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If anybody remembers the horrible alt-rock band Days of the New, after the release of their very successful debut, the frontman decided to fire all the band members due to their "lack of talent and creativity". he then went on to produce an electronica-tinged record that, unsurprisingly, proved to be a commercial and musical disaster. Some time after 1993, Franta Storm unceremoniously decided to sack the remaining members of Master's Hammer with the exception of then keyboardist Vlasta Voral, ostensibly for the reason that they weren't talented enough. Can anybody guess what happened next?
What happened next was that Master's Hammer (or more specifically, Storm) started making derogatory statements about both rock n roll and metal and the perceived limitations of said genres. The band scrapped the plans for another black metal operetta in the style of "The Jilemnice Occultist" and turned their myopic attention to other pastures, but without abandoning the Master's Hammer name. There is a rumour that this album was produced exclusively for the purpose of angering Herve from Osmose Records. Perhaps pissing off former fans was at least part of the agenda behind this, whether rumour is to be believed or not. Whatever the case may be, this is one strange, misguided and very pretentious album.
What galls me most about this album is its obvious and absolute smugness. It seems that Storm and Voral took this project pretty seriously, and considered it at least a better application of their time and effort than a "real" Master's Hammer album. They even had the cheek to make a ridiculous statement in the album insert to the effect that only those older than twenty-something should listen to the thing!
All this would have been acceptable and quite forgiveable had the music on "Šlágry" been something monumental and powerful, which by all rights it should have been, given the past creative output of the two remaining band members. However, it is likely that the strongest reaction a listener might have to this disc is uproarious laughter.
Specifically, the first song had me in stitches for a very long time. It starts out promisingly, with some sampled ominous french horn lowings with a threatening backdrop of a reverberating and faint distorted guitar tone. Suddenly, like the oncoming rush of an epileptic seizure and with all the grace of a camel floundering in a river, in drops the patttering technotronic beat, and we are "treated" to what would appear to be an irreverent dismemberment of Alexander Katachurian's "Dance of the Sabers", except that I suspect the awful truth is that this was created in all knee-slapping, moustache-twirling seriousness. Cobbled together doesn't even begin to describe this attrocity, which is entertaining in the same way that hearing the opening of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" as performed by an ensemble of cazoos would be entertaining. You have your thumping electronic beat, sampled choirs pitch shifted and brought in from somewhere or other and slapped on to fill the place of the main string theme, sundry Hawkwind-esque noises and tuneless synthetic warbbling, and a chugging distorted guitar (with Franta Storm's usual clear and bassy tone) trying to provide rhythm. The pitch-shifted and slapped on choirs are definitely the most amusing part of the whole ensemble, as well as Storm trying to duplicate the arpegiated orchestral flourish that ends the piece on his guitar!
There's more of the same to be had on this album, and then some. Raped and mutilated classical pieces, presumably put forward with a serious or semi-serious intent and sounding like Laibach with zero budget. But lest you think these Czech bastards are utterly dry and humourless, they throw on Chuck Berry's "Rock N Roll Music" too, and to show their general distaste for the style of music said song praises they slow the 45 RPM record down to 33 and mix it on Storm's PC, together with weird percussive clangings, synthesised kettle drums and spooky string patches. Maybe this is supposed to symbolise the remorseless marching plague of African music overrunning the Czech countryside?
We also get circus marches, lots of pitch shifting, a small boys' choir (sampled, no doubt), and....one black metal track, tagged onto the very end of the album like a final slap in the face letting everyone know just what this album could have been had Franta Storm decided to pull his head out of his arse for long enough. For what it's worth, my favourite track is the lengthy "Ach, Synku, Synku", which strikes me as the most thoughtfully composed piece here, reminding me a little of some twentieth century French symphonic music or maybe John Cage with its ponderous synthesised cello strains and some dynamic piano work. The song makes some interesting use of ambient noise and percussion, before erupting with a loud, brassy fan-fare at its finish that is like a bolder and clearer repetition of a gently stated earlier theme.
As for the one black metal track, if you can make it all the way to track nine and if you can take it even remotely seriously after what's come before, it sounds a bit unfinished, with the obvious computerised drums that sound about as effective as matchsticks and no bass presence whatsoever, not to mention a really laughable verse riff that sounds like a stupid kid trying to make fun of modern BM guitar styles. However, it manages to be quite majestic in parts, with a strong, operatically sung chorus and a neat recapitulative guitar solo closing off the track. Perhaps the former band members could have helped turn this into something great. We'll never know.
So the last Master's Hammer album sounds like a collision between Laibach and the Residents on a freeway after both bands have had most of their equipment stolen by rampaging African tribesmen intent on spreading the vile scourge of rock music. What a waste, I say. Nevertheless, I can't utterly hate this. There is something almost endearing about the absolute pomposity of it all. Who exactly were they trying to impress, and were they in any way aware of how abysmally they failed to be impressive in the way that probably mattered to them most? In its seemingly high-flung predelections to be "serious music for serious people" this album manages to fall flat on its proverbial face in the most spectacular fashion, proving in fact to serve the opposite of its probable intent...the kind of record you put on while you and your friends are all drunk and reminiscing and desperately need someone else to laugh at. The beauty of all this is that in the end MH have tried so hard to prove that they're a cut above those immature, vapid metal bands but their exuberant, youthful metal records will always be remembered whereas this one is already near forgotten and buried, doomed to forever be sold for $2 by Osmose, who won't ever reprint it and who still can't get rid of the damned thing fast enough.
