Interview: Malokarpatan (2023) | From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Malokarpatan

Malokarpatan’s entire body of work, from the covers and promotional band photos to the actual music, paints the portrait of a band that doesn’t seem to belong in the space-time continuum of the contemporary world. Everything about your music and the way it’s presented feels purposely anachronistic, almost démodé. Is this a fair thing to say?

Adam: It is. I would say, the only way in which we are a modern band is that we have a sort of retrofuturistic outlook on what we do. All of our inspiration, be it musical, lyrical, or visual, comes from the past but we don’t want to create a cheap copy of the past. We combine a lot of different vintage influences into our own blend, but always hope for a sort of timelessness in the end product. How successful we are in that is up to the fans and time itself to decide. Maybe there is a hidden question as in why is it that way in the first place, why focus on the past? For me, that’s because I think we are living in the end of an era. There is no truly revolutionary, strong movement in any form of art emerging and it has been that way since at least the ’90s, though I would go even further past. Our civilization is tired and limping. So I look back at the early ’70s, for example, and see all this incredibly innovative and inspired music coming out at that time, completely uncommercial bands like Tangerine Dream being in album charts, all the movement after “Sgt. Pepper’s” changed the face of music forever. And the best I can do as an individual is take inspiration from that multitude of fascinating music, then try to make it into my own interpretation. In metal, I take inspiration especially from the ’80s, because that was its exploratory era, up to the early ’90s. I don’t know what the furthest extremes are that metal has developed into, maybe Sunn O))) or Portal? That probably works for a lot of people and I respect that, but personally I’m a fan of good, memorable songwriting so I have very little interest in disharmonies and drones. I try to take the best of past music, filter it through my limited abilities as a musician and then create the best possible record while looking into the future. There’s a lot of escapism in our music, but we’re not trying to time-travel back.

Do you as people also feel discontent living in the here and now, or is it only your music that’s unapologetically stuck in the past?

Adam: I can only speak for myself as we are all quite different individuals. I’m at peace with living where I live, because there’s nothing one can do about it anyway. The modern world feels very suffocating to me, I see how humanity is becoming more stupid the further we go, but that’s the timeframe I’ve been born into and I have to accept that. There’s no sense in mourning this development if one is aware of Hesiod’s Ages of Man or the Hindu ages of the world. Same as spring always temporarily triumphs over darkness and death, there will at some point be a healthier world after us, we just live in one of the winters of the world. And all of us are exactly where we belong, no matter how alienated the more sensible among us may feel. Most of us wouldn’t survive a month of pre-industrial conditions, however idyllic they appear with their lack of office jobs, YouTube commercials and suicides from loneliness. The gods roll the dice and the best we can do is give a good fight during our short time here.

Is Slovakia conducive to such a past-oriented mindset, in the sense that the modernity of Western civilisation, to which it belongs geographically, hasn’t swallowed it entirely yet?

Adam: We’re still somewhat at the crossroads, like traditionally the countries in Central and Eastern Europe are, being a bridge between two different models of civilization. People are more in touch with their soil here so to speak, but the process of globalization is long in the works and it hastens with each younger generation. So when it comes to our original culture being replaced with Subway, TikTok and watermelon vapes, we’re just dying a slower death than countries further west ˗ and partially east ˗ but ultimately share the same fate. Everything is as it’s meant to be.

Bestial Devotion of Negative Plane and Funereal Presence fame once said that conveying the superstitious, obscure pseudo-medieval, dark feeling in his music was of paramount importance to him. Would you say that your music reflects the same or similar ambition, at least partially?

Adam: Not necessarily just medieval in our case, but I believe it applies to us as well. Bestial Devotion is a good friend of mine and we share a lot of views on music and those otherworldly elements that make music great. When I think of my most important inspirations for this kind of music ˗ Mercyful Fate, Bathory, Tormentor, Celtic Frost and even Venom ˗ they all share that otherworldly feeling, something mysterious and eerie which we can feel rather than rationalize. Like Fenriz said when discussing ’80s black metal, black metal is mostly a feeling. You listen to songs like “At the Sound of the Demon Bell” or “Necromantical Screams” and just feel it. When I listen to a lot of modern bands with constant hyperfast blastbeats and random riffs that remind me more of ambient noise than heavy metal, I just can’t hear that touch of the world beyond. It sounds like mere music to me, made to impress a specific crowd, without the artist wearing their heart on the sleeve.

What is the purpose Malokarpatan, unlike any of your other bands, serve to each of you individually, what’s that particular itch that only Malokarpatan can scratch? Can you put a finger on it?

Adam: As I write the majority of our material, it’s of course a creative outlet for me in the first place, an extremely important one. This is probably a bit different for others, but it’s hard for me to judge, having the perspective that I have. It’s actually somewhat difficult for me to grasp the essence of Malokarpatan. As I mentioned, it’s very much a specific feeling. I think, or at least I hope, that we have an essence of our specific Central European region and its rich history embedded in our work. The mysterious folklore of the Carpathian mountains, the medieval castles scattered across our land, Countess Bathory and the legends of vampires, folktales, 19th century Slovak Romanticism poetry, but also the Habsburg monarchy and Czechoslovakia in the 20th century with artists like Jan Švankmajer or Juraj Jakubisko. All of that is in our DNA, the various empires we’ve been part of, the influence of nearby nations with which we share our history, etc. Malokarpatan is a voice for all that, trying to create music that comes from within us more than from outside of us.

Does “Vertumnus Caesar” sound the way it sounds because the songs asked for that particular sound and is this merely the first in the long line of clean and warm-sounding Malokarpatan records?

Adam: I can’t predict the future of course, but the way I see it now, it sounds the way it sounds because the album itself asked for it. Our influences from various forms of experimental/progressive rock of the late ’60s and early ’70s came to their peak with this record and all those different layers of instruments and arrangements simply needed a cleaner sound so they could all co-exist. The other reason why we decided to collaborate with Olof Wikstrand is his strong background in traditional heavy metal. I wanted to have that strong heavy metal backbone to hold it all together. Our influences range all the way from “In the Court of the Crimson King” to “Jilemnický okultista” and since we decided to make an album that is unlimited in its freedom of varying styles, it needed a good glue. So we tried to mix it like a mid ’80s Iron Maiden record would be mixed ˗ polished and detailed, but still organic and warm. We always work with someone new for both the artwork and mix to avoid creative stagnation, so all I can say is that the next album will again be different.

Malokarpatan Interview 2023 (Band)

It has become a cliché at this point to always praise any band’s latest album as their best one, but it indeed feels that everything came together perfectly for you on “Vertumnus Caesar”. Between the songwriting, production and visual presentation, do you also feel that this is your most rounded statement yet?

Adam: It absolutely is a cliché, and one that I detest myself (laughs). Being a musician, I can’t help but feel like this is our strongest statement yet, and the most Malokarpatan Malokarpatan album, if you know what I mean. But, as I also have a one-album affair with several of my favourite bands, I completely understand if someone only likes our primitive and filthier debut for example. We always change with each album, while keeping the core essence of the band. Each one of our albums has a certain group of fans that considers it the best and I’m actually very happy about that. The most popular one tends to be “Nordkarpatenland” because of its instant catchiness I guess, but there are even a couple of weirdos who consider “Krupinské ohne” our peak, which is fantastic.

Considering how melody-driven “Krupinské ohne” was, it seemed very likely that “Vertumnus Caesar” would continue moving in that direction. Do you feel that your sound could at some point significantly loosen its ties with black metal, or completely cut them altogether?

Adam: Funny how views differ here, because I think “Krupinské ohne” was a far darker and less melodic album after “Nordkarpatenland”. I think of it as kind of a weird alternative dimension twin of the debut, despite how different they are. What we took over from “Krupinské ohne” is the increasing fascination for the ’70s progressive rock and the use of instruments not traditionally associated with metal music. That culminated on “Vertumnus Caesar” and will probably decrease on the following record. You can’t keep overorchestrating forever, at one point there’ll be too many cards and the house crumbles. In that way I also don’t see us abandoning the black metal framework, it’s definitely not my intention.

On the most general of notes, if you had to decide which style is the backbone of your sound, would you say that Malokarpatan is a heavy metal band with prominent black and prog undertones, or a black metal band strongly influenced by the ’80s heavy metal and ’70s prog?

Adam: We come from black metal roots and it’s the genre where I still feel the most at home musically and ideologically, I just have a wider and perhaps more archaic understanding of black metal than what is common today. That said, I don’t care about some ultra-anal genre definitions in our case, people can call it just heavy metal for all I care. I personally get into a black metal mood listening to the first Cloven Hoof album, Pentagram, or even early Black Sabbath. That feeling of foreboding spiritual forces lurking in forgotten corners has been there, ever since 1969. That’s our preferred tradition, and if people think black metal is only when you sound like Dark Funeral, to each their own I guess. For me, “Don’t Break the Oath” is as black metal as it gets and I think we are a bit rougher than that musically. It’s all about the atmosphere and lyrics to me, like I said I get a black metal feeling even from early NWOBHM or certain ’70s rock bands. I also see all the different elements of our sound as part of one big whole, which I don’t blame others if they don’t see that way, but it makes absolute sense to me. I get the same otherworldly foreboding feeling from Tormentor, Angel Witch, Phantom’s “Divine Comedy” or medieval troubadour songs. There’s the same old underlining human thirst in all of that music, for the understanding of what lies beyond. It’s all a huge web for me, where I like to explore the outermost layers.

Were there any thoughts, concepts, or ideas from your private life that carried a certain relevance in terms of building “Vertumnus Caesar” around?

Adam: You’re actually the only one who asked this. I don’t want to go into specific detail, but 2022 has been one of the darkest years of my life, when at one point I lost almost everything dear or important to me, all one by one. I was so fucked up mentally, I didn’t even meet with close personal friends for over half a year. I wrote the last song on “Vertumnus Caesar” during this period, the other songs are all from 2020-2021. So in certain parts there, you can hear me going through a fucking awful period of my life and then ultimately giving the best fight I can give. Within the album context, this is a song where Emperor Rudolf is in his final days, when he was stricken with paranoia, drunkenly roaming the corridors of Prague castle at night searching for enemies that he imagined were sent to assassinate him. He allegedly turned to black magic and blood sacrifice in one final attempt to avert his downfall caused by his brother Matthias replacing him. The reason I am attracted to Rudolf’s story in the first place is because his melancholic, spiritual, eccentric and loner personality reminds me of my own life in certain areas. I’ve been fascinated by him basically for all my life, so the record is a particularly personal one for me.

Would you subscribe to the notion that “Vovnútri chlácholivého útočišta kunstkamru” bears a certain similarity to the King Diamond’s songs like “Burn” or “Lies” in terms of how abruptly they pick up the tempo and mood of their respective albums?

Adam: Never thought of that similarity, but it makes a lot of sense. King Diamond is a tremendous inspiration for me, there’s not many bands better than both his solo group and Mercyful Fate and I listen to both constantly. I have a special soft spot for his proggy era during “Conspiracy” and “The Eye”, his creativity was peaking during that time. The song you mentioned was originally meant to be placed several tracks later in the album’s course, but it never made proper sense until I put it exactly where it is now. It’s like that one final kick of vital energy before the album becomes dreamier and darker. Placement of songs on albums is an art in itself and it’s super important to me, to the point of extreme overthinking sometimes. On “Vertumus Caesar” I was really going for that perfect song order that I admire on classic metal and rock albums.

The mesmerizing keyboard break right at the midpoint of “Panstvo salamandrov jest v kavernách zeme” is ironically also the midpoint of the album itself, more or less. Would you say that that’s where “Vertumnus Caesar” as an album reaches its apex?

Adam: Once again, with the instrumental song, it’s a question of the perfect song placement I was after. I thought it would work best as a bridge between the two different sides of the album, the first one being more vital and apollonian, the second one introspective and dyonisian ˗ following the course of Rudolf’s life itself. I don’t think the album reaches its apex there though, as my favourite song by far is the last one on the record, which we tried to make as climactic as possible.

Did you know from the start that “Panstvo salamandrov jest v kavernách zeme” would end up being an instrumental piece?

Adam: Yes. I’m not always a total control freak with the music and often just let it take me wherever it wants to go, but this was one of those cases where there was a clear plan. What completely changed it though was the wonderful contributions from The Templar and The Sorceress from Hands of Orlac who added synthesizers and flute to the song after I asked them. I credited The Templar as a co-writer because his synth lines made the song into a completely new thing. Being an Italian, he is naturally highly influenced by Goblin and that contributed to the already wide mix of influences I had for the instrumental song, as I wanted it to shift through various moods. My influences were early solo albums from Ozzy, baroque music, ’80s heavy metal, Popol Vuh and psychedelic rock.

Malokarpatan Interview 2023 (Vertumnus Caesar)

Do you sometimes feel that feeding the beast that is Malokarpatan is more of a curse than a blessing?

Adam: Only when handling the practical side of things, like dealing with shitty business-minded people, the occasional bad gigs, etc. Those can sometimes make me feel like “fuck this, I’m done”. But a few weeks later I’ll write a new song I get excited about and the magic is back. We’re still just an underground band with a worldwide but limited following, so it doesn’t often get worse than just having to respond to annoying messages (laughs).

When it comes to the poetic value of your lyrics, the stories they tell and the way they tell them, do you feel that on a linguistic and semantic level Slovak language has clear advantages over other languages, that those particular narratives wouldn’t feel quite as authentic in any other language?

Adam: It’s pretty much the exact opposite! Slovak language is incredibly difficult to write good sounding lyrics in because it’s very soft, even though it might sound rougher to foreigners. So many words will inevitably sound sillier than they would in English. I don’t actually use the literary Slovak language for our lyrics, but a sort of freeform mixture of local countryside dialects with a lot of archaic and poetic words. I also take inspiration from the unofficial, historical types of Slovak language that were used before the one that is accepted today. On our previous album, it was 17th century speech for example, because the album story itself comes from that era. I work my ass off on all of this, which is ironic because so few people can understand and appreciate that due to the language barrier. I always think about switching to English in order to make things easier for myself. So far I’ve kept the Slovak lyrics just because of the additional layer of originality they add sonically. I might finally change it with the next album, though I’ve so far resisted that temptation.

Is deciding on narratives, developing them through lyrics and coming up with song and album titles, that all testify to your undeniable love of storytelling, as important and fulfilling part of the creative process as making the actual music?

Adam: Yes, equally as important. Also, the visuals must match, it’s all a syncretic work. I want to take the listener on an oneiric journey to other worlds and times, because that’s the ultimate value of art to me, to create an alternative to our depressing reality. I don’t care about sharing my personal feelings in the songs, I want to tell stories and paint pictures. Being too obsessed with your own inner feelings is a modern thing, all the great art of old was depicting stories, be it historical, Biblical, or mythological. You can, of course, put your own soul into that during the process, but it ideally should be a part of a greater whole that is more important than yourself.

Do you feel that your lyrics are strong enough to stand on their own, without music to back them up, as some kind of unconventional poetry?

Adam: I would hope so, but others are to judge (laughs). I am my own worst critic and often throw away tons of lyrics because I feel like they are too trivial. It’s also why I enjoyed writing lyrics for the second Krolok album, because when it’s not my own band, I suddenly gain a lot more freedom. The Slovak and Czech people who are able to understand the lyrics usually enjoy them, so I guess they aren’t crap at least. I always make sure to do the best possible English translations for them as well, even though so much gets lost in translation because of the peculiar type of speech I use.

Does the song “O víne, kterak učený Hugolín Gavlovič z Horovec vyprával” paint Hugolín Gavlovič in a positive or negative light, given his priesthood on the one hand, and his significance as the baroque poet on the other?

Adam: That song is pretty much a Venom moment of the album, like Venom at their most neanderthal mode. The poem warns about the negative effects of wine drinking, so using it was basically a mockery, but still with a hint of homage to it, as I respect him as one of the early Slovak writers. It’s a bit difficult to explain the subtleties of this to people from other cultures, but Slovak folklore has this important element of grotesque humour to it, which I explored among the more immediately serious themes on the first two records. You can think of the weirder moments of Master’s Hammer or Tormentor’s misunderstood “Recipe Ferrum” album, those tap from the same source as our cultures here are similar.

Is Hugolín Gavlovič’s capital literary work “Valašská škola, mravúv stodola” something you would recommend as a work capable of being properly understood outside of Slovakian cultural context?

