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The Original Dark Heavy Metal - 100%

hopp, January 20th, 2019

The story usually begins in late 80s or early 90s and in one of the many corners of the world. In this particular case it is 1987 and the Czech Republic (or Czechoslovakia, as it was back then). Master’s Hammer was founded on the brink of the Velvet Revolution, which would come in two years later, in 1989, and would end the communist era of the country. With the heavy metal tapes of 80s like Motörhead, Venom, Slayer, Mercyful Fate, etc. and fanzines finding their way into the country; Czechoslovakian youth founded more and more amateur, underground bands to play their own music as loud as possible, and as the sound got more and more extreme all around the world, as hideous as possible.

The late 80s were interesting and very fertile times for black metal because the strong influence of Norwegian second wave black metal sound had yet to take hold; all the early bands from all around the world were trying to find their own unique sound and their own unique approach. Unsurprisingly, most of these early acts of violent and hideous metal were still strongly rooted in 80s heavy metal as it was their main influence and main thing that inspired them to make their own noise in this world. The early Czech scene is no exception, in fact the country has one of the most prominent black/heavy sounds of early 90s with bands like Master’s Hammer, Root, Amon, and Entrails in addition to the early black/thrash acts like Törr or Crux.

Reading philosophers like Schopenhauer and Ladislav Klíma, Master’s Hammer were full of anger and desire to yell at and spit into the face of humankind when they founded their band. Their inspirations and intentions can most certainly be considered more sophisticated (yet filthy at the same time) than what the Norwegians had in mind when their blend of black metal surfaced. From Franta Štorm’s own words (who can be considered the “main guy” in Master’s Hammer and who was also studying at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague when they founded the band):

“Czech black metal was not about church burnings nor brutal murders of bandmates – our Satanism was referring to Baudelaire, Josef Váchal and occult traditions of delirious clochards of our mountains. The cult of revulsion was mirrored in our gloomy lyrics as well as in the reek of the cracked drainage in our rehearsal room, which was located in dark cellar and furnished by moldy egg cardboard boxes.”

Even though they started their musical journey at a very volatile time politically, their minds were off the worldly matters like the revolution, Iron Curtain, or the public in the streets. They played dirty, raw, aggressive metal on their 80s demos as well as at their handful of not-so-successful live shows. Some of the demo material would also eventually end up in their debut full-length, Ritual, which came in 1991.The album was just the beginning of what would be a very long, weird, and unorthodox journey for the band.

Coming out as early as 1991 but already one of the most forward-thinking, creative black metal albums of its time (as well as today), Ritual is actually the band’s most traditional metal album. Strongly rooted in the 80s heavy metal sound; with its guitar tone, production, and most importantly riffing style, it might as well be called “dark heavy metal” -a term which is embraced and used nowadays by a contemporary current band in the very same style, Malokarpatan.

Master’s Hammer had no intentions to keep things stable and play a safe, familiar sound for years to come. They say that while nothing is sacred to a typical black metal band, for them even black metal itself has never been sacred so they started “attacking” the genre itself right after their debut by experimenting with electronic samples -their adventurous attempts actually resulted in one of the most creative synth usages on an album in the history of black metal on their sophomore output, Jilemnický okultista, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Ritual took a smooth, mid-tempo melodic heavy metal sound and successfully made it darker. Small but tasteful keyboard touches, combination of harsh and occasional clean vocals, lyrics in Czech, strong occult themes, a more level-headed approach to black metal with galloping rhythms instead of non-stop blast beats, and the very clean production for a black metal album from ’91 all played a role in this. Another thing that clean production does is put the emphasis on the fantastic guitar work, the leads, and the solos while keeping every instrument easily and clearly audible.

The first intro riff of first proper track, “Pád Modly”, immediately sets the mood for the album. Surely, this does not mean that the album is a monotonous piece by any means. At parts it gets more beautiful, at some other parts it gets pure occult and evil but all the while keeping that unique early Master’s Hammer sound. A song that deserves a special mention is the title track, “Ritual”. A three-minute long instrumental song could never be any more successful to summarize the old school black/heavy metal sound without relying on any kind of harsh black metal vocals. It showcases the beauty, the melody, and the dark sound of it all.