This must be one of the strangest albums listed on the entire Metal Archives site. With there only being two members left it stands to reason that this would not sound too much like the previous Master's Hammer, but I'm at a loss to even describe what genre of music this truly is. Having said that, there are some similarities:
A) the vocals are clearly recognisable,
B) some of the drumming is similar to that what one would expect from Master's Hammer i.e. nice simple mid paced blastbeats or kick-snare-kick-snare rhythms,
B) during the few guitar parts, the tone is virtually the same as on both previous albums,
C) some of the string sounds that the keyboards produce are the same as those on The Jilemnice Occultist and
D) the tympanis. Although on this release I think they are created by a drum machine.
Also, some of the tracks have the same pomp feel that is found in some tracks from The Jilemnice Occultist e.g. My Captain.
Now, you may be thinking. How can something with so many similarities to the previous album sound so different? Well firstly, apparently most of these songs are covers, so they are obviously written differently. Secondly, the guitars take a back-seat in this album with them only appearing in two or three songs. Anyway, on with the review...
I guess one part Punk, one part Black Metal, one part Classical, one part electronic dance, one part fairground music and one part Opera could sum this up in a way that would make no sense to anyone who hasn't heard this release. So I guess if I'm to describe this successfully I'll have to do a track by track review.
Track 1: Simple punk-like riffs abound, with a brass section taking over when the guitars stop during the interlude. Under all this is the typical Master's Hammer percussion, this time from a drum machine, that consists of simple kick-snare-kick-snare beats and the occasional tympani thud or roll, and over this are the opera-style vocals that Master's Hammer do so well. They don't carry any lyrics and are just notes that emphasise chord changes.
Tracks 2: This track starts painfully slowly and is incredibly boring, being nothing more than some seemingly random violin strokes, with the odd drum roll and plucking sound here and there. After two minutes some piano starts to make an appearance and at three minutes a tune finally emerges. However, it's just some rather boring and slow paced humming with some vocals over with some obscured buzzing sound and tympanis in the background. The piano gets more intense until around the seven minutes mark a string section of some sort brings the song to it's long overdue conclusion.
Track 3: This song reminds me of a quaint music box crossed with a military march. Think the tinkling sounds music boxes typically produce mixed with snare rolls and a brass section. Finally, mix some fairly young sounding girls singing in unison over it. As with most songs on this album, the end is signified by an increase in the brass and string instruments used.
Track 4: A violin intro builds into one of the best songs on the album. The build-up lasts longer than expected and leads into two women singing over a violin drone with a slow paced drum beat that includes some soft tympani rumbles. After the first verse one of the guys comes in and sings over the two women. A usual brass instrument, this time a trumpet, makes an appearance during the interlude and is followed by the original violin build up but this time with the addition of some palm muted power chords courtesy of the guitars. If the song would've ended there using the repeated build up as a crescendo it would've been perfect. But instead the first verse is repeated and the song kind of peters out.
Track 5: This is nothing but a short classical song that is just very quick piano playing with strangely altering volume. At times it can seem staggered due to the altering of the volume and a flickering sound effect but it keeps in time nonetheless. Nothing much to talk about here.
Track 6: A synth pop Chuck Berry cover that reminds me of a slowed down Gary Numan. There is a slow synth kick drumbeat with the main riff played on a synthesiser with some slowed down and slightly distorted deep vocals over this, which are similar to those used on occasions by Cradle Of Filth (spit) and The Meads Of Asphodel. As with most songs on this album, they develop and gather more instruments and layers like a snowball as the song progresses. This is no exception, with a snare, bleeping sound effect and brass instruments being added at the first chorus, a bass line (played on the keyboards, of course) added during the second verse and a couple of string sounds from the keyboard being added during the interlude.
Track 7: Just beating the second track, this is the worst song on the album. It features some of the worst vocals I've ever heard. They are similar to the vocals on the Chuck Berry cover, but not as distorted. It sounds like a drunk singing on his way home from the pub. Anyway, this is put over a slow synth bassline, some sounds that closely resemble Game-Boy music and a harpsichord.
Track 8: This sounds like music emanating from a demented fairground ride with some synth pop underneath it. It starts off as an opera track with some bleeping sound effects (similar to those during the break of Emperor's Empty song from Prometheus) but during the chorus it develops into something one would expect to hear from a carousel. It's the only song one this album that starts with most of the instruments needed for the song. In fact, it loses a few for the interlude to let the string sounds carry gently on.
Track 9: The only Black Metal track on the album and the only track which has any of their insanely good howling/screaming vocals. It's closer to the tracks recorded for Zashla Krev than those on The Jilemnice Occultist in that there aren't as many keyboard parts and those that are there complement the song and don't dominate it. The song follows the usual Master's Hammer route with a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure with hardly any bass apparent. The chorus is excellent, with the singer finally showing off his singing voice during a Black Metal song, something they rarely did in their previous opuses. The track ends with the verse riff being harmonised by a guitar that's two octaves up from the root and a tapping solo.
Unfortunately, I can't understand a word of Czech. Which is a shame, as it would be interesting to find out what lyrics could possibly accompany such a bizarre release. It would also be nice to figure out just how many of these songs are covers, just to track down the originals and find out to what extent Master's Hammer fucked them up, I would guess, for the better.
Basically, for the most part this isn't Black Metal. I wouldn't even go so far as to say that a majority of this is actually Metal. Of course, I prefer Master's Hammer when they were a Black Metal band, but I have to say that this is still a good release, despite some shitty tracks, and is excellently written, mixed and produced. Even so, I can't really give this a spectacularly good grade, although I generally like it and it has a charm of it's own, it's not something I can listen to on a regular basis. Also, some moments are too cheesy and brutally gay for words and are just cringe-worthy, with parts of the first and eighth track actually reminding me of the synth version of In The Navy.
It's hard to recommend this as there's nothing similar to it to make a comparison. However, I will say this though: if you only like Metal, you can't stand bands who aren't 100% serious (thinking of acts such as Lugubrum here) and you don't have a sense of humour, you will not like this.