Adam: Not necessarily, there are definitely better works to understand the Slovak psyche that were written during the 19th and 20th centuries. His book is more like a moral preaching of a pious priest, the Slovak characteristics of it could be maybe his humorous hints and his love towards simple peasant folk, as we historically have been a very agricultural nation. An interesting insight into the soul of the Slovak countryside and its inborn hostility towards individuals who differ from the crowd is “Dragon’s Return” by Dobroslav Chrobák. No idea if one can get it in any translation, but there’s also a really good film adaptation from the late ’60s.

Who are the most notable contemporary Slovakian writers?

Adam: I don’t read any of them, so I’m the worst person to ask. I think most are just copying Western literature, with maybe a bit of a local twist to it. So I could instead recommend slightly older works, like the historical novels of Jožo Nižnánsky, most notably his locally famous novel about Elizabeth Bathory, or “The Millennial Bee” novel by Peter Jaroš.

When asked if the Holy Bible was written by the Holy Spirit, Bernard Shaw replied that every book that warrants repeated reads was written by the Holy Spirit. Do you feel that the same reasoning applies to music?

Adam: Absolutely. The best kind of musical ideas I get, I can usually never tell where the inspiration comes from. So I believe it comes from somewhere beyond and I am just one of those sensitive enough people to make it into music, but it probably exists before it enters my mind. I can tell those moments easily, because at other times I’m influenced by my favourite albums, and I can tell “this is a King Diamond riff” or “this is a Bulldozer riff”. That’s also why I find it important to not focus on your personal feelings too much in music and instead try to portray things greater than you. It’s something I’ve learned with age, as when you’re young you always want the world to know about how you feel inside. Inner emotions should be ideally just a means to paint something that transcends our limited experience as individuals. We all stand small before the mysteries we can’t grasp.

Were the lo-fi production values on “Stridžie dni” used to mislead people to believe that you have more in common with Burzum than with Iron Maiden?

Adam: No, there wasn’t any trickery in any of that. In the context of my other musical activities, it was a point where I was simply longing to return to the basics, to rediscover the sort of primal, muddy black metal from “The Return” era of Bathory. That was my only instruction to the guy who did the mix, make it sound like “The Return”. The classic heavy metal elements were already strong on that album, coming mostly from Mercyful Fate and “7th Day of Doom” era Tormentor. They just naturally became more prominent on the following records. It wasn’t planned at any point, I always let the music lead me wherever it wants to go. I might even do a more basic album in line with “Stridžie dni” at some future point if I feel like it, as I still love that album. It just will be again a bit different because I never want to make the same album twice, there’s no point in repeating what was said before.

Malokarpatan Interview 2023 (Promo)

Why were there two different versions of “Stridžie dni” front cover?

Adam: The second one was kind of unplanned, as it was originally a shirt design by David Glomba if I recall correctly. I might be mixing things up as it’s been a number of years now, but I think Hexencave came up with the idea to use it for the new edition of the album and we agreed because it looked great. It’s highly inspired by classic Slovak folktales collected by Pavol Dobšinský, which every kid here grew up with and which were also a huge influence on the album’s lyrics. The original artwork was basically stolen from an LP for a movie soundtrack from the ’60s, just redesigned slightly. I like both of them and they represent the soul of the album equally well in my opinion. The “stolen” one might be a tad closer to my heart because it brings back memories of putting the first album together, which I enjoyed immensely back then.

In hindsight, would you say that “Stridžie dni” has aged remarkably well?

Adam: As narcissistic as that might sound, I think it did age remarkably well. I wanted to make an ugly, filthy and primitive sounding album that would remind of early Bathory, and of the spirit of underground black metal from its formative years. I even used a partially flawed guitar for it, which was kind of half-mute on some of the notes on the upper frets, so it created this obscure sound where you’re not 100% sure which notes you’re hearing. It reminded me of some of the classic underground albums like Nåstrond’s “Toteslaut” or Svartsyn’s “The True Legend”, where you sometimes have a hard time telling how the melodies go exactly, due to the completely abyssic sound of the guitar.

Do you maybe have a particularly soft spot for “Popolvár najväčší na svete, šarkanobijca a bohatier”, the closing song on “Stridžie dni”?

Adam: I love the “Popolvár” song and always enjoyed playing it live as well. It has a very anthemic quality to it, without me particularly planning that during the writing, it just kind of came out that way. I originally even planned putting more moog synthesizers into it for a more bombastic touch, but it kind of got forgotten during the recording process as we focused on something else. It’s highly inspired by old Slovak folktales which makes it a song very close to my heart, as I’ve loved reading those since early childhood. When and if we start playing live again some years down the line, we should probably make it a closing song of the set again.

