This feature was co-authored by Dzorr and Rhandgar
As black metal began to arise as a global movement in the early 1990s, regional scenes began taking hold. Beyond the infamous Norweigan one, many small regional scenes emerged in Sweden, Finland, Greece, Brazil and perhaps most curiously, the Czech Republic. The scene in this country had its origins in the 1980s as underground tape trading managed to expose a handful to the occult sounds of Venom, Bathory, and Mercyful Fate among others in spite of the restrictions under the iron curtain.
We have reached out to Franta Štorm (Master’s Hammer), Big Boss (Root), and Blackosh (Root, Crux, Entrails, Master’s Hammer, Nifelheim) and conducted interviews with them. Any direct quote you will find in the article below is from those Ride into Glory interviews.
For this article, we collaborated with Adam S. from Malokarpatan who essentially became the third author of this. Without all the information and trivia he shared with us, which for the most part was never in English, and his help with translations from Czech to English, this article could not be the same.
The Czech Republic was not the only country under the iron curtain which had a small extreme metal scene during the 80s; nearby Hungary had also managed to churn out at least one bona fide classic (Tormentor’s Anno Domini) as well as Poland (Kat’s 666). Yet the Czech Republic was arguably the only Central/Eastern European nation that had enough of a “scene” to contribute to the development of second wave black metal before it was eventually eclipsed by Norway.
“To us, the late 80s were still an age of oppression,” says Franta Štorm. “Although I could study at an art-academy for free, we couldn’t travel freely nor exhibit our work, and play live not at all, of course. Hence we were strongly inspired by our personal revolt, all the hate against the totalitarian regime and disgusting society. Musical influences were naturally limited behind the iron curtain, so tape trading was the first source of getting a picture of what’s going on abroad. But soon after the fall of the curtain, some interesting musicians visited our country, here I’d mention Laibach, The Residents, Diamanda Galás, plus some rock and metal stars, obviously.”
According to Big Boss, “It was mainly a huge enthusiasm. Making the music we loved. We were not affected, but we influenced many bands.” With that said, he adds that what got him into heavy metal was mainly Bathory, King Diamond, and Slayer.
Making the music they loved was both a way to escape from the realities of the time and a tool to fight against it. Franta Štorm explains, “we considered underground aggressive music our way of expression then. Apart from that we lived quite boring lives – me as graphic designer, other members of Master’s Hammer had their civil occupations as well.”
“In Czechoslovakia there was communism and this music was labelled as harmful for the youth, so we were getting our records at the black market. Vinyl records were incredibly expensive, therefore it was solved by dubbing them on tapes and then the vinyl was traded for a different record,” Blackosh recalls the early days of Czech black metal. “The ‘black metal’ label was already being used and I got my nickname Blackosh already in the 80s. But from what I remember, it was basically just Bathory and Hellhammer who played black metal. The later Scandinavian wave for example didn’t catch my interest and I wasn’t listening to those bands. Here in our country it was started by Root, Törr, and Master’s Hammer. We wanted to perform the darkest form of music and be as obscure as possible. That came with its own risks like being monitored by the secret police, concert bans and so on. I was listening to German thrash metal a lot, but basically also anything else I could get my hands on. I was reading a lot and watching B-horror movies. Lovecraft and many other fantasy and science fiction writers. This was our inspiration.”
Describing the Czech sound is not an easy task, but there are several adjectives one can use to describe it: curious, peculiar, unconventional…or just simply “weird”. If Norwegian black metal conjures images of snowy forests and Greek black metal transports you to the warmth of the Mediterranean; Czech black metal is more akin to an underground crypt permeated by the scent of sulfur and incense. The sound is much more thrashy in comparison to the aforementioned scenes, bringing in a heavy dose of unconventional keyboards and esoteric guitar leads that creates the perfect feeling of occult magic. In this respect, Czech black metal is different from other early 90s black metal scenes in that they took the theatrical and bombastic elements of early Mercyful Fate and Venom to create a new branch which black metal could lead to.
The local sound, according to Franta Štorm, mainly comes from their language and nature in general. He specifies, “but our specific sound was certainly born in our dirty rehearsal-cellar on cheap amps and one broken tape recorder with built-in mic – I mean the first demo with our mighty gipsy drummer Franta Fečo. Soon we realized that many bands sounded similar, but it was never our credit, other bands just had the same poor conditions, that’s the whole thing in my opinion. It began to differentiate with the first computers that changed songwriting dramatically.
“In my point of view, there is a distinct sound for Brno,” continues Franta Štorm, who himself is a part of the Prague scene. “Blackosh‘s guitar playing and composing, something quite unique, but I’d never say it’s because he comes from Brno, he’s just ingenious. We had our very last show in Brno, actually, in the famous Sono, the sound was just amazing! But again, that was in our sound engineer’s hands, and he is from Čelákovice, not from Brno.”
