In contrast to common black metal sentiment, grimness and over-seriousness do not necessarily equal to authenticity and true passion in the occult, unless you want to banish said occult in an isolated niche of your life and render it a mostly introvert spiritual activity. Moreover, everyday folk life incorporates both whimsical and solemn aspects. So, how can one appreciate the uncanny folklore, if said person essentially discards the “folk” aspect of it?
I mention this because my first encounter with Slovakia’s Malokarpatan, back in 2015, was somewhat troubling. How was I supposed to perceive this combination of dark folklore and not-so-solemn music that drew mainly from the early ‘80s? What mainly bothered me was the vagueness as far as the band’s thematic seriousness was concerned, having in mind the mainly shock value of the occult back in the days of Venom and early Bathory. In the end it was Malokarpatan’s sophomore album, Nordkarpatenland, which did the trick, sweeping me with its amazing workmanship and inspiration and bringing on a slight paradigm shift: folklore, even in its occult aspects, is not supposed to be all serious and historically accurate. Malokarpatan’s crunchy Venom worship is much more authentic than a host of bands that meticulously try to recreate an imaginary past only to end up worse than a renaissance fair.
As was the case with Nordkarpatenland, Krupinské Ohne, the band’s third album, has a very distinct character. From the onset it is evident that the Slovaks injected their music with an epicness akin to that of Quorthon’s middle period. After an imposing intro that brings to mind the soundtracks of Eastern European epics such as Marketa Lazarová, the album commences (and ends) with acoustic melodies that bring to mind the classic mannerisms of Twilight of the God (especially the namesake and Blood & Iron). The epic Bathory spirit is also integrated in the structure of several riffs throughout the album, as well in the few clean vocals (choral and lead). The main motor, however, continues to run mainly on mid-tempo Venom and early-Bathory riffing, upon which the group interweaves folk melodies and rich complex themes that verge on a lunatic ‘70s progressive rock. The lead guitars remain Malokarpatan’s spearhead, fully realizing their riff potential in the many instrumental spaces throughout the five songs, picking up some smooth black metal texture in the fourth track, as well as peaking in some larger-than-life solos. Atmospheric passages are also a large part of the equation, either with phantasmagorical keyboards or just bass ambience, as is the case in the amazing bog-like acoustic part in the middle of the second song.
Malokarpatan were obviously not developed in a vacuum – beyond the ‘80s aforementioned masters, Root, Master’s Hammer, even newer artists as Negative Plane and Cultes des Ghoules have been worked into their cauldron. But the group moves far beyond plain worship or even influence, to sculpt something brimming with originality, as the folk singers of yore built their personalized repertoire upon a host of past influences.
As usual with the group, the cover art is excellent, a sylvan painting with an evoking frame format, by their compatriot Svjatogor. Lyrically, this is a concept album based on a 17th century witch trial story, given in a simple yet effective manner. Of special notice is “Filipojakubská noc na Štangarígelských skalách” (Walpurgis Night on the Štangarígel Rocks) which kicks off as a spiritual successor to Inno a Satana and I am the Black Wizards:
“Allow my heart into the nights of summerlands
You who command the crepuscular reich
O’ aristocrat of the chasms, emperor over beasts,
I long for the secrets of your hypogean halls!
All-penetrating eye in the green darkness
From the top of Sitno you gaze down,
in the form of an enormous bear
Illuminate the path of my sisters,
who by the hooting of owls wander
through crossroads, gallow hills and ruins”
Malokarpatan have been steadily raising the quality bar throughout the five years of their existence. Nordkarpatenland was an amazing step beyond the debut, and Krupinské Ohne five long-winded songs (almost 50 minutes in total) easily surpass their predecessors in every aspect. Steeped with epicness and whimsicality -as the best of tales are supposed to be- this is authentic folklore metal at its finest.