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This has to be the most criminally overlooked band and release in all of black metal history. By 1992, with The Jilmence Occultist, Master's Hammer had developed a facet of what Bathory began with Blood Fire Death, achieved what Emperor's entire discography would repeatedly attempt and fail to, and what Dimmu Borgir might dream of conceiving by 2092.
In every right a significant advancement beyond their formidable debut, Ritual, Master's Hammer performed the rare feat of expanding on text and texture while retaining the raw intensity that made Ritual the captivating listen it is. Astoundingly, Master's Hammer managed to squeeze a great deal of sophistication and orchestration into this album and not at the expense of any of the balls or evil contained in their first record whatsoever! In fact, it's an even rarer feat to create such a stand-alone masterwork that manages to greatly surpass and yet greatly compliment its predecessor. Truly, this must be heard to be believed.
Well, what does it sound like? Unlike anything else you've heard in metal. One of the only metal bands to (successfully) employ a timpani player, Master's Hammer added a great deal of synth-generated orchestral sounds to accompany their percussively symphonic boom. Harp, strings, tubular bells, piccolo and much more are all contributing synth textures that make up this dark and brooding journey. However, while harmonically dense and at times murky, the core of guitar drums and bass remains present and driving throughout, complimented often by the band's skillful layering of orchestral themes and atmospheres.
Atmosphere: this is certainly the most impressive quality of The Jilmence Occultist. While Ritual had sufficient energy and bite to make up for a lack of depth to the delivery of monumental melodies, here the band plays with a determined restraint both pummeling and tonally rich. Each melody is clear, impacting and beguiling, keeping the listener thoroughly entrenched in the mysterious journey they started when they dropped the needle.
In fact, it is the seemingly complex storyline (the album is an operetta: a mini-opera) and the vocal delivery that makes this record such a compelling listen. I don't speak a word of Czech but this album has a hypnotic grasp on me when I am in its midst. The performance is one of audible conviction, aided beautifully by the charismatic eccentricity of singer Franta Storm. The guttural, speech-like range he covers gives a fascinating, theatrical quality to the pieces, without crowding the already intricate melodic content. I'm not sure if it's his real name or what it translates to but 'Frantic Storm' is definitely a poetically accurate description of what he sounds like.
Master's Hammer are one of the last and the few in a very strong, early strain of Eastern European black, metal spearheaded by the illustrious Tormentor. The isolation these communist countries had in the 80s from the small but growing black metal underground contributed to their highly original and influential interpretations of the sub-genre. Master's Hammer persist to this day as one of the best examples of this.
If you are so lucky as I to recognize this stylish record sleeve in a milk crate somewhere, do not hesitate to snatch it up! There is also an NWN! 4LP reissue with Ritual, which, with its larger grooves, does a sonic justice to this album the original Osmose pressing falls short of.
BUY OR DIE!