Ritual would go on to heavily influence the Norwegian circle who released the first important wave of their releases in ’92 even though the album sounds and feels richer, warmer and thicker than any early black metal album that came out in Norway. More recently, with easier access to music thanks to the Internet; it is even more recognized how creative, ahead of its time, and influential this album was. The movement of some newer, modern bands directly worshiping the old school black metal sound with plenty traditional heavy metal in it gives us quite a bit of new albums with a similar sound and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone amongst those bands who wouldn’t consider early Master’s Hammer as a main influence.

Album rating: 100/100
Favorite track: Jáma Pekel

Originally written for RideIntoGlory.com

Historic - 85%

Felix 1666, September 23rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 1994, CD, Osmose Productions (Remastered)

After the end of the Cold War, the world was changing rapidly and so it was no wonder that the heavy metal community also was faced with new developments. Directly after the fall of the Iron Curtain, there were only a few bands from Eastern Europe emerging, but some of them were highly interesting and Master's Hammer were spearheading this development. From my point of view, "Ritual" always stood in the shadow of the glorious "The Jilemnice Occultist", but that's pretty unfair. Why? Well, the debut already mapped out the way for this masterpiece, because it scores with the same features that came fully into their own on the next album. Enjoy occult vibrations, mostly raspy, sometimes sacral or clear vocals, dark melodies, thrilling song structures and a high degree of individuality. The album was released by Osmose Records and this was the leading label in terms of extreme music at this time. Many band that were ahead of the pack, for instance Enslaved, Marduk, Immortal and Impaled Nazarene, were liaised with Osmose, it was a kind of "Who's Who" of black and / or extreme metal and I think that Master's Hammer enjoyed to be part of this unholy legion - especially in view of the fact that they did not need to fear any comparison with their western label mates.

At the time of its publication, "Ritual" was doubtlessly an extraordinary album. Maybe it is an exaggeration to say that no other band played an equal style in 1990, but the number of comparable formations, that much is certain, was quite small. The omnipresent darkness and the dotty vocals were almost second to none. Not to mention the Czech language. But compared with the further publications of the artists from Prague, especially those after "The Jilemnice Occultist", "Ritual" is pretty conservative and nearly predictable, because it avoids headstrong experiments. Don't get me wrong; I really like exactly this fact, because too many stylistic excursions hurt the flow of an album, at least in my humble opinion. In view of this mindset, you will understand that I appreciate the here presented debut very much due to its monolithic appearance. Its laudable stylistic straightforwardness goes hand in hand with the unvarying quality level of the songs. "Ritual", which is ornamented with a great artwork variation on the Osmose edition, cannot be blamed for presenting lukewarm or insubstantial fillers. All songs have a resilient fundament and contribute to the impressive overall picture. However, this does not mean that outstanding highlights are missing.

The title track is a comparatively short instrumental with fantastic riffs and a terrific solo at the end. The surprisingly good production sets the right frame - don't fear a communistic low fidelity mix. "Ritual" finds the right balance between transparency and twilight. Tunes like "Černá svatozář" offer the entire opulence of eeriness. Generally speaking, the songs commute between mid-paced parts and up-tempo sections, but Master's Hammer were not interested in celebrating an orgy of high velocity. Even though they were not yet aware of their experimental side, they also were not narrow-minded. Instead, they introduce timpani and keyboards to their sound, not in a main role, but as factors which increase the tension from time to time. "Zapálili jsme onen svět" serves as an example in this context. It combines melancholic lines with more intrusive sections. A tinge of sorcery and morbidity lies over the entire material and everything culminates in the nearly monumental closer. Atmosphere and force coalesce for the last time, some Celtic Frost influences from the "To Mega Therion" period shimmer through and only one conclusion can be drawn: "Ritual" was and still is an important, historic and artistic valuable album. It was released at the threshold of a new, non-socialistic era and it worked as an inspiration for the Norwegian black metal explosion. What else can we demand?

