If I had listened to “Cez Ostrie Skal,” the third album by the Slovakian Pagan Black Metal band KRAJINY HMLY, at the right moment, it would undoubtedly have secured a spot in my top five albums of 2022. Unfortunately, the sheer onslaught of daily releases, coupled with the fact that this reviewed album was unleashed upon the world in the penultimate week of the previous year, meant that I only got my hands on “Cez Ostrie Skal” a few months later. However, I can assure you that in my list of top albums for 2023, I will definitely include an honorable mention for this masterpiece. It’s truly a “sin” that such a sensational work hasn’t received the attention it deserves.
It’s intriguing how, from time to time, we encounter releases and bands that should be celebrated by audiences worldwide, yet, for mysterious reasons that elude our understanding, they remain relatively obscure. This is undoubtedly the case with both the album “Cez Ostrie Skal” and the band KRAJINY HMLY.
What an immaculate band this is! Pagan Black Metal with a melodic touch, sensational instrumentation, captivating guitar lines, splendid melodies that embed themselves in your mind upon first listen, raspy and aggressive vocals with a distinctive “rough” edge, magnificent and incredibly organic sound production, particularly in the drum lines, which are utterly spellbinding. The graphic production is a spectacle in itself, and I’ll delve into that further shortly.
Yet, despite all these remarkable qualities, one question lingers: why isn’t this masterpiece being hailed globally? I’ve immersed myself in this album over the past few weeks, dissecting its artwork with the question in mind, and the only plausible answer that came to me is the use of the Slovak language in the band’s name (which translates to “Land of Mist”), song titles, and lyrics. I’ve witnessed a similar situation with some excellent Polish and Brazilian bands that also use their native languages. This might create a sense of unfamiliarity for those not accustomed to less commonly spoken, somewhat “exotic” languages, potentially erecting a barrier to the appreciation and propagation of these bands in the scene. I can only surmise that this linguistic aspect may be a contributing factor.
Interestingly, this very element of language and the lyrics sung in Slovak, with their aggressive pronunciation and unique inflections, bestow a distinctive and original identity upon KRAJINY HMLY’s music. To me, this is a significant highlight and one of the best aspects of “Cez Ostrie Skal.”
The atmospheric keyboard introduction that opens the album and kicks off the track “Do Priepasti” somehow evokes memories of extreme music from the 1990s, a factor I view positively. This becomes notably contrasting when the other instruments burst through the speakers, unveiling a composition with profoundly epic and unforgettable melodies, and soundscapes that evoke a strong sense of heroism. This track is my personal favorite among the eight compositions comprising this work, and I must commend the brilliance and synergy between guitarists Felgor and Namtar, who manage to extract pure emotion from their respective instruments, providing the composition precisely what it needs.
Following that, we have the title track, and both this composition and the subsequent “Legenda O Sitne” feature main riffs that burrow deep into your brain, playing on a loop in your head for days after listening. “Na kriznych cestách” is up next, and here, