At this point, Black Metal as subgenre of metal has over 40 years of history behind it – it’s musical legacy continuing to broaden in many different off-shoots. However, even with the power of the internet allowing us to explore every inch of the style as we please, many bands are fixated on one epoch above all else – the early Norwegian Black Metal scene. Yet amid this, we do find bands willing to venture beyond these horizons and dwell into the murkier and more eccentric depths that the genre can offer. One such band is Malokarpatan, a band dedicated to keeping alive the tradition of old Czech and Eastern European Black Metal.
To understand Malokarpatan, it is important to gleam through their musical past and see how they have evolved. It has been almost a decade since ‘Stridžie dni’ first came along, a welcome exploration of the old 80s black metal performed behind the iron curtain by acts such as Törr, Kat or Tormentor. With ‘Nordkarpatenland’, we saw the fusion of this aforementioned sound with classic 80s Heavy Metal ala Mercyful Fate. Lastly, Krupinské ohne took this and saw the implementation of longer form songs, with 70s prog rock touches and a conceptual theme to the album. In 2023, Malokarpatan have returned to grace us with a wildly unconventional and off-kilter album in the form of ‘Vertumnus Caesar’, an album narrating the life and occult practices of King Rudolf II.
Distilling the essence of ‘Vertumnus Caesar’ can be difficult, because it is not a traditional Black Metal release by any means. If you only have familiarity with the Black Metal sounds of Northern Europe, then Malokarpatan can come as quite a surprise listen given their core sound is deeply embedded in the pioneering work of the 90s Czech Black Metal scene – bands like Master’s Hammer, Root or Tudor to rattle off a few examples. If Norwegian Black Metal conjures landscapes of icy forest nights, then Czech Black Metal is more the image of a tomb plagued by the smell of sulfur and incense. Rather than endless blastbeats or constant tremolo picking, the rhythmic work is much more Thrashy, the guitar leads are more wild and the use of keyboards is predominant to conjure an occult and almost theatrical experience. In all these respects, Malokarpatan follows the tradition quite well.
Listening to ‘Vertumnus Caesar’ is a wild rollercoaster ride as songs suddenly transition from moments of Black Metal to 80s Heavy Metal to bizarre 70s synth passages that drench the album with equal doses of camp and occult magic. The first proper track on the album (‘Kočár postupuje temnomodrými dálavami na juhozápad’) is a great exhibit, where we’re greeted by a thunderous heavy metal riff that could be straight out of a Judas Priest or Tygers of Pan Tang album. Even when Adam’s gruff shrieks kick in, we’re still treated to a galloping rhythm section that is incredibly catchy. This gets interrupted by the ominous synth work kicking in, with the song pivoting into a full-fledged Black Metal track – only to once again transition with the tenebrous spoken word passage and a wild guitar solo to conclude.
This for me is the true appeal of both this album and Malokarpatan in general, the complete unpredictable nature of what is happening in the music while still maintaining an incredibly tight musicianship that is neither sloppy or hastily put together. It is clear every riff and every piece of synth has been meticulously chosen to both pay homage to their musical forefathers and to provide the listener with a fresh take on what Eastern European Black Metal can be. This album is fantastic in every respect, whether it chooses to lean on its passion for 80s Heavy Metal (see most of ‘ Vovnútri chlácholivého útočišta kunstkamru’) or even create an instrumental piece that would satisfy any fan of Fulci or Morricone horror soundtracks (‘Panstvo salamandrov jest v kavernách zeme’). My personal favourite would have to be ‘Maharal a Golem’, which feels the closest to a Master’s Hammer tribute without descending into bad plagiarism – a track that has powerful thrashy riffs, dual vocals, sinister synths and a dark atmosphere pinning it altogether.
The Norwegian style of Black Metal will always be the most popular strain of the genre, no matter how much time passes. However, we must never forget that before the second wave kicked off in full force circa 93/94, there were many competing styles that sought to also exhibit their own interpretation of Black Metal. The Czech sound was one of these, sadly overlooked by many. Luckily, we have Malokarpatan to not only continue the legacy of this scene, but to expand on it. If you haven’t dipped your toes into the weird and bizarre musical ventures of this band, this is a great album to start with.