According to Blackosh, the scenes in Prague and Brno were very much alike in spirit. “There were no differences in the metal underground, just common enthusiasm for the same cause. In the second half of the 80s, I was already visiting Prague a lot and hung around pubs with guys from Master’s Hammer, Kryptor, Törr etc. We were friends, there were no competitive tensions and such. Of course we still to this day make fun of Prague people and vice versa. This rivalry is the strongest among Prague and Brno.”
One of the sadder realities of the Czech scene is that none of its participants ever achieved widespread fame and this sound has by and large remained dead. At least in the case of the Hellenic scene, Rotting Christ were able to gain international recognition. Master’s Hammer and Root may be well known names among those knowledgeable on black metal, but their names are uttered far less than they deserve. Only in recent times have certain bands been reclaiming the mantle and taking inspiration from this small, yet eccentric scene.
Pioneers and Leaders
In a time and a place with limited access to the rest of the world, Master’s Hammer were one of the first bands to embark on the journey to the extreme. However, even then they had set their minds not only on pushing the extremity of the music, but also the eccentricities. It was obvious from the very early demos in the 80s that they never cared about the accepted boundaries of a sub-genre and they were just doing what they wanted – constant creativity.
After a series of demos, in 1991 Master’s Hammer released their debut full-length, Ritual. An album that is somewhat overlooked in the nowadays crowds of “black metal has to be cold, raw, sharp, and northern”, but actually highly revered in its time by their Norwegian contemporaries just as much as everyone else into early black metal tape trading. Ritual carries the very characteristics of what we call Czech black metal in this article – melodic and bouncy yet at the same time with a heavy evil and occult atmosphere. It is one of the earliest (and still the best) examples of “dark heavy metal”.
Master’s Hammer had no intention to be stuck with a single sound and always wanted to experiment. Jilemnicky Okultista, a concept narrative of dark magic and the occult, followed Ritual and brought a whole lot of extremely creative synth usage to the table. The experimental / symphonic elements on Jilemnicky Okultista were majorly contributed by the presence of new member Vlasta Voral, who was a friend of Franta Štorm and not connected to the metal world in any way.
After these two masterpieces of “ancient, occult black metal”, Voral and Franta‘s shared love for avant-garde music eventually took over and led to the creation of Šlágry, where Franta kicked out the whole band except Voral. The album with its weirdness split the audience in two before the band themselves also split up only to reform after a 14-year break. While the modern material is less avant-garde than Šlágry, they are still way less traditional than the first two albums and have a lot of progressive thinking towards black metal.
One of the main reasons for this forward-thinking approach might be the very varied background and interests of the members. Franta Štorm reflects on the early days, “We never paid attention to metal alone, for instance I discovered Iron Maiden in my age of 40, never heard them before, and found them quite good. In the eighties I liked british electronic pop very much. Nevertheless, I beg your pardon, the mainstream heavy metal in our country is regarded as “redneck” music and I believe in other countries too. We were open to experiment, Milan Fibiger (the bass player, co-author of “Jáma Pekel”) used to play reggae, and Vlasta Voral (the keyboardist) came from a jazz-rock realm, the only true metalist was Mr. Silenthell, he passionately visited metal concerts across all Europe and enlightened us how it was like… And Mr. Necrocock began his delightful career of true pervert, and was way better on piano than guitar actually.
“That time we started to enjoy also a special genre called the operetta, with rhymester dull lyrics and kitschy music, and we tried to parody everything that came to our ears, using black metal manner.”
Between Jilemnicky Okultista and Šlágry, the band had a more traditionally black metal sounding album prepared, which was supposed to come out on Osmose Productions. However, it was discarded and never released. The working title for the “third album” was Zaschlá krev (Dried Blood). Some small parts of the material can be found on the “Heavy Metal of Eastern Bloc” channel on YouTube. There is a bootleg 7” containing these tracks as well.
Two of the longest standing members of the band, Franta Štorm and Necrocock, have been putting out creative art for 30 years. For the former it is not only limited to music as Mr. Štorm is an overall artist who has dealt with music, writing, typography, and teaching. Whereas the latter focused his inner creativity on music, releasing both conventional and avant-garde material with Master’s Hammer, Necrocock, and Kaviar Kavalier. He also had a black metal band called Necrolog in the 80s before joining Master’s Hammer, whose rehearsal material is likely lost in time. Another member, the drummer from the original line-up, Valenta, released some solo material in ’91 and ’92 in Czech black metal style of its time.
The third original member who is still with Master’s Hammer is a true sign of the band’s uniqueness in the sphere of black metal as he is Silenthell, the designated timpani player of the band. To make it even better, Silenthell was initially chosen for the band simply based on his looks, as he was a character the band knew from local pubs. They asked if he could play timpani, to which he responded he cannot, and that sealed the decision to include him in the line-up.
Franta Štorm reveals what the future holds for him and the band while talking about change and moving forward, “I love changes, development, the whole universe is moving, so are we. Art is like nature, it also has its seasons, dry years, good crops, flowers and also disasters. The metal period is over, the old albums belong to archives. We all need fresh air. Nowadays I do some electronic music.