Are the keyboards in “Nedlho po púlnoci opacha sa doplazila z dzíry” inspired by Rush and do you perhaps remember who or what inspired the main riff in the same song?

Adam: Those were done by Annick Giroux of Cauchemar, but since she is a big Rush fan, I’d say the chances are high. My only request was ’70s synths and I was extremely satisfied with her contribution there. When it comes to the song’s main riff, I remember perfectly clearly what were the influences, because it was an unusual case. It was influenced by three different riffs at once, which I blended into one. Those would be, in exact order of importance, “Night of the Demon” by Demon, “Midnight Highway” by Accept and “Black Diamond” by Kiss. While on the debut album, the riffs were mostly a melting pot of Mercyful Fate, Venom, Bathory and Tormentor influences. By the time of “Nordkarpatenland” I already went into a completely free-form composing system where I’d take inspiration from whatever classic metal/rock records I love from the ’80s and ’70s and twist them into our context. That song in particular opened some new doors for us, which can be heard more on the following albums.

Apart from Geddy Lee, who are some other musicians whose style of playing has heavily influenced the way you use keyboards in your music?

Adam: Our new drummer who also did several of the synths on “Vertumnus Caesar” is a big Van Der Graaf Generator fan, so there’s some of that too, even though I personally could never get into them. I’m a fan of all the classic prog keyboard wizards like Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Kerry Minnear, Tony Banks… There’s other sources too, like our very own Marián Varga, a Slovakian keyboard virtuoso of the ’70s who had a very peculiar style, like a less flashy and more demented Emerson, with a lot of folk music and modern classical thrown in. And last but not least, there is Claudio Simonetti of Goblin, who really elevated the synthesizer into an instrument of macabre horror elegance.

If honesty is involved in the creation, is that enough for an artistic pursuit to be considered worthwhile in your opinion? Or is some amount of talent and creativity also required?

Adam: It depends on the fans I guess, you’ll always find fans of any kind of music, be it Tchaikovsky or some utter weirdo like Jandek or, to stay in the realms of metal, Dwarr. I don’t subscribe to the modernist definitions of art from people like Clement Greenberg, but as a naturally curious person I have a pretty wide tolerance for many kinds of expression. As far as we recognize hierarchy, I’m fine with the early avantgardes ˗ especially Dadaism was very interesting in its original phase, but I don’t think Duchamp’s trolling with the urinal is on par with an absolute master like Rubens or Caravaggio, just because he was, uhm, honest in his expression. This applies to music as well, I admire weird bands like Residents for the unique feeling of their music, but they never wrote “Eleanor Rigby” or “Child in Time”.

Would you subscribe to the notion that the purpose of music and art in general is to challenge reality and avoid accepting any predetermined concepts about anything? In other words, to provide freedom, or at least the illusion of freedom?

Adam: I’m okay with transgressive art as black metal itself partially is within those realms, and on a specific mood I can enjoy stuff like early Whitehouse or extreme artists like Viennese Actionism. I might be more reserved in other areas of art ˗ I’m really allergic to Abstract expressionism for example ˗ but at least in theory, I’m definitely for complete freedom in music. I even consider bizarre field recordings like The Conet Project as a form of music. It’s a hierarchy issue once again, people can enjoy whatever they want as long as they don’t tell me that GG Allin shitting himself on the stage is the peak of human expression, though maybe it is?

Do you believe that outside of our consciousness and perception there are void and nothingness, or some kind of higher order of existence whose rhyme or reason we cannot even begin to understand, interpret, or identify?

Adam: Absolutely the latter. I’ve always had spiritual beliefs as far back as I can remember and a universe made by complete chance makes zero sense to me, if only to reflect the soulless emptiness of our post-modern age. I believe music is one of those channels that can trap elusive elements of that vast Otherworld out there, which lies beyond our limited human understanding. Go listen to a song like “Night of the Unborn” by Mercyful Fate to an old burial ground around All Hallow’s Eve when the colorous candles shimmer through the autumn night and tell me you can’t feel the presence of souls.

 

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