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Master's Hammer, while not a well-known name as far as black metal bands go, was one of the first bands to embrace the style that typified the 1990s black metal scene. Although they have recently become active again, these releases remain cult hits and they have yet to see a widely accessible reissue on CD, making them difficult to obtain for many collectors and fans. However, there is no denying that Ritual is one of the most important and overlooked metal albums from the 1990s and it is well worth seeking it out if you profess to be a fan of black metal.
Master's Hammer specialize in an intense, epic style of black metal that relies heavily on percussion and simplistic, memorable melodies. However, the music on this album never falls into the compositional doldrums that many other bands suffer from because of their mastery of their craft and their strength as songwriters. Mainman Franta Storm is another reason why they stand apart from their contemporaries, as his vocal style is unique and incomparable to most other black metal growls and shrieks. He truly brings an element of evil to this album with his frantic, twisted vocal style. His performance on this album is one of the greatest in all of black metal.
The tracks on this album are not lengthy by any means. They manage to retain a captivating atmosphere while never losing any of their driving sense of urgency. Unlike many other bands seeking to add an epic mood to their music through the use of keyboards, these Czech black metallers used them appropriately to accentuate the calmer moments of the album and bring forth a sense of grandeur without ever dominating the music. The listener might almost feel that he is in the midst of some great battle, as Master's Hammer show themselves to be purveyors of great epic battle hymns that never seem to drag on or become boring.
The album is remarkably consistent, although "Jáma pekel" is a standout track and a great introduction to Master's Hammer, as it grants a strong insight at the essence of the album in under five minutes and is one of the catchiest tracks on the album without deviating from the quality and feeling that the other tracks possess. Each and every track on the album has many memorable moments and each listen to the album allows the listener a greater glimpse nto the mystique of this legendary classic of early '90s epic black metal. This is one of the only albums in the entire scope of metal in its various iterations that is truly worthy of being considered a perfect album.
This album is a must-have if you are a fan of second-wave black metal from the early 1990s, especially bands outside of the Norwegian scene. If you can track down a copy, you will not be disappointed and it will surely earn a special place in your collection. Don't overlook this album for another instant.
Although black metal is thought to have been largely pioneered in Scandinavia, the truth is that there were bands from all over the world that were jumping on around the same time, and in some cases, doing even better things than their Norwegian counterparts. Master's Hammer is one such act, originating from the then-recently communistic Czechoslovakia. Their debut album 'Ritual' is a record that is heavy on Bathory-esque riffs and atmosphere, a late addition to the first wave of black metal, but a very strong one all the same.
The lyrics here are growled and rasped in Czech; Storm is a frontman who aligns himself with the traditional black metal style of vocals, but his delivery if somewhat more decipherable than other bands whose voicework sounded closer to a garble. The fact that an English-speaking person such as myself still cannot understand what he is actually saying makes the language really haunting. Master's Hammer is built around buzzy guitars, punkish drums, and a somewhat more bass-heavy sound that the Norwegian black metal. All the same, the influence of early Bathory is very evident in what the band is doing here, with some sounds of raw thrash blending in with the black metal direction that the band was taking.
On top of the straightforward guitar work and drums, Master's Hammer makes great use of symphonic keyboard elements, using a choir synth to accentuate some of the more atmospheric moments on this album. Need I say that this was a pretty inventive thing to do in black metal at the time, and the band pulls it off very well; it is interesting to hear something so smooth pressed up against the angry-sounding metal sound that the band has for themselves here. The album rarely lets up its thrashy pace, but there are some good guitar parts here where they absolve the straightforward nature and pull off some surprisingly technical and dissonant leads.
'Ritual' is an essential album for the raw sound of black metal's first wave, and even ahead of its time, when compared to their generally less-mature contemporaries. Master's Hammer would only get better with their classic 'Jilemnicky Okultista', but this debut on its own distinguishes them in the early black metal scene.
Master's Hammer were one of the very first Czech black metal bands, originally forming all the way back in the mid 80s and playing an extremely simplistic form of proto-black metal still entrenched in the thrash/speed metal tendencies of their Eastern European contemporaries such as Törr, Root and the mighty Tormentor. All of these bands would go on to release landmark albums with the highly distinctive and unique sound found in early Eastern European metal. Master's Hammer would reach this goal in 1991 with their masterpiece "Ritual". As one of the first bands to incorporate folky elements into black metal while retaining their a heavy thrashing sound and interestingly strange songwriting, Master's Hammer were a challenging but very rewarding band.
When approaching Master's Hammer the first thing one must take into consideration is that this stuff predates the second wave explosion of Norwegian black metal in 1992 which forever changed the popular conception of the genre and lead everyone to expect bands to be like Darkthrone, Burzum or worse yet Immortal. The second thing is the locale of the band. Czech and other Eastern European metal groups in the 80s and early 90s had frequently strange and uncommon styles which are often very dissimilar to what most most metal fans expect. Bearing these things in mind, Master's Hammer created some interesting, well written, heavy and at times downright zany music. From their Czech folk infused tracks (something unheard of in black metal at the time) to their weird and sometimes off-kilter thrashers in the vain of Tormentor but with unique touches, they had a lot interesting stuff to bring to the table.