“My new songs are still recognizable as derived from underground metal, but more focused, with simpler arrangements, clearer. It will take some time to release… Nowadays my music career is at pause, collecting ideas, filling my comp with them, nothing special yet. I do more painting, preparing some illustrations to my texts: an exhibition is ahead. For living I do complete visual identity for the Catholic parish in Sedlec near Kutná Hore (the famous bonehouse, you know). And I love my work there, it involves tons of typography and merchandise design, information system in cooperation with excellent architects, my friends. I want to be an architect in the next life!”
Recommended listening: Ritual, Jilemnicky Okultista
Unlike Hellenic black metal that was the product of a single small scene of people in Athens, black metal in Czechoslovakia did not have only one group of people carrying out the operation. When Master’s Hammer started their artsy approach to early extreme metal in Prague, there was another smaller scene in Brno with growing interest in extreme metal. Rising from the east of the country, bands like Root, Amon, Asgard, and later on Entrails had their own peculiar Brno sound within the grander scene of the country.
Root first started to get some recognition in Death Metal Session shows that were organised by Vlasta Henych, the main member of Törr, which also had an indirect but lasting effect on the band as they initially wanted to name it Törr in reverse. Upon finding out that there was another band named Rot, they eventually decided on the current version of the name.
Led by Big Boss who was initially only on drums for the demos, Root started out with a sound more in line with 80s early black metal of Bathory on the demos and the debut full-length, Zjeveni, with a hint of Czech weirdness. Much like the forward thinking approach of Master’s Hammer, Root had no intention to be stuck on one single sound, either. They gradually added more of an epic sound to the mix while chipping away the black metal parts after the debut. On their third album, The Temple in the Underworld, they found the perfect mix of early black metal and their later epic heavy metal sound. The album is full of melodic, smooth guitar leads and clean vocals all the while with a strong evil and occult atmosphere – which is no surprise because Big Boss was actually the first musician in the scene who had a serious interest in Satanism unlike the sleazy Venom approach of other early bands like Törr. For the most part, this album feels like the Czech precursor of the dreamy and classy black/heavy metal masterpiece of Agatus, The Eternalist.
After The Temple in the Underworld, they would move away from the old school black metal sound even further, embracing their unique take on epic heavy metal. Perhaps because the change in sound was not an abrupt change and more of a gradual movement, these epic heavy metal albums only feel like the natural next step. “It is a natural musical development. We always wanted to experiment with sound,” confirms Big Boss. “We did it consciously from the beginning. We do so today and in the future too.”
The “epic heavy metal albums” still feel as eccentric as the early ones and come with all the oddities of the local sound. The Book and Kargeras from this era are must hears not only for black metal listeners, but also traditional heavy metal fans too.
Root are still active with new material, but the peak of their studio discography is definitely the 90s material. The other “main man” of the band, Petr “Blackosh” Hošek, left in 2004, leaving Big Boss alone in charge and moved on to play in some other Czech black metal bands mentioned below. Eventually Blackosh found his way into Master’s Hammer and the classic Swedish black/thrash band Nifelheim.
With their latest album up to date, Kärgeräs – Return from Oblivion, Root not only thematically but also musically had a return to older ideas in a sense, while keeping the modern touch. We are definitely not done hearing what they have to offer as Big Boss himself announces, “We are preparing a comprehensive two-part album LEGENDA NIZOSTRATIO. Be surprised.”
Recommended listening: The Temple in the Underworld, The Book, Zjeveni
Compared to the two preceding acts, Törr may not stand out as much at first. They don’t have the eccentric weirdness of either band, nor did their sound branch into wildly different directions as Root did. Yet Törr need to be discussed as they were not only one of the pioneering acts of black metal in Czech Republic, but of Central/Eastern Europe as a whole. Even before releasing any material for Törr, Ota Hereš had already recorded what is arguably the first black metal output in the region – 666’s Nekrofilie.
Törr was formed in 1977. From the 70s until 1986, their sound went through several changes: hard rock and classic heavy metal, with Motörhead being their most extreme influence to that point. The change to a black metal direction comes with the arrival of Vlasta Henych in 1986. The first live appearance of this black metal version of Törr came on Christmas holidays 1986, in the legendary Cultural House Barikádniků venue in Prague – which was an important meeting place for everyone involved in the early Czech metal scene. This new style shocked the audiences and soon led to a generally more extreme direction in the scene, with bands like Root and Master’s Hammer forming shortly after. Henych was also instrumental in starting the Death Metal Session gigs, a series of concerts/festivals that gave exposure to local extreme bands.
They were also known for having a rebellious/provocative stance towards the communist regime which eventually led for live playing being completely forbidden for them by the state, after a live report of their 1988 concert in Bratislava, where a journalist accused them of fascism due to a misinterpretation of symbolism and lyrics (satanism was also mentioned of course). This concert ban lasted for about half a year, after which came an apology towards the band being wrongly accused.
Törr‘s first important record was 1987’s Witchhammer. This is arguably the most “conventional” of the Törr catalogue, a clear homage to early black metal pioneers Venom and Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but may disappoint those looking for some of the usual cookiness present in Czech black metal.
However, and perhaps due to something in the water over in the Czech Republic, Törr adopted some of that custom oddness into their follow-up releases. 1990’s Armageddon is by large a strictly black/thrash affair, but with a considerably slower pace in several songs akin to early Samael. Institut klinické smrti and Chcípni o kus dál continue that same trend, however incorporating more disparate influences drawing from death metal.
Törr’s contributions to Czech black metal and black metal at large deserve to be recognized. While this may be a controversial opinion, Törr’s approach to black metal could be a potential reason why the Czech scene retained much of its thrashy origins as the band served as a reference point for black metal and the Czech scene as a whole.
Essential listening: Witchhammer, Armageddon, Institut klinické smrti
Amon might be the only black metal band whose best albums are not under their own name. One of the earliest adopters of the Czech black metal sound, the band was initially formed in ’89 upon Dr. Fé’s departure from Root and they released a series of demos in the early 90s. Only after recording their debut full-length and going inactive, they were contacted by the cult old school underground black metal label of the time, Nazgul’s Eyrie Productions, who eventually released their first two albums – under the name Amon Goeth (which the band never used for themselves). The second album under this name, The Worship, although extremely overlooked, is one of the best examples of the Czech black metal sound. Opening with the eerie Lacrimosa (Dies Irae) chanting samples from the cult movie Seventh Seal, The Worship is full of smooth, melodic guitar leads ,and plenty of heavy metal solos. Long form epic songs are accompanied by one short and dirty Venom worship track. Perhaps without the unfortunate name and aesthetics choices for these two albums, they could get a recognition as wide as Master’s Hammer or Root. But instead they remained as one of the best hidden underground secrets of the country. After the Nazgul’s Eyrie affair, Amon would go back to their own name and release three more albums before splitting up for good this time.
Recommended listening: The Worship, Call the Master
Avenger are a band seemingly detached from the rest of the Czech extreme metal scene mentioned in this article. They are from neither Prague nor Brno and initially they had no member overlap with other black metal acts in the 90s (although this seems to have changed now with two of their original members eventually joining Master’s Hammer for their recent material). Sonically, they started out further away from the signature Czech sound too. Even then, they were not free from the odd and catchy melodies well known in the scene. The debut full-length, Shadows of the Damned, came out in ’97 and while it is mainly an old school death metal album, it is full of melodic leads that have a strong Middle Eastern feel. By the time they released their sophomore album, also probably their best output, Fall of Devotion, Wrath and Blasphemy, they had embraced a sound that is closer to Master’s Hammer.
In 2000s, Avenger would experiment with slightly different sounds like ‘modern-era Master’s Hammer meets early 2000s groove tendencies’ before they settled on a sound closer to 2000s Amon material, their black/death mix with a touch of the Czech sound they would call “Bohemian Dark Metal”, and after releasing their last album in 2017 they changed their name to Bohemyst. They are still active under the name although they haven’t released any new material yet.
Recommended listening: Fall of Devotion, Wrath and Blasphemy, Bohemian Dark Metal, Shadows of the Damned
Blackosh / Cales
Blackosh had different solo projects into which he channelled his ideas during his time with other bands. Even though majority of the material came post-2000, Cales is his band since the early 90s where he plays a more melodic, folky sounding metal/rock somewhere between Hammerheart-era Bathory, Kargeras-era Root, and hard rock. Blackosh, the project simply named after himself, is a more recent one. The debut full-length was released by Iron Bonehead Productions in 2015 and while not necessarily sounding like the original Czech black metal bands, the album is full of smooth and melodic Blackosh leads and riffs. The sophomore Blackosh album is slowly coming along as well.
“I’m not sure if I’ll want to make a new Cales album,” says Blackosh. “But I still spend time on this project. It’s a very disparate material. Right now I am working on a rock styled song and simultaneously also some epic material. Basically, this way I learn to work with new software, plug-ins and generally improve with production work. I turn to this more relaxed form of metal when I want to take a rest from Nifelheim and my Blackosh project, with which I am slowly preparing a new album. But then I very quickly find out that it’s a lot easier to do production for black/thrash/death metal than for a rock song, where everything must be in perfect harmony.”
Recommended listening: The Pass in Time (Cales), Kurvy, chlast a black metal (Blackosh)
Blackosh is one of the most important guitarists of the early Czech scene for his contributions to Root’s early catalogue. Throughout his career, he has formed part of numerous musical projects, with Crux being one of his first. The band was short lived, spanning two demos and a full length throughout the course of 1990-93. Given they were a parallel project to Root, many of the same influences shine through – particularly in the debut Řev smrti.
“It was great, even though short and fast,” remembers Blackosh his time with Crux. “from Crux there remained the excellent legendary recording Řev smrti (Scream of Death), which is still held in high regard to this day.”
A lot of comparisons to the more famous band can be made, as Crux sound like early Root with a heavy dose of thrash influence. There are even many interesting clean guitar interludes, hinting at the influences Root would later incorporate with Kargeras. If you like your black metal thrashy and with some unexpected twists and turns, you can’t go wrong with Crux.
