Contrasting this album’s artwork and that of it’s predecessor, ‘Stridžie dni’, can be a revealing exercise.
Both look great, but this newer record looks a whole lot slicker.
‘Stridžie Dni’ was an interesting debut from Slovakia’s Malokarpatan; a diverting concoction made from spritely 80s metal, a drop of black metal obscurity and a whole spicerack of folkloric oddity.
Clear nods to regional heros Master’s Hammer were all over the album.
It was satisfying to hear a group so clearly mine their local legends without the parping and ballbaggery that so many folk-metal bands deem to include.
Instead, there was a real sense of theatricality and moonlit malevolence at work.
It did however, sound it like it was recorded from one house over.
The ‘Nordkarpatenland’ artwork suggests this won’t be the case again, with a clearly-realized panorama of colour and mayhem in motion, compared with the stark charactactures of the debut.
That’s pretty exactly how it pans out.
The watery synths and picked guitars of the intro form a backdrop to Annick Giroux of doom metallers Cauchemar intoning some swooping Quebecois poetry. It’s an odd linguistic choice, but it lasts just for a fleeting moment before we’re plunged headlong into the galloping opener, ‘V okresném…’.
That first song proper has a name as long as your arm, roughly translating as “In the provincial Pond, a Water Goblin has been raging for Centuries”. You have to appreciate the wanton verbosity of these songs titles, and the desire to focus on the pastoral, the local, and the ludicrous.
Technical and rippingly fast a times, you also have to appreciate how powerful an opener it is. Complete with Mercyful Fate catchiness, evil guffaws and a wandering, highly enjoyable bass, the mix is clear as a bell. There’s far more power and presence this time around.
This strong production sounds like a group transitioning from studio project to a more ambitious entity. With a full line-up now in place, the hunch is they’ll be aiming for festival slots next, and take this circus on the road.
What ‘Nordkarpatenland’ definitely has going for it is character, and buckets of it. Take for example ‘Ked svetlonosi…’, or ‘When the will-o’-the-wisps begin to shine green in the bogs’.
A weird, dramatic sample that sounds just like spirits trapped underwater gives way to a thick, banging riff, odd choral samples and some icy cold atmosphere. Next we’re hit with some weaponized cowbell and more of that ripping guitar.
A seemingly drunken and detached-from-reality guitar lead sprawls across the end of the song, and yet it works so well. The head doesn’t stop nodding.
That said, there are moments when it doesn’t all go quite so smoothly. Sometimes the samples are just a bit naff, like the combination of a wolfish snarls with annoying trumpets (only select acts, like prime-era Emperor cant get away with parping, please). Thankfully, these are rare moments.
Speaking of Emperor, there is just the slightest nod to ‘Alsvartr’ on the intro to the album’s closer – a hint maybe of the group’s increasing ambition.
Unlike that band though, Malokarpathan haven’t quite mastered the art of sustained power, as the song works its way through the gears without ever really working up much of a crescendo. It’s a very slightly disappointing end to a record that started to so stratospherically.
One thing to flag – it is a true shame that most Malokarpatan listeners don’t get to enjoy the linguistic fireworks that are doubtlessly going on. You can read the translations at least, but there’s still the impression that you’re missing out on some quality stuff.
What can you do though? Clearly the band are nothing if not devoted to their tongue and traditions, and it wouldn’t be them without the gruff, grunted issuances contained within. Native English speakers, you can’t win them all.
As metal fans, we tend to have an appreciation for history and the folkloric. This record is absolutely packed with these references, and should you care to, hunting down these stories and figures is definitely possible.
These numerous tropes, and figuring out where the band have decided to take things, work as a kind of added bonus for those who care to investigate.
Sonically a huge step up, far more ambitious, and featuring some truly star-crossed guitar and compositional steps, ‘Nordkarpatenland’ should offer more than enough to satisfy the sonic wanderer.
A very strong second album.
4.1 / 5 – Lorcan Archer ::: 3/12/17