Before Alkerdeel’s Pede mentioned you a while ago, Malokarpatan was completely unknown to me. I guess I’m not the only one, so could you introduce the band?
My greetings to Pede, cool guy! We are a group of long-time friends who have previously played in several, mostly black metal related bands here in the small Slovakian scene. We're all in our 30s and 40s, so not exactly newcomers to this music, although chances are high you haven't heard of our previous bands, since Slovakia is not much of a hotbed for metal in general. Malokarpatan first started as my solo project – I make all the music and lyrics – but it soon grew into a real band over a short period of time. We are inspired by the original idea of black metal – as heavy metal music with a certain philosophy behind it and a specific atmosphere, not a dogmatic set of musical rules. We write songs that reflect our local culture, specifically its dark, shadowy and grotesque elements. The musical legacy of early black metal bands from the eastern bloc has been dormant for too long and we try to build up on that tradition.
Comparing the line-up of your first and second albums, it seems that there has been quite shift in the line-up, or rather an expansion. Could you tell us why and how this happened?
The debut album was created almost in a jamming sort of way, very spontaneously. In the initial phase I was just recording it as a solo project at a friend's place, then I asked him to join in on bass and finally we decided to invite our old friend Temnohor on vocals. The whole thing was done very quickly, with almost no second takes for anything. The album got very positive response from all over the world which was a total surprise for us and we soon got some offers to play live gigs. We needed two more people to make it a full live band, so shortly after releasing the debut, Peter and Miroslav joined us as the new rhythm section. We intend to stay this way, because it gives the band an extra dimension as opposed to if it was just my solo project with session musicians as it was first meant to be.
Categorizing bands into genres and subgenres is usually quite boring, but in case of Malokarpatan it’s almost impossible. How would you describe your music and what are your main influences?
For me, bands as extremely diverse as Mercyful Fate, Venom, Tormentor or Abruptum and Burzum are all black metal and therefore I also view our music as black metal, in the initial sense of the term. Black metal wasn't magically invented out of thin air in early 90s Norway, those bands were already building up on an existing tradition. Today, I see kids making absurd statements like Bathory is thrash metal, ‘A Blaze in the Northern Sky’ is only partially black metal, etc. There was no stylistic blueprint for black metal before the Norwegian sound took over, it was an opinion and a feeling. I love the second wave style as well, having grown up listening to it, but I think there are far too many bands doing that already and we need some healthy variety. Our main influences are Mercyful Fate, Venom, Bathory and Tormentor but I guess you can hear some of the old Czechoslovakian black metal legacy in our concept as well. We also take inspiration from classic 80s metal like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon, macabre Italian bands like Black Hole, Paul Chain, some 70s rock including its experimental and psychedelic variants, old movie soundtracks and there are also traces of Slovakian folk music. I loathe 99% of what is called folk metal though and we have nothing in common with those bands. So, long story short, we have a diverse range of influences, but for me personally, the end result is still black metal. If someone calls it just Heavy Metal, I also have zero problem with that!
Apart from a very clear old school vibe, your music is also unmistakably Eastern European (this being a bit of a relative term, as anything is east in relation to The Netherlands, hehe). I cannot quite put my finger on it, so could you tell me what ‘it’ is?
I'm glad you can hear that! We sing in our native language, use samples of local movies and folk music, write lyrics about local legends – all of that contributes to the eastern vibe. But we also have a disrespect for any norms of good taste or genre boundaries. That's something which was typical for the pioneering East European bands back in the 80s and early 90s – be it Root, Tormentor, Kat, Master's Hammer, etc. None of them were conformists trying to fit in a clearly defined niche. We feel it as a responsibility to take this legacy and build upon it. There's a lot of bands in this music that try not to go too far from the norm – we offer a bit of East European craziness and anarchy instead of that. That being said, the band is still very metal in the most traditional sort of way. There's a lot you can do creatively while staying true to the roots of the music – and that's the main challenge for us into the future.
The album is quite the step up from ‘Stridžie dni’ in terms of production and songwriting. What happened in the meantime, apart from the aforementioned changes in line-up?
‘Stridžie dni’ was meant to be an ugly album with imperfections all over it. It was inspired by the spirit of underground and outsider black metal – repulsive albums like ‘Dominance of Darkness’, ‘The Return of the Horned One’, ‘Bruyne Troon’, ‘Hailstorm’ – and above all, the impenetrable medieval darkness of Bathory's ‘The Return’. Among a couple of newer compositions, I've used many old songs for it which I wrote when I was about 15-17 years old (some of them were released with different lyrics on a few obscure demos in the early 2000s, some never recorded) – I kept the simplistic songwriting to invoke that old spirit.
