Reviewed: [January 2023]
Released [2022 HladoHlas]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
I have to admit to a wealth of ignorance with it comes to Slovakian black/pagan metallers Ramchat. Though I have seen the name from time to time, I don’t recall ever having heard them, despite a pretty productive past decade during which they released four albums and an equal number of EPs.
But with all of the material having been performed in the band’s native language, perhaps that is no big surprise since that has no doubt limited its reach – although that doesn’t seem to have been an issue for the likes of Romania’s Negura Bunget/Dordeduh and other bands from out of the way places that forgo English.
While Ramchat aren’t as steeped in indigenous instrumentation or epic grandeur, they do share a lot in common with Negura Bunget. Both mix arcane and symphonic black metal, pagan folksiness, traditional instruments (kalimba, shaman’s drum in this case) and spoken word, and progressive flourishes, and package it with a resonant, contemporary production for an overall sound that is idiosyncratic yet quite compelling – even with its resolutely “foreign” feel, for lack of a better term. And they stuck with it, despite whatever temptation there might have been to cater to a broader audience by shifting, even partially, to English.
That strategy ended up working out pretty well for Negura Bunget – although the band then fall apart after the considerable success of 2006’s OM. And with Krveľ, Ramchat offer up an impressive, wide-ranging package that fans of vintage Cradle of Filth and Emperor, Enslaved or even Opeth can find a lot with which to like. For one thing, despite the scale and complexity of the music here, it is focused, relatively direct and keeps the “metal” as its central element.
At nine songs in 42 minutes, Krveľ never wanders too far into progressive sprawl and uses the traditional instruments – not to mention occasional strings and some well-placed battle horns that make “MestoBes” and “Mord” ominous anthems Amon Amarth or Behemoth might be proud of – and spoken word as flavor enhancers instead of the main course. The black metal here is turbulent and caustic, but offers enough “hookiness,” a la Cradle of Filth, to engage and integrates well with the other ingredients making the whole truly a sum of its parts. Or something like that.
Frontman Martin “Walki“ Valkar does a fine job adapting his vocal approach – from guttural growls to imposing snarl to commanding shout – to fit the mood of the music, echoing Behemoth’s Adam “Nergal’ Darski by taking a rather limited range and maximizing its impact. The spoken word sections may lose something to many by virtue of being in Slovak, but make up for it in the air of mystery they present and their genuinely forboding tone – especially Lenka Verešová’s cackling on “Už ti nepatrí” that sounds like something out of “The Exorcist” or “The Evil Dead.”
So while Krveľ is a better-late-than-never introduction to Ramchat for me, they are a seasoned band that do what they do very well. And though it may take some getting used to, the album – and the band’s earlier work, which you can sample at the Bandcamp link above – is well worth the effort and often full of surprises or new sounds, old as some of them may actually be.