Malokarpaten – Nordkarpatenland Review

This second album from Slovakia’s Malokarpatan has certainly been building a buzz in the break room at Last Rites World Headquarters. I guess I’ll see what all the fuss is about…

Usually, when an album opens with a mouth-harp and some tinkling chimes and bells and cows mooing, that’s when I immediately throw it in the trash bin. Or I move it into Zach Duvall’s review queue, which is pretty much the same thing. So we’re already off to a rough start…

Release date: October 31, 2017. Label: Invictus Productions
Furthermore, I’ll admit up front that Malokarpatan is working themselves out of a hole, after my one and only experience with their debut. That one also garnered some serious praise, certainly more than was deserved for something that sounds abysmal and held my interest for about four minutes. But, hey, once these actual songs kick in, I’ll be damned if they didn’t clean things up, and they’ve earned themselves at least a good portion of this effusive praise this time around.

Like that debut (2015’s Stridzie dni), Nordkarpatenland is heavily influenced by the folklore and heritage of the band’s native Slovakia, filtered through a thrashy proto-black metal aesthetic. It’s the former that creates the talking point, but aside from some more of those farmyard sounds and the occasional guitar lead or random horn flourish, the folk influence is mostly contained to the lyrics (which are in Slovakian) and the artwork. So while the folk influence is a talking point, it’s that raw proto-black spirit that ultimately is Nordkarpatenland’s selling point. Also, thankfully, unlike Stridzie dni, Nordkarpatenland isn’t marred heavily by an unlistenable lo-fi production, like it’s playing on a boombox beneath a blanket at the bottom of a well. It’s still pretty far from polished, but at least it’s above demo level.

But truthfully, Nordkarpatenland’s selling point is singular: riffs, riffs, riffsy riffs riffs, glorious riffs. Vocalist Temnohor keeps himself confined to a low growl, reverbed all to hell and just sort of growling along like he’s grumbling about not being the focal point when he’s the damn singer and all, and though it’s not a distraction, it’s merely window-dressing to Nordkarpatenland’s most appealing feature, which – it bears mention one further time – is its gleefully infectious almost-trad-metal riffage. Couple those with the acceptable rawness of the production, and the whole of it sounds like some lost European proto-black demo from 1986, rough and tumble and almost on the verge of complete collapse. Dashes of Maiden dance through the leads; the ragged bite of Teutonic thrash rub against NWOBHM-inspired melodies. Bassist Peter I-Apparently-Don’t-Have-A-Surname lays down some nimble fret-work beneath the guitars, almost out Steve-Harris-ing Steve Harris himself.

After all the barnyard shenanigans, the title track opens things with arpeggiated chords, Temnohor’s whispered snarl, and what amounts to a protracted bass solo, and it’s a fine start that I wish didn’t stop dead after only a minute – that idea could’ve been developed into an even finer moody piece.  But whatever, from that point, it’s about those riffs, riffs, riffsy riffs riffs, glorious riffs, and Nordkarpatenland doesn’t look back.  HV and As rip through a speed metal riff that, polished up, could’ve appeared on an early Helloween album, and then settle into a groovy second section with some guitar-hero leads layered atop. Temnohor pokes his head in every now and then and growls something or other in Slovakian, and then it’s back to riffs and leads and leads and riffs and riffs and leads. By the time the whole thing slows down into a dreamy melodic breakdown, it’s clear that Malokarpaten has a firm grasp on classic metal songwriting beneath their raw folk-black exterior.

All of Nordkarpatenland follows that lead – some songs are better than others because some riffs are better than others; the vocals never push to the forefront enough to matter; the drummer never falls off his stool or quite settles into lock-step, giving the whole thing that beautifully and perfectly chaotic thrash quality. It’s a vast improvement upon the debut, which attempted a similar ideal but buried it beneath some production atrocities, and I’d be even happier were the next album just a straight-up classic-styled speedy metal album, but I won’t count my chickens. (If I did count them, I’ll be sure to record them so Malokarpaten can use them for some random song intro.)

I typically don’t give a quarter of a squat about black metal or folk metal or folky black metal, and I don’t know anything about (or truthfully care that much) about Slovakian folklore, so a large part of that appeal is lost on me. But I do care very much about heavy metal, and in that aspect, Nordkarpatenland is a winner, and one from a band I absolutely expected not to impress me. When it all comes down, riffs win every time – riffs, riffs, riffsy riffs riffs, oh glorious glorious heavy metal riffs…

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

  1. Fuckin A, this is really good, excellent at times. Where the heck did this come from? (I know, Slovakia, it was a rhetorical question). A rocking, somewhat unusual mix of traditional metal and black metal (sort of).


    1. What do you get when you cross a joke with a rhetorical question?


      1. A rhetorical riddle? (Actually I dont even know what ‘rhetorical’ means. just thought it sounded good)


  2. Hey Jersey Devil, check out the Inconcessus Lux Lucis too. A less folksy, more aggressive take on the weird trad/black mix.


    1. Thanks, will certainly do that.


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