The first ever Norwegian black metal album - 90%

TrooperEd, December 13th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2012, CD, Monitor (Reissue)

It's a bit of a shame this album is only now beginning to be recognized for its influence in retrospect. You better believe this is a missing link between Bathory and the second wave. Unfortunately the language barrier (and the obscurity of the Ceczh Republic itself) makes this quite a Holy Grail. Hell you can't even snag a new copy of this from the usual Amazon channels (though you can get it for a somewhat reasonable price, you should do it).

While this does exude the typical blastbeat speed of second wave black metal at times, when it happens its done more as a hi-hat/snare simultaneous hit that some people use to cheat to play fast. I'd say the average speed of this album is maybe 40 or 50 bpm faster than Worship Him, which was practically doom metal at times.

The production is lo-fi but its almost fascinating how clear everything is. The guitar tone itself is a thing of beauty, raw and thick in that deliciously black way. A lot of these riffs aren't executed with your basic Celtic Frost open chord technique either. A lot of the riffs, licks and notes here deal with the upper notes and scales of the guitar. Granted that's practically a staple of black metal at this point, but that's more executed with tremolo picking. Most of these are thrash/early Destruction riffs put through one of the kvltest rigs on the planet. There's a few Priest harmonies, solos and just great heavy metal moments in general. Noctir in his review makes a great point on how alot of black metal albums had a lot of black, but not necessarily a lot of metal. I can safely say this is about 51% metal and 49% black, but no one will be confusing this for Venom anytime soon (nothing wrong with that mind you). If there was proper singing on here it would be much easier to claim Mercyful Fate's direct influence on black metal, as there are a lot of, dare I say, mainstream rhythms and tempos. But there are plenty of fast moments here as well. Like I said, 51% and 49%.

The entire fucking thing is fantastic, but I always pick highlights so: The catchiest song on here is definitely Jama Pekel, with it's chorus having the perfect chanting cadence to it. If I was Earache tasked with picking a single for this thing, this is the one I'd pick. Cerna Svatozar has a brilliant main riff with keyboards complimenting in an eerie way. Pad Modly does a great job of setting the tone for the entire thing, with the various tempos and guitar tones the album has to offer. Decny Navrar is the fastest, most typical black metal song on the whole album. Most newcomers will be thoroughly convinced of this band and album's black metal credentials at this point in the album, particularly with that brilliant Twilight Zone lick in the solo (Kai Hansen's influence perhaps). Zapalili Jame Onen Svet right from the beginning just has a riff and a rhythm that makes you want to bang your head against the stage and smash all the expensive pottery in your house, like proper metal should. The album's finest track is probably the closing number Wrok. Starting with a bass lick of all things with the guitar to copy it as a proper riff, the 7 minute tour-de-force has everything you could possibly want out of black metal no matter what your preference of the genre is (well, unless you're a symphonic black metal goth kid or something).

It's practically impossible to judge the lyrics and vocals unless one has a fluent understanding of the Czech language. But the raspiness of the vocals do more than enough of the work of adding to the album and band's sinister vibes (perhaps this is where Varg got the inspiration to write most of his lyrics in Norwegian). These are unmistakably black metal vocals.

Fenriz himself called Ritual "the first true Norwegian black metal album even though it never came from Norway." You have no business calling yourself an authority on black metal if you don't own this and love this. Hell I would recommend this for complete newcomers to the sub-genre altogether! If you find it, get it!

Highlights:
Wrok
Zapalili Jame Onen Svet
Ritual
Jama Pekel

Master's Hammer - Ritual - 80%

ConorFynes, December 12th, 2011

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.

classic album from the unknown czech greats - 90%

stonetotem, June 30th, 2009

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!

absolutely mindblowing - 100%

Abominatrix, November 2nd, 2003

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.