Those of us fearing that 2009’s sudden return to activity for MASTER’S HAMMER with the Mantras album was only a one-off get-together of old friends having fun in the studio ought to be very pleased to see “Vracejte konve na místo” drop, once again, all of a sudden from these Czech bohemians. And merely 2½ years later rather than the promised 23! Where Mantras felt like an uneven spontaneous burst of creativity, Franta seems to have paid a lot more focus and attention to writing proper, well-crafted songs, in the classic vein of Ritual and, even more, the masterwork Jilemnice Occultist. Rather than disappearing into winding roads of experimentalism, these 11 original tunes are more sober reflections than synthesizers gone haywire.
So, what is? First, the album title translates to “Put watering cans back in place”, an inscription Franta found written on several tombstones in his neighborhood. Recorded over a winter when Franta wasn’t able to flee the Central European snowfall for the everlasting summer of the Indian subcontinent, these songs are in many ways hewn from the inspiration offered by the Bohemian landscapes: dark forest paths, graveyard typography, midwinter folk tales. The traditional, rustic pastorality of MASTER’S HAMMER’s older works is intact in sound and attitude, though inevitably a bit more modern in production than before: in the same sense that later SOLEFALD echoes their heimat, so does Franta and crew dress their influences in their singular sense of melody. This is far from national romantic “pagan metal”. The electronic, symphonic elements which MH heralded 20 years ago, long before “symphonic black metal” was recognized, are still present, though slightly less protruding – flutes, exotic percussion; MH’s palette of non-metal sounds is wide and ubiquitous, and even though I miss the classic timpanis, the Jew’s harp (one of the worst instruments in human history) does a pretty good job at expanding the songs without turning into gimmicks. But at the heart of it all, this is some pretty heavy, riff-driven metal: far from standard black metal, some of the mid-paced, churning guitars brings heavyweights like BOLT THROWER to mind. Franta comes from the old-school proper, his art being crafted from an age long before black metal riffing was synonymous with uninspired lo-fi tremolo buzz.
The album is divided in two parts, where the A-side (Part Nostalgia) is more mellow and pastoral, while Part Dementia on the flipside is more occult, up-tempo metal aggression. Jan Kapak, the most recent addition to the line-up, is a much more tight and driven drummer than heard in previous MH instalments, which is welcome. The lyrics give little headway for the non-Czech speaking listener into understanding exactly what it’s about, but the woodcuts illustrating each song sets the theme – alchemists, dark forest paths, witches flying over snowy cabins, ships, and the Great Cthulhu himself.
Anyway. Summing up a MASTER’S HAMMER album isn’t an easy task – from the early demos up to Vracejte…, Franta, Necrocock et c have always maintained one of the most idiosyncratic sounds and approaches in extreme metal, appreciated and hailed by a small but dedicated crowd. And even though this album doesn’t usurp the two decade old classics, it creates a continuity within the MASTER’S HAMMER universe, far from nostalgia, successfully rejuvinating and teleporting them into this decade. Not as fun as Mantras, as weird as Slagry, as dramatic as Jilemnice Occultist, or as raw and dark as Ritual and earlier works, but a few paces further down the same old path. And what’s not to like about that? If you haven’t heard MH before – if you’re already an enthusiast, you wouldn’t be having to read this at all – give them a chance, start with “Vracejte konve na místo” and realize you have a very different world ahead to explore
Supreme tracks: Flammarion, Podejte mi samopal, Pantheismus dobra. To begin with.
Release: 8 February 2012
Avantgenre: Bohemian Black Metal Rhapsody
Duration: 44:30 (cd)
Origin: Czech Republic
Official site: http://www.mastershammer.com
Review online since: 05.04.2012 / 16:15:48
3. Ve Víchru Nicoty
5. Podejte Mi Samopal
6. Dreaming Bulldog (Intermezzo)
7. Vracejte Konve Na Místo
10. Lingam A Mikve
11. Pantheismus Dobra
12. Flammarion Fatal Mix