By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)
As many bands throughout Europe began to be more and more influence by Scandinavian Black Metal one of those pocket regions that rose to this movement was the Slavic regions.
Indeed there was an almost camaraderie between the two regions at least musically and they often respected and acknowledged each other’s influence on each other. Fenriz, the drummer for Norwegian black metal band Darkthrone, said on the band’s MySpace that the Master’s Hammer debut LP Ritual from 1991 “is actually the first Norwegian black metal album, even though they are from Czechoslovakia.”
Although the Slavic bands would general employ a quality that would eventually be known as yet another subgenre that is still flourishing to this day: Blackened Death. It was perhaps a combination of Czech Republic’s Torr (http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/T%C3%B6rr/4399) formed in the 80’s and Poland’s Vader and the original elements of Scandinavian black metal’s originators that influenced the early influential bands such as Master’s Hammer and Root.
Both Master’s Hammer and Root said Bathory heavily influenced them. In addition, Master’s Hammer was also influenced the by the extremely technical aspects which Carl Czerny and Giuseppe Verdi which employed in their compositional styles. Master’s Hammer enjoys a reputation among of the most respected metal acts as composers. Such influences among these early bands would lead to the orchestral metal influences in this region just as it did in Scandinavia.
Artwork on records became quite distinctive (and often unusual) in this region. One of the first contributions in this scene actually came from Master’s Hammer vocalist František Štorm, who did the artwork for Root’s first single, “7 černých jezdců / 666,” and their first full length, Zjevení. These and their later albums reached to other parts of Europe, namely to Portugal where the very successful Moonspell is from. They were greatly influenced by them. Root was indeed an early prominent band and was active until only about a few years ago.
In fact, many bands from this region enjoyed a longevity that unfortunately the Scandinavian black metal scene did not. Many are still currently active. One example that also has a great fan base to this day and who also solidified in 1991, is Behemoth from Poland. Their early works were demos on the small Polish label, Pagan Records but later came full length, Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic) in 1995.
A year later, they recorded their second album Grom: A stellar example of Black Metal in its starkest form, it is often the most overlooked Behemoth record. The album hits upon themes not dissimilar to Viking Metal with titles such as, “The Dark Forest (Cast Me Your Spell)” and “Spellcraft and Heathendom,” lead singer Nergal seems to be tapping into his own interest in paganism as Quorthon of Bathory did before him. There are decided Black and Viking Metal influences and the record (from 1996) sounds much older but the influences they took from all those elements and what Vader started in the 80’s, Master’s Hammer and Root in the early 90’s is how Slavic Blackened Death would become completely developed.
Grom as well as other early Behemoth records were unique and ethereal, but Grom was especially important, as it was a pivot between applying what they knew black metal as and the band’s starting to experiment with their own takes of it. Tracks with very madrigal style female and children’s vocals and purely Polish lyrics became something of an archaic harkening to Slavic lands in Ancient and Medieval times.
As Behemoth went on to be the most notable band from the Slavic region to refine the blackened death genre, we must not forget the bands a long the way from other regions that were influential such as Akercocke, Belphegor, and Sacramentum. However, Behemoth became more political and critical of Catholicism in their native Poland just as Quorthon was in Sweden and they are still going strong with many of these sentiments as well as thought provoking lyrical themes of many kinds in addition to exploring different subgenres of metal. On their new album, The Satanist (that we reviewed in March) they seem going back in time by using older methods and songwriting styles just as the bands of the early Slavic scene had done before them. It is good to know your musical history.
All of the aforementioned bands as well as some of the lesser known independent acts (which I unfortunately cannot decipher enough of the languages to adequately add to this article with accuracy.) But they all seem to all be going strong – Many since the 80’s. Which is an interesting contrast compared to much of the Scandinavian Metal scene where tragedy abounds. Maybe they applied their own cultural takes on Black Metal and instead of “praising Satan” they embraced Vampirism or perhaps they found a better balance with religious assimilations of their Slavic paganism and Christianity that the some of the Scandinavians did not. (At least not among the hype of the crowds.)
All in all, I find the music of these regions and the blackened death subgenre, genuine and both dark and ethereal… Very interesting music. Please check it out.
In addition to my Picks of the Week (from June 2014) leading to this article Here is a list of picks (as chronological as possible) for your enjoyment!
Vader – Dark Age
Törr – Kladivo na čarodějnice
Master’s Hammer – Ritual Full LP
Master’s Hammer – Až já budu v hrobě hníti…
Root – Píseň pro Satana
Behemoth – The Dark Forest (Cast Me Your Spell)
Behemoth – Alas, Lord is Upon Me