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Master's Hammer - The Jilemnice Occultist CD (album) cover


Master's Hammer


Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.19 | 9 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'The Jilemnice Occultist' - Master's Hammer (10/10)

The black metal 'golden age' of the early 1990's seems to almost exclusively inspire fans to think of Norway, with particular regards to the whole 'murder, church-burning, suicide' game of musical chairs that made the genre a seasonal favourite for media sensationalists, and a mark of concert for conservative Christian mothers worldwide. Of course, the appeal and mystique of black metal was by no means limited to Northern Europe, and as some might argue, it wasn't even the place where the best music was being made. Cut to what is now known as the Czech Republic; a band called MASTER'S HAMMER recorded their debut 'Ritual' in 1991, creating some well-deserved praise for a band that was doing some fairly sophisticated things with the then-youthful genre. By the next year however, much attention in black metal had scopes on Norway. Although 'The Jilemnice Occultist' (or 'Jilemnicky Okultista' in the original Czech) did not receive the degree of recognition and awe that it deserved, MASTER'S HAMMER took the style of black metal into progressive depths then yet unexplored by any others. 'The Jilemnice Occultist' is arguably the most accomplished black metal of its period, and even today holds the title for one of the most effective uses of keyboards in the style.

The band find their sound rooted in a meeting between thick VENOM sounding riffs, theatrical vocal work, and symphonic flourishes that many have tried to emulate, but none have managed to execute as well. The edge of the keyboards never attempts to mimic a full orchestra- something often doomed to fail within the context of a limited budget- instead, the keyboards are either used to provide spooky piano rolls over the guitars, or back up the guitars themselves to flesh out the rhythm. In taking their moderated approach with the keyboards, MASTER'S HAMMER evade the greatest fault I find with much symphonic metal, in that the keyboards will too often weaken the intensity of the guitar. Vlasta Voral's keyboard work is among the most distinctive aspects of the album however, and while it is primarily aimed to support the guitars, it adds a wholly new melodic dimension to the music that actually compliments the spooky occult atmosphere of the album. MASTER'S HAMMER's sound is incredibly vast for a black metal album released in this era, with the recording's only blight being the fairly weak sound of Mirek Valenta's drum kit. The musicianship itself is without weakness across the board, and though the songs themselves may not be as distinguishable as they are on MAYHEM's 'De Mysteriis,,,' record (this period's go-to black metal masterpiece) the songwriting on 'The Jilemnice Occultist' is remarkably consistent, although the second track 'Among The Hills, A Winding Way' may be my favourite cut off the record.

MASTER'S HAMMER hold alot of 'firsts' in black metal with 'The Jilemnice Occultist'. Most notably, this is the first time a black metal record was ever tied together with a storyline. Similar to KING DIAMOND's penchant for horror storytelling, the album has a plot where dark magic takes the centerstage, creating a complex tale that would not look out of place in Gothic horror canon. For better and worse, the lyrics are all rasped in the native Czech tongue, meaning that many English-inclined won't get to experience the storyline firsthand. Although this leaves many listeners to explore the storyline through online summaries and booklets, the phonetics of the Czech language sound absolutely diabolical when sung by Franta Storm. Although he already took his place as one of my favourite and most distinctive black metal vocalists with his powerful rasp on 'Ritual', 'The Jilemnice Occultist' has his vocals go wild, running from his traditionally dramatic and high-energy performance to griefridden sprechsegang that sometimes sounds like it could be Gollum shrieking. His very distinctive style may have some questioning whether they love it or hate it, but I can mention few black metal frontmen with such an eerie sound to their vocals.

The fuzzy classic metal riffs, ingenious symphonic touch and undeniable vocal brilliance of the band's frontman make 'The Jilemnice Occultist' still one of the greatest black metal albums even today. The band's debut had much of this same charm and occult atmosphere to it, but MASTER'S HAMMER's experimental risk here pays off in full. While the folks in Norway may have outshadowed the rest of the world with their antics, MASTER'S HAMMER matured the sound of black metal here to such an extent, that it would take other bands nary half a decade to catch up to them. A virtually flawless record.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |


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