Recommended listening: Řev smrti
Of all the bands mentioned here, Dai might be one of the most “out of place” ones. Stylistically, they hold a stronger resemblance to death metal than black metal, but their unconventional sound can be best described as Root and Master’s Hammer gone death metal. After a series of demos and an inclusion in Monitor Records cult Ultra Metal comp, Dai put out a full length before quickly fading away into obscurity – 1993’s The Advent. The on display bizarreness is already in full session with the intro (which employs Hungarian church music). Plentiful use of keyboards, killer bass lines, and thrashy attacks make Dai one of the most off-beat, unique aural experiences that the early Czech scene had to offer. It’s not a perfect record, given how disjointed it can feel at times and tainted by its rather long length (55 minutes), but still a good insight into how the Czech sound could have been integrated into death metal.
However, that was not the bizarre aspect of Dai. They were based on a weird mystical concept, established by a guy called Lexa Hambálek. He wasn’t a musician in the band except for the first demo recording as their vocalist, but he continued writing their lyrics and took care of their visuals. In an old fanzine, he describes it as: “an imaginary cult of evil that permeates through all human actions. DAI, the bearer of this cult, arrives and leaves in irregular periods. His first arrival reaches somewhere to dark heathen times“. DAI was some sort of an imaginary spiritual entity.
Recommended listening: The Advent
By the late 90s, Root had all but abandoned their black metal origins and opted for sounds more influenced by traditional heavy metal, folk and prog music. Blackosh, felt the need to have an outlet for his black metal songwriting and so formed Entrails. If you’ve listened to Root’s The Book, then many of the same ideas are present here. However, there is an undeniable Norwegian black metal influence here (the band aesthetics are a clue) with a lot more tremolo picking and blast beats – although with an undeniable “Czech” touch.
Entrails was short lived, releasing only one full length in 1999 and then an EP/split in 2000 before splitting up although the other members remained active in the scene. The bassist Igor joined Root a few years after the split and drummer Marthus has been drumming for Cradle of Filth for the better part of a decade.
Just like Crux, this band is also a thing of the past now, according to Blackosh. “Entrails was planned as a one-time project beforehand already and nobody wants to resurrect any of those projects again.”
Recommended listening: Serpent Seed
Calling Fata Morgana a black metal act is perhaps a bit of a stretch, as their music is more Mercyful Fate/King Diamond styled heavy metal with a dash of Venom sprinkled in. However, these bands are part of the first wave canon both for their influence on the music and aesthetic.
They were the first to start using a very theatrical, and for its time and place, extreme imagery during their live gigs. Thanks to this, their live gigs became legendary, as people had never seen anything like that before. Their stage decoration included a huge pentagram made out of bones and chains, a black coffin, candles, skulls, etc. This wasn’t at all appreciated by regime censorship and eventually led to their live appearances to be officially banned in 1988. This also led to them not being able to play at the legendary Death Metal Session organized by Vlasta Henych of Törr, which could have increased their popularity majorly. The band then split up into various factions under alternative names like Asterix or F.A.T. to evade police problems. Later they were able to play under their real name again, but due to various problems they were never capable of recording a full length during the important years of Czech black metal (early 90s), when problems with communist censorship were finally gone due to regime change.
Fata Morgana certainly play up both sides of the spectrum as they embrace the most over the top elements of early first wave black metal into their brand of heavy metal. While they released a host of demos in the 80s, I would recommend the Hroby se otvírají… Best of 1986-2001 compilation which includes many older songs of theirs re-recorded (making them more listenable).
Recommended listening: Hroby se otvírají… Best of 1986-2001
Tomáš Kohout is responsible for churning out some of the most demented riffs in black metal history as evidenced by his work in Master’s Hammer. However, a lot of people are not aware of his little side project, Necrocock. Parallel to the release of Ritual and Jilemnický okultista, Tomáš unleashed the demo Practices of Undertakers to the world. Influenced by his time working in a funeral house, Necrocock does a great job of capturing the ghastly and frightful ambience of such a place. While most of the bands mentioned here adopt a thrashier approach to their black metal, Necrocock slow down the pace considerably and lace it with eerie keyboards – making it more akin to the foul, doomy passages of Samael’s Worship Him.
Necrocock later went in a completely different direction, but Tomáš re-recorded the demo as the debut full-length in 2004 – eliminating most of the rawness, but keeping the unnerving atmosphere. Either edition is highly recommended.