The production is clear and audible with an old analog tone that allows the harshness and filth to flourish. Everything is held roughly equally in the mix allowing each instrument to be distinctive and appreciable. The musicianship is cleaner than one might expect, as the clarity in production sharpens the sound so as not to hide any potential mistakes. The riffs vary from chugging thrashers to heavy/speed metallish lead parts (sometimes with folky touches) and even to dissonant tremolo picking (something uncommon this early in black metal's development). Even the palm muted riffs work in more eerie diminished sounding chords fusing the early thrash/speed metal style with what was becoming modern black metal. Some of the solos (yes, black metal had guitar solos in these days!) also made some interesting use of dissonant and offkey notes which works well into the general strangeness of the sound. The bass lines can be distinctly heard, and while they mostly plunk along to the rhythm of the guitar, they occasionally foray into some interesting territories with booms and pops accentuating the weirdness of the riffs. While I generally disapprove of synths, especially used in a folky style, this album makes good use of them (and thankfully uses them sparingly) adding in some strings or choir sounds to accent the more "epic" sounding riffs. Vocalist and primary songwriter Franta Storm has a particularly odd style. His vocals are almost like wheezing rasps rather than screams, yells or grunts. Adding to the strangeness is that all the lyrics are in Czech and mostly audible (some people dig that foreign touch, makes em feel cultured or something). The drums are fairly straightforward, mainly using simple mid-paced blasts during the thrashing parts, but also using a galloping sound seen in later folk-related and "epic" black metal. Another interesting percussive element is a thudding tom that sounds like some kind of war drum. Highlights of the album include the instrumental thrasher "Ritual" and the catchy "Jama pekel" (which will have you screaming along in a language you've never heard before), although all the tracks are great.
Master's Hammer took me quite a few listens to get accustomed to, as I am most often opposed to folky or "epic" sounding black metal, but it appears that having predated the second wave (foregoing any Norwegian influence whatsoever) and having come from the uniquely strange Czech Republic made Master's Hammer a very different and worthwhile band. While it doesn't quite fit in with the pallet of the average modern black metal listener, Master's Hammer are a captivating and strange little band and their "Ritual" album is a landmark release in the genre despite being frequently overlooked. For fans of classic bands like Tormentor, Root and Mortuary Drape who innovated and mastered black metal in the 80s and early 90s without any help from those dirty Scandinavian pigs, "Ritual" is an essential release. Even for the connoisseur of wimpy folk-laden epic nonsense this release should prove a rewarding venture. Also a quick disclaimer: Master's Hammer's second and third albums were real turds. Don't touch those with a ten foot pole. And finally... get this album now!
“Ritual” is the first studio album by Master’s Hammer. Master’s Hammer is from the Czech Republic, and all lyrics are in Czech. I am not sure, but I am guessing that the album is about a ritual. I do not know Czech and cannot say for sure.
Whatever the album is about, there is no doubt that this is amazing music. The whole album features very unique vocals, a timpani, and an amazing sound that is best described as a fusion of black metal and classic heavy metal. Traditional guitar solos are also featured on some of the tracks; something rather uncommon in black metal. Having both a timpani and a regular drum set really added even more depth into the music.
If I had to describe the vocals, I would have to say that the vocals sound like a blend of singing and harsh vocals. Sometimes the way Franta Storm sings makes it sound like he is in pain or has gone crazy. A few times on the album, Storm switches to a more operatic style of singing, which adds to the atmosphere even more. Storm is truly an amazing vocalist. The solos are excellent and have a classic heavy metal sound to them; very impressive. The album is about fifty minutes long, and never weakens at any point. The album also has excellent production, which makes the music sound even better.
Like most black metal, the album ultimately retains a dark atmosphere. Keyboards are very well used, and sound like traditional black metal keyboards; contrary to the classic heavy metal sound of most of the other instruments. Surprisingly enough, one song, Jama Pekel actually has a chorus. What is impressive about the chorus is that it actually fits! Master’s Hammer set a great standard to what a black metal chorus should sound like.
Overall the album has no real flaws. A masterpiece well ahead of its time, “Ritual” is an amazing blend of black metal and classic heavy metal; two fantastic genres. The album is very hard to find, so I suggest you download the album rather than buy it. This brilliant piece of work definitely deserves more attention. “Ritual” is a true example of a fantastic metal album.
There are very few albums in my collection to which I would give a perfect rating. This is one of them, and ironically I rarely see anyone refer to it at all. It's certainly not too hard to obtain, so that can't be the answer. Maybe it's only that this band isn't from Scandinavia, had an admittedly very brief blaze of glory before they turned into something very strange and then vanished into the depths of some Czech tavern or something. Either way, this might just change some peoples ideas of what black metal really is all about. In my view, this is very possibly the best black metal album ever, in fact.