‘Nordkarpatenland’ is a very different album, although still rooted in the same concept. The debut was very instinctual – I didn't have any masterplan for how to do everything conceptually. Only after completing it I began to realize what lies behind it and what themes make it into this small Malokarpatan world. The new album was written while already being perfectly conscious of who we are and where can we go next with the idea behind our band. We've decided to venture further down the history of metal and write a black metal album as from a mindset of someone living in circa mid 80s Czechoslovakia. You only got a few evil sounding releases like ‘Welcome to Hell’, ‘Show No Mercy’, early Bathory, ‘Infernal Overkill’ or ‘Melissa’ and you want to create more music with that spirit. No rules, because rules don't exist yet. Of course, I didn't literally role-play myself into 1985, but the newfound artistic freedom within that context was extremely inspiring. And in the end, it sounds like a 2017 album, because only in 2017 you can retroactively think like this. Other major factors that contributed to the difference between the albums were: having a full line-up with a skilled rhythm section and using a real, professional studio this time.
Due to my more or less complete absence of comprehension of any Slavic languages, it’s quite hard to get an idea of the lyrics. Could you explain some of the lyrical concepts explored on the new album?
We always make sure to offer English translations for the lyrics, so you should definitely be able to find them somewhere online at least. There are even some local people here who don't understand our lyrics well because we use a specific dialect and many archaic words inspired by old Slovakian poets. Much as the debut, our new album explores the dark side of folklore traditions and superstitions of countryside Slovakia in the past. Up to the 20th century, we were always a very agriculturally oriented nation closer to the woodlands than big cities and in spite of christianisation, some elements of the heathen past were never successfully destroyed. Most prominently, there remained a belief in lesser gods and demons connected to the elements, the woods and the household itself. Our lyrics speak of them, their habits and sometimes about simple folk magic that offers charms to either communicate with them or ward them off. On the debut album, there were also some tributes to local viticultural traditions and one patriotic song addressing the future of Slovakians. This time, I focused fully on all kinds of spirits, goblins, demons and kobolds from the myths of our ancestors. I want our music to be a special kind of magical world where the listener can escape to at any time from the suffocating triviality and dullness of modern life.
The artwork of both your albums is very intriguing. ‘Stridžie dni’ seems rather mediaval themed, whereas ‘Nordkarpatenland’ has artwork with psychedelic undertones (mushrooms always seem to do that, don’t they?). Does this also fit the lyrical and musical themes?
Thank you! Interesting to hear that the debut artwork gives you a medieval feeling. In a way it's correct, because the ritual masks depicted on it go back to the middle ages at least. The first album had a more prominent wintertime carnival-like theme – half-men, half-beasts who roam the snow-covered countryside to bring fertility to the land, during a dark period of the year when sinister spirits are able to cross the border between two worlds and break free into our reality. ‘Nordkarpatenland’ definitely has some psychedelic qualities to it, in artwork, lyrics and even music. Not some superficial hipster psychedelia though – it's a natural part of traditional folktales that influence us. The hallucinogenic mushrooms are a gateway to this world of myth. The artwork is full of symbols referencing our culture, but it's not an idealized vision – it shows the darkness and madness that crawls beneath.
Do you have any live shows or tours planned, and are The Netherlands included in those plans?
Right now, we are having some shows here in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. There were plans to visit Benelux in December but unfortunately we had to cancel that because of some members not having enough days off from their jobs anymore. I really hope we can finally make it next year. The Netherlands are a bit too far away from here to get there in a car in normal time, so flying on a plane is the preferable option and of course not every promoter can afford that for underground bands like us. So far, next year looks like expanding more abroad concert-wise, so I hope this will include The Netherlands and Belgium as well.
Are there any other plans for the near or more distant future?
More gigs next year, including places we haven't visited before, most likely writing some new material as well. New merch definitely coming too. Third album might probably come in 2019. We also have some exclusive unreleased material that might get out next year on a limited vinyl release. We are feeling very inspired so next year will again be a quite active one for us.
Thanks for answering my questions. Would you like to add anything?
Thank you very much for the interview as well! I would like to send greetings to our fans in the Benelux, we'll do our best to finally plays some gigs for you next year. I also want to hail our friends from there – Pede and Alkerdeel, Maarten and Wederganger, Barditus and ex-Lugubrum and Jo and Babylon Doom Cult.