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Ritual (1991)

Master's Hammer was a black metal band from the Czech Republic. They were from a time just before the Scandinavian sound came to be the be all and end all of the genre. This band has more in common with Tormentor, Imperator, Samael and Rotting Christ. I got into this relatively late, as it wasn't something that was common among people I've met. In truth, I rarely ever hear anyone talking about this band, at all. Ritual is the first full-length by this band, though they were around for many years prior to releasing this.

Many seem to have the misconception that black metal all sounds the same. In the early days, there was quite a variety. Even by the early 90s, there was still distinctive qualities between different bands. It was after the explosion of the Norwegian scene that the later bands decided that they must focus only on these influences. However good the early Norwegian bands were, that sound does not encompass all that black metal is.

The album begins with an intro, suitable for a horror score. This helps to establish an obscure atmosphere and leads into the first song, "Pád Modly". Immediately, one can sense the old school metal influences. The riffs are absolutely brilliant and this oozes metal. The vocals are completely different from anything I've ever heard, maintaining a very distinct style. Surely, the Czech language adds to this. There is such power and feeling in the music and the vocals. This is epic and the memorable riffs will continue to haunt the dark recesses of your brain for some time.

"Každý Z Nás" continues in the same vein, while remaining entirely distinct. Still present are faint keyboards, used to accentuate the atmosphere, not create it. Master's Hammer manages to sound evil as Hell without a grim or minimalist approach to songwriting. This is filled with metallic power, much like the early black metal albums.

The next song is the instrumental title track, "Ritual" which features brilliant thrash riffs and is like a mini-epic, similar in feel to Mercyful Fate. This is meant to be listened to at full volume. If this doesn't inspire you to set fire to a nun and defile her as she burns alive, then something is wrong with you.

"Geniové" is a bit different, featuring some chanting. This song gives the feeling of being on a long journey, with no end in sight. Perhaps riding through the mountains on a black horse, tired and covered in the blood of your enemies. All that you possess is your sword and a canvas bag full of their heads.

"Černá Svatozář" is next and begins with a thrashy build-up. This is one of the most perfect black metal albums recorded. Surely, they had many years to work on these songs. Far from being raw, the sound is powerful and the production is rather clear. In this case, it suits the music well. By this song, one begins to wonder how each song can truly stand out so much. There is no filler on this album. The epic, thrashy riffs and frantic vocals are joined by a killer solo, near the end of the song.

The next song is "Věčný Návrat", which begins with a wall of razor-like thrash riffs that assault the listener as the manic vocals soon join in. This song contains another wicked solo that is somewhat reminiscent of the theme from the Twilight Zone. The assault doesn't let up as "Jáma Pekel" is as fast and unrelenting as the previous song. This song, especially the chorus, has an anthemic quality to it. The guitar solo, at the end, is a nice touch as well.

"Zapálili Jsme Onen Svět" begins with a darker riff than the previous songs. As the drums and insane vocals come in, the the song slowly builds up in a great piece of nightmarish black metal. This blasts right through the gates of Hell and casts you at the feet of Satan himself.

"Vykoupení" is one of the last stops before the Ritual nears its completion. This song begins with only a sorrowful guitar riff and sparse drumming, before the rest joins in. For a brief moment, it gave the impression of being stranded at the top of a lonely mountain, in utter darkness, calling out into the shadows. The vocals and the guitar melodies have an extra sense of desperation and sickness. There is a sense of tension created with the guitar melodies that is well suited for building toward the end of the album.

Ritual ends with the masterpiece, "Útok". Even on an album filled with such great songs, this one manages to stand out as quite exceptional. It begins with a brief bass riff before everything else kicks in. The riffs here are even darker than the rest. This morbid epic is like a funeral dirge, at times, and contains some of the best melodies of the whole album. The vocals are inhuman and anguished, really reaching a climax with this song. There is almost a touch of real insanity in there. At times, it is reminiscent of Chopin's "Funeral March".

This album is as much metal as it is black, something that is often avoided in recent years. Master's Hammer created something majestic and unique here and it is a shame that they fell into decline shortly after this. However, nothing will take away from this monumental album. Seek this out, at any cost.

(6 Nov. 2008)

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