpatan were from any manner of plain imitation even on their earliest releases. They certainly weren’t born with Bathory LPs in their mangers but as a collective unit the core trio that’d perform on Malokarpatan‘s debut full-length (‘Stridžie dni‘, 2015) had found equally ragged sound and rhythms that’d define their path forward, where their style was not fueled by (musical) hero worship but through infusion of Slovak folk into the ancient brittle fidelity of black metal’s earliest do-it-yourself ethos. By the time their debut hit a wider audience through Invictus Productions’ signal boost in 2016 the band had built an appreciable momentum, a stunning achievement for a couple of guys in Bratislava with a drum machine. The project would expand into a five piece band that year including members from bassist, drummer, and (now) vocalist H.V.‘s other ancient black metal project Krolok along with some members of songwriter, guitarist, and general adorner As‘ band Remmirath. ‘Nordkarpatenland‘ (2017) came fast, spontaneous, and absolutely inspired. The speed was cranked, their playing was infinitely better, and the clarity of Malokarpatan‘s vision was now a bit easier to suss with nods to Hungarian freak-thrashing black metal legends Tormentor, Bulldozer‘s ‘The Day of Wrath‘ and classic heavy metal among the gems to be cracked from the rock solid leap of evolution experienced by the band. My review of that debut wasn’t great back in 2017 but you’d have gotten the idea that it was a healthy dose of classic speed/heavy metal and heavy rock guitar work that was unusually authentic for a black metal band. At the time it was a ‘fun’, novel experience but today ‘Nordkarpatenland’ has held up incredibly well in hindsight, epic as it is infinitely memorable and this despite a few riffs that are still a bit too close to their influences. Where to next?
Judging by the experimental nature of their brilliantly themed ‘Cesta podzemnými sálami Kovovlada‘ (2018) EP it’d seemed that Malokarpatan were headed down a left-hand path a la Necrocock influenced extremes with an early second wave point of view (via Greece and Czechia) but most of that sound was fit precisely for the theme and narrative intended — A dark ambient piece and a grand epic leading the listener into the underworld, ever to return. ‘Krupinské ohne’ is no such bore into the nether and instead bears the mark of its own beast, which finds Malokarpatan balancing past spontaneity with doubly effective heavy metal songs, leaning less on jagged rips of speed metal riffs to do all of the work. The ‘work’ comes by way of bigger, increasingly esoteric sound design using all manner of synth, percussion and heavy metal stomp in an effort to find the right atmosphere for Malokarpatan. If ‘Nordkarpatenland’ was brimming with too much folkish enthusiasm and next-to-none of the debut’s filthy grit, consider ‘Krupinské ohne’ a record that brings more grime to their first wave soul and more exquisite adventurous bombast to their epic heavy metal spiritus. I hear mid-80’s Maiden, the chunking tone of post-Venom eastern Bloc bands like Kat (see: ‘666‘) and even a few riffs Törr wouldn’t have sneezed at back in 1987 or so. As much as I would’ve been entertained by a follow-up record that was pure Bathory worship (see: the intro to “V brezových hájech poblíž Babinej”) or even just ‘Nordkarpatenland Part II’ (reprisal via “Na černém kuoni sme lítali firmam”) this third record from Malokarpatan is impressive to such a degree that it begins to represent as much of a leap into fresh identity and quality for the band that their second record was before it.
The band suggests high fantasy 70’s prog rock classics as well as expected lysergic obscuritas (Master’s Hammer, Root, Tormentor, et al.) as major pieces of their continued vision where black hellfire, stampeding heavy metal, auld horror movie swells, and psychedelic synth somehow work in wretched 80’s metal harmony; Though these are not unheard-of goals it does bear mention how stunning a development it is that they’ve not crumbled under such ambitious work. That Malokarpatan have achieved this much personality and power in the span of just six years is an intense reality to behold, placing the band’s station in my mind palace up there with projects like Funereal Presence and Chevalier as favorites in ancient-minded ‘epic’ metal modernity, those who see their boundaries pushed into glorious excess while still holding fast to the spark of their respective core tastes. They’ve found an incredible mix of ‘old school’ black metal sounds, heavy rock reinforced pure heavy metal and set it to lengthy numbers that detail folkloric re-telling of the witches of Krupina and the town that’d rather burn them alive out of fear than accept the forces of nature wielded as their true Gods. Immersive, gloriously detailed and thoughtfully ‘epic’ in scope ‘Krupinské ohne’ is an achievement as an experience — Music that’d appear to fuse with my psyche as its heroically jogging heavy metal tunes captivate my attention and animate my thoughts.
‘Krupinské ohne’ is gorgeously occult in the sense that its elaborately concieved depths reward as they culminate peak inspirations from dark and untrodden corners of history and heresy. It is music not solely driven by black emotion or beige observation but all manner of shades scalding through the thick lens of an inquisitive nature. Malokarpatan‘s latest reads as a book, a hand-hewn cover with pages deeply scented with the bouquet of age and its contents flush with pointed inspiration that so few husks carry in their hearts today. It is a gift and a pleasure to sit with, cock an eyebrow at, and ultimately marvel within. A very high recommendation for this one.
Very high recommendation. 4.5/5.0
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