Recommended listening: Practices of Undertakers, Praktiky pohřebních ústavů
Like Fata Morgana, Tudor approached to black metal from a very traditional heavy metal point. Unlike Fata Morgana however, their heavy metal sound was not necessarily of the school of Mercyful Fate ,but it was more mid-paced, a cleaner early black metal sound in its structure. Bloody Mary, a concept album in the true Eastern European spirit, is their debut full-length. It checks many boxes for the early black metal sound of the place: heavy use of bass guitar, melodic leads, tasteful guitar solos to carry the songs… They utilised some harsh vocals but for the most part clean singing tells the dark stories of the album. In addition to Bloody Mary, in the early 90s Tudor also released a series of demos that are long enough to be albums themselves. The early demos got the compilation reissue treatment several times later on. 14 years after the debut, they released another album, Bestie, which admittedly doesn’t have the warm atmosphere of the debut, and with its aesthetics and production tone it feels as it is to Bloody Mary what Tormentor’s full-length Recipe Ferrum is to their 80s demos.
Recommended listening: Bloody Mary
While there are many memorable moments on Master’s Hammer debut, one of the most unique elements of the records is the recurring use of timpani – a percussion instrument commonly used in orchestras. In the record, timpani served as a way to keep the listener alert and to create a sort of tension in the music – almost a “ritual” of sorts. Despite its potential, only two bands in the Czech scene decided to employ it – the aforementioned Master’s Hammer and the largely unknown Unclean.
Unclean was a relative late comer to the scene, forming in ‘93, releasing a bunch of demos and coming releasing their debut Ten, který se vyhýbá světlu in 1997. It should be said that Unclean shares a similar trait with Entrails in that the Norwegian influence is evident, but it’s mixed together in a cauldron with the weirdness and bizarreness of their Czech brethren. The record resembles Ritual with a darker and murkier atmosphere akin to De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, largely achieved through the use of the aforementioned timpani and a spruce of whispered female vocals. It’s not one of the crowning achievements of the Czech black metal scene (the drum machine doesn’t help), but definitely an interesting record in its own right.
Recommended listening: Ten, který se vyhýbá světlu
Coming from Brno, the same town as Root – it is perhaps unsurprising to see that they shared much of their sound with them. In fact, Asgard held a close relationship with them and with Amon (also from the same city). Together with those bands, their early sound makes this peculiar “Brno black metal” sound which all three bands share on their old material and which sounds different to Prague bands like Master´s Hammer for example. Their frontman Míra Horejsek can also be seen in the legendary Hřbitov videoclip by Root. Their first demo was made in 1990 under the title Road to Devil (Cesta k ďáblu).
Around 1990-1991, they recorded the first version of the Čachtická Paní Hraběnka Bathory demo, which was a conceptual record based on the life of countess Elizabeth Bathory (the band also made a trip to the castle for inspiration). This version however got lost, as the master tape was mistakenly sold among the demos. The more widely available newer version was recorded in 1995, with a cleaner sound. The best way to describe it would be Root’s Zjevení and Hell Symphony in a cauldron.
Recommended listening: Cachtická Pani Hrabenka Bathory
In the formative years of Czech black metal scene came a split compilation titled Ultra Metal from the Czech label Monitor Records featuring several early extreme metal acts like Master’s Hammer amongst others. Moriorr formed in the late 80s (also featured in Death Metal Session shows mentioned earlier) and they were one of the bands on the Ultra Metal compilation, which meant a full-length for all the participants. This, however, never happened as they split up in 1992 before they got the chance. Their 90s material is limited to demos they released and songs they contributed to Ultra Metal. Their 90s sound is somewhere between Master’s Hammer and Celtic Frost (especially in the vocal department). In time, they actually got back together to release an album that feels much more “modern” in 2007, which undoubtedly could have been very different had it come in the early 90s.
Recommended listening: Cholera, their songs on Ultra Metal compilation
Both EKG and Immortality are bands who are just now receiving recognition for being part of the Czech black metal pantheon, although they are not new bands by any means. Both projects have been re-issued this year by NWN Productions, loyal acolytes of the pre-Norwegian black metal scenes. EKG formed in 1990 and recorded enough material to release a demo in 1991 titled Doom. It was recorded with Vlasta Voral (Master’s Hammer) at Ivories Studio, where Master’s Hammer’s Jilemnický okultista was later recorded, and also at Pavel Kohout’s (Törr) Monroe Studio.
Their music is Czech black metal at its most bas–ic and primal stage, akin to early Törr with a handful of “clean” guitar moments and keyboards that hint at the direction the band would take. Nonetheless, it is a short and straight to the point black/thrash demo where no song exceeds the 3 minute mark. After this, EKG dissolved and the lead singer plus two other members joined other musicians to form Immortality.
Immortality were more fleshed out, including more keyboard interludes and unorthodox song structures. Immortality soon faded as well, but the resurrection of these cassettes is another welcome addition to the wider scene canon.
Recommended listening: Doom, Born in a Casket
A short lived project from Mirek Valenta of Master’s Hammer fame. The music is somewhat akin to a doomier Hellhammer/Celtic Frost with heavy emphasis on keyboards. Not the most thrilling project, but recommended for Czech black metal fanatics.
Recommended listening: Queen Alexandres
While we have been talking about the bands from Czechia exclusively, it is important to point out that the vast majority of the seminal releases in the scene took place at a time when it was a joint country with Slovakia (Czechoslovakia). Just as Prague and Brno had a differing sound, so too did the lone two acts from Bratislava.
