'Ritual' - Master's Hammer (8/10)
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.