[Cover artwork: Svjatogor]
Over three albums in just under six years, Bratislava’s Malokarpatan have achieved a bit of a feat: they have managed to maintain their fun, slightly medieval aesthetic (both in their sound and their capes; we like capes) while showing consistent and notable musical evolution. Debut Stridžie dni was a trad-tinged black metal record with touches of folk, a heap of melody, and quite the raw production. Sophomore effort Nordkarpatenland dropped a good amount of the rawness (without adopting even an ounce of polish, it must be said) and greatly upped the melodic NWOBHM factor. This was clearly a band in love with the 80s but aware of what had been made in the decades since.
But what does change the sound is the new, expanded scope. Krupinské ohne pushes 50 minutes with just five songs. Many of the tools they use to fill this space were established on previous albums, particularly Nordkarpatenland, while others are fresh. But what really sells the album is how Malokarpatan manages to increase the seriousness and complexity of their songs while also releasing their funnest album yet. Krupinské ohne is about the Catholic Church burning a coven of witches in Krupina during the 17th Century, and was designed to call back to 70s progressive rock. Bizarre themes, a broad scope, and tip-top musicianship—seriousness with a smile, to be sure.
To properly detail the album’s fun factor, we must jump right to the closing title track. The chorus features a long line yelled out in Malokarpatan’s version of gang vocals before a huge, protracted, and slightly belligerent set of “WOAHs.” It’s a blast, and gives the impression that there were a lot of grins in the studio, but the journey to and from that point is just as, if not more important. As soon as the heaviness emerges from the acoustics in the song’s opening moments, there’s a feeling of bigness to every trilly riff, glorious hi-hat shuffle (the drumming is glorious throughout), and moving bit of melody. After the second chorus, the song opens up into doomier melodies, some chimes, and eventually a Dissectiony drive that communicates a sense of finality not just for the song, but the album as a whole.
That finality, that ability to arrive somewhere, is hugely beneficial to Malokarpatan in this new, proggier landscape. Opener “V brezových hájech poblíž Babinej zjavoval sa nám podsvetný velmož” would be cool enough on its own if it was just the sum of its many neat parts: the hugely bombastic and overtly Bathoryness of its opening minutes (complete with distant chants), the sassy, slow-black/thrash riffing, the late 70s prog synths during some slower passages, and some seriously Maideny hammer-pull leads. But the band is able to seamlessly weave all this together into a coherent journey that makes 13 minutes seem to go by in a flash; that’s the key.
Elsewhere, the band seems to be pushing their influences farther in all directions, ever without losing the coherence of the songs. For example, “Ze semena viselcuov čarovný koren povstáva” spends a lot of its time in Malokarpatan’s fully-blended black/trad sound, but eventually takes on more bluesy sounds, gets positively Tiptonish during a late solo, and reminds a bit of Faustcoven with its doomy finish (a not unfair comparison in terms of the black/trad mentality, if not the exact sound). “Filipojakubská noc na Štangarígelských skalách,” meanwhile, is the most overtly blackmetal song on the record (with a folksy, slightly Drudkhian lead), but still includes a fair amount of castle-y synths, acoustic passages, and chunkier trad riffing. It’s all typically quite lush, but always behind a bit of a shroud or haze.
Malokarpatan’s obvious reverence for their influences made it necessary to use a lot of band names as adjectives, but they have the skills to pull off anything they choose, and the personality to assure that nothing ever feels like copied. Krupinské ohne is a rather diverse record made whole and thrilling through the band’s songcraft and talents, and one that keeps revealing secrets – of both the enchanting and downright fun varieties – many spins in. At this point, it is clear that Malokarpatan is not a band content on ever sitting still, but like many of their influences, they’re great not just because they keep evolving, but because they can surprise while somehow delivering just what the doctor ordered.