Formed in 1989 (although Metal Archives claims 1990), they were possibly the first Slovakian black metal band. Listening to Necrotos’ small output (only the first two demos are available online), a cursory listen reveals they were influenced by Venom, Slayer, Kreator, Bathory, etc. To be more precise, much of Necrotos’s output feels like Teutonic thrash through a black metal filter. It lacks the characteristic weirdness of Czech black metal, but will appeal to those who are already enamoured with Törr.
Recommended listening: Zatmenie mesiaca v splne, Fire and Ice
Formed in 1990 (also in Bratislava like Necrotos), this band had more prominent thrash influences as they also included some ecological themes in their lyrical themes. They played local gigs but also in Czech Republic. Funnily enough, they used to refer to their style as “blash metal“ as in a combination of black metal and thrash with the biggest influence being Kreator. They managed to record a full length album during late August 1990, recorded more or less live in the studio as they had no previous recording experience. The weird cover art was done by a professional painter called Peter Paluš. They had plans to record another album (a double album in fact) which was to be called Choir of the Damned, but it was never done. The band is active again and runs a Facebook page (currently searching for new members as it’s only one original guy).
Recommended listening: Toxic Trash
Note: As far as we are aware, there are no available streams for Toxic Trash and Necrotos
As the late 90s and 00s rolled around, the Czech sound went into hibernation mode – although Czechia never stopped producing quality black metal. Parallel to its national sound, there were bands closer to the Norwegian model (Maniac Butcher, Dark Storm) and others who turned to different sources of inspiration to deliver unique sounds – Cult of Fire, Death Karma, Inferno, Stíny Plamenů among others. However, regardless of how the scene has evolved, there has always been a profound reverence and respect for what bands like Master’s Hammer, Root and others did to create a legacy for black metal in the country.
Perhaps this is why a “supergroup” of musicians from most of the aforementioned bands, spearheaded by the late Vlad Blasphemer (Maniac Butcher/Dark Storm) decided to pay tribute to the old Czech sound in the form of Zlo. Zlo was relatively short lived, producing only a demo and full length (Signum Diabolicum) before closing off. Their sole album is a faithful rendition of Master’s Hammer early work, sounding like Ritual pt.2. Whatever Zlo may lack in originality, they make up for it in sheer passion – capturing the essence of what made the early Czech records such unique milestones in black metal history. You have the thrashiness, the eclectic keyboards and the unique experimentation. It is faithful to its musical forefathers that you may be forgiven for confusing the cover of Věčný návrat as a track of their creation.
Recommended listening: Signum Diabolicum, Evangelium 666
Rising from Slovakia in modern times, Malokarpatan have a strong focus on the old school. That doesn’t mean that they are just blindly copying what was written before them, but instead they managed to find their own unique sound in the sphere of old Czechoslovakian black metal. It was already showing in their sound from the very first output, their dirty debut full-length titled Stridžie dni. After the debut they released Nordkarpatenland, the album that brought them underground metal fame with its cleaner sound that is somewhere between early Kat, Tormentor, Master’s Hammer, and Mercyful Fate. Two 7”s followed (one is a split release with Finnish black/heavy metal band Demon’s Gate – Malokarpatan song on this split also features members of Lugubrum, one of the weirdest black metal acts from Belgium who would deserve their own article in detail). Finally, they released Krupinské ohne, with which the band explored new areas yet again while keeping the core spirit of their sound.
If you want to delve deeper into the other modern Slovakian acts by the members of Malokarpatan, even though not all of these have that ‘Czech black metal’ sound, it is strongly recommended to check out following bands and projects: Krolok, Temnohor, Algor, and Remmirath.
Recommended listening: Nordkarpatenland, Krupinské ohne, Stridžie dni
There are some more bands who adopted the early black metal sound in Czechoslovakia. As examples, Terror were a group of young guys who released a few demos playing a thrashy black metal sound. A demo collection of theirs was released “post-mortem” in 2004. Demogorgon released two long lost demos. Satanchist formed in the late 80s, along with black metal they also experimented with grindcore on other demo recordings and they eventually evolved into a fully grindcore band called Hermaphrodit. Their only official demo Drtiči kacírských pohlaví from 1992 is a thrashy early black metal release influenced by old Sodom and Bulldozer with lyrics inspired by a book on the history of Holy Inquisition. Hexencave Productions re-released this demo on vinyl in 2013.
There are also other longer standing important bands (such as Maniac Butcher, Inferno, Stíny plamenů…) or modern bands (such as Cult of Fire, Death Karma, Kult ofenzivy, Triumph Genus, Cerny Kov…) from the region, although without the particular “Czech black metal sound” we consider the main point of this article, hence their exclusion.