Where the fuck to start? The music here is not what someone weened on Marduk or Satyricon or even Bathory might expect. It certainly has some similarities to a few bands, but it's more in the approach to songwriting than an actual sound...namely, putting the Metal before all else. I think a lot of black metal bands tend to forego great riffs and actual metallic power in favour of grim and harsh atmospheres, trancey repetitive anti-melodies or, worst case scenario, endless blastbeats and noodling guitar wankery. Master's Hammer, at least on this album, along with bands like Tormentor, Rotting Christ and Grand Belial's Key, still manage to sound as evil as a nun burning in the fires of Hell, yet also make you want to headbang like a maniac, scream with the ecstatic fervour of damnation and set volume controls to maximum. I always thought that bands like this could easily appeal to traditional metal fans, people who normally wouldn't bother with black metal at all because "the musicians suck", "the production is all shit", or "the music is mindless". I don't agree with any of these tenets; and yet I can see where some of these arguments are coming from. A lot of intelligent people dismiss black metal out of hand because they think that the bands that get the most praise: Marduk, Emperor, Satyricon, Dark Funeral, Abigor, Dimu Borgir...exemplify the genre and thus, when they check out those bands and realize that they have few if any "real metal" components, they tend to slag the whole genre as a load of kids spewing feces into the mouths of ignorant losers. Bands like Master's Hammer and those others I mentioned earlier are unfortunately a scant few these days, though they were more prevalent a mere ten years ago.. However, there are still enough great releases in black metal's past, and a few bands still carrying the torch, enough to hopefully let us reconsider the growing stigma against the genre among those who are stalwarts of "true metal".
Allright, so back to the purpose of this review..Master's Hammer. Starting off the proceedings is a sparse keyboard intro that might scare off a few people...at first I hated this bit and thought it would signify a CD full of the silliest sounding, cheapest Casio knockoff keys imaginable, I'll be honest. However, about thirty seconds after the intro begins the whole band suddenly kicks in...and you're struck by the incredible meatiness of the production. That's right, a black metal album with an absolutely streamlined production...what the hell is going on? Often, I prefer a dirty, raw sound to accompany my metal, but I think for a release like this, where you really want to hear everything that's going on, exactly, it's best to have a crystaline sound. Even the intro managed to grow on me over time, and the way it suddenly and totally unexpectedly drops you into the first real song is amazing. That first song, "Pád modly", is one of my personal favourites too. It features some powerful chugging riffage, some really cool almost Iron Maiden-ish (read "Phantom of the Opera") melodic guitar interplay and a very minimal use of keyboards. The vocals on this whole album are insane. I spent quite a while trying to figure out how Franta Storm manages to sound so bloody weird throughout MH's black metal career, and I think I have part of the answer...he's inhaling while he's screaming. Of course, I could be totally off the mark, but I think it explains part of why the vocals are so manic and sick sounding, that and the totally incomprehensible (to me) Czech Storm delivers at sometimes rapid-fire speeds. At the end of "Pád modly" he lets out some absolutely hair-raising howls, too, with reverb added to make them sound like some morbid spectral apparition from beyond. "Každý z nás ..
" is a faster, thrashier piece, and there are no trace of keyboards for the next few tracks. One of the things I love most about this album is the fact that each song contains an impressive number of sometimes fairly complex riffs, and the band executes all this with absolute precision. You can hear every note, every cymbal and tom fill (the drum sound is one of the best I've ever heard), and the mix is fairly bassy, although, like many a metal album, the actual bass itself just mirrors the guitar most of the time. The title track is a juggernaut of an instrumental that plows through magnificent riff after riff, then finally slows down with a powerful tympani crash (yes, they use tympanis, though they're very minimal on this particular album), and going into a wailing lead part that's both eerie and compellingly "metal". "Jama Pekkal" is probably the grooviest song on the album, with a chorus I can actually "sing" along to, since it's just the songtitle screamed with great gusto, à la great thrash metal. Then there's what I think might be the absolute standout for me, "Útok"...which starts off with a killer bass riff before the rest of the band kicks in, and it's another maniacal ride through the evil corners of a Bohemian occultist's mind (hell, I don't know what they're singing about, but this song is dedicated to anton Lavey). You'll recognize one of the melodies in this song, for it is the much-famed "Funeral Dirge", or rather the first couple of bars of it, written by Chopin I believe. The keyboards make one of their very infrequent reappearances in this song, accenting the funeral dirge and adding a twisted counterpoint to its beautifully morbid excellence. And the ending! More of those inhuman, anguished howls!
yes, this review is extremely masturbatory. For that I appologize, however I find it hard to describe this album in purely objective terms as I normally would try to do. This is as near perfect a work of art as I can think of, and there isn't a single thing I would have had Master's Hammer do differently in its construction. It is a grand statement, a behemoth of metal pride coupled with the negative ethos of black metal and forged into something unique, heavy and ingenious. If you enjoy black metal and haven't heard this yet, what the fuck are you waiting for? If you have avoided most BM until now, because you think the style lacks metal spirit, please, do investigate this...it might just change that assessment. Yes, sadly, master's Hammer would collapse into itself and become something less than great, but all you really need is this album. The second, "THe Jilemnice Occultist", is also a great metal album, but to me it's less perfect, as the band was experimenting with a lot of new ideas and many of them came off a little on the silly sounding side.