From a musical or social point of view, it has become a common thing nowadays to look back to the 80s or early 90s to see and discuss development of extreme metal subculture in different corners of the world. In the case of Czechoslovakia, it is obvious that it was an attention point for very different kinds of social outcasts, especially considering the oppressing regime of the times. People of different ages and of all different backgrounds gathered around this “marginal” subculture to discharge their emotions. This is probably the most important reason why you could see a band like Root being formed with Big Boss being considerably older than the rest of the band members, or people like Vlasta Voral (who was not interested in metal at all) joining Master’s Hammer. Similarly, people in black metal bands back then also had relations with “unique characters” like Svatý Vincent, whose music is not particularly black metal but he was always considered an indirect part of the scene. Vincent’s works are loud, messy and improvised guitar noise accompanied by shoutings of bizarre lyrics about Satan or evil.
After nearly 30 years since the release of Ritual, Czech black metal has never quite become a signature sound in the same way the Norwegian sound has. However, both with the advent of the internet and the desire to explore the different paths black metal could have taken, a new generation of bands are emerging dedicated towards taking some of these sounds and making them their own. While not sounding exactly like them, we can all hear traces of Master’s Hammer in Malokarpatan, Negative Plane, Krolok, Cultes Des Ghoules, Spite and Funereal Presence to name a few. Labels like Nuclear War Now! and Invictus are key in exposing some of these new acts and keeping these sounds alive, bringing them to a new generation eager to explore more of what black metal can offer.
Blackosh agrees about the recent, rekindled interest in the old guards of the scene even though they are not still widely regarded popular worldwide, “legends are probably very much in demand now, especially those from the east. For example Master’s Hammer hadn’t played live for 25 years, they meanwhile became a tremendous cult and of course the fans were interested in this. But those bands definitely aren’t more popular now. They just hold their positions because they play all the time and are active. The Internet has given us a lot but it also makes things profane. Bands are begging for attention, they are spamming and forcing themselves on people. This is something that we luckily have no need for and we don’t want to lower down to that.“
Some of the original members of early Czech black metal are still very much active with music. Blackosh is currently busy with Swedish cult black metallers, Nifelheim, and he says it’s completely different playing in an international band compared to the old local acts. “The local bands here sit down in a car, drive a few kilometers, after the gig they drive back and they can go to work the following day. I have to take three-four free days off from my job and overcome huge, sometimes even transatlantic distances. The transfers are often very tiresome, exhausting and they bring a big stress, but I like it. The worst are the standing times, waiting or time pressure. Situations, where for example the concert is endangered because of some bureaucratic bullshit.” Regardless how tiring it must be for him, he is looking forward to playing live again once the current pandemic situation is over. “Thanks for the interview and the readers for their attention. I hope we will be able to travel and play again as soon as possible. This situation is really crap.”
When asked about the present and the future, “I don’t listen to modern heavy metal. I listen to Beethoven, Wagner … etc. I don’t listen to Czech bands,” says Big Boss. He adds, “But the music survives and goes on. I can only add: STAY PROUD!”
Franta Štorm seems to be on a similar page with Big Boss regarding modern metal. “some friends of mine used to feed me with their newest, blackest albums, but I never heard them, cause I’m tired of aggressive noises. I like Gus Gus, Scott Walker & SunnO))), Connan Mockasin, Tame Impala and of course Pet Shop Boys, seriously, I have already my ticket on their upcoming show in Prague in May, I hope the virus disappears and Boys appear… Please don’t take my answer as impolite, I’m thankful for the metal experience and still have great friends among metalheads, I love them all.” He ends his words with peace and love.
Epok · May 8, 2020 at 12:59 am
You really should have recommended Hell Symphony from Root. It’s a vast improvement over Zjeveni, but still more extreme than anything that came after. Perfect blend of thrash, death, and black metal with a vocal performance that rivals Attila Csihar.
Marco · May 8, 2020 at 4:47 pm
We just limited it to 3 recommendations max per band to make it easier for the reader and keep it consistent. Of course a band that has a strong, consistent discography like Root will have many more than 3 releases worth a listen. Hell Symphony is indeed a great album and that’s why we named the article after it!
Ricardo Campos · May 8, 2020 at 6:07 pm
Drakar is not Black Metal, so it’s right to be absent, but at least the Czech vocals version shares so much of that Czech Metal weirdness!
Marco · May 8, 2020 at 6:29 pm
Great call out! Not just the vocals, but the songwriting is so strange and very Czech. One minute melodic heavy metal, the next voivod thrash, and then aggressive drumming and vocals that almost feels like Master’s Hammer. Maybe there was something in the Czech water afterall 🤣
Neil · May 9, 2020 at 3:05 pm
Thanks for your time put into this; this is a great overview of a metal scene that I like many metalheads knew virtually nothing about. Now I have a frame of reference for all these bands that I hear coming up in metal discussions from time to time. This is another great reason I keep coming back to the Ride Into Glory site for my heavy metal music history appreciation lessons !
Umbrtka pan! · November 14, 2020 at 3:22 pm
You dodn’t mentioned about Umbrtka, excelent BM act from Pilzno, created by Lord Morbivod from Stiny Plamenu.
necrodictator · March 8, 2021 at 6:23 am
I think Styrax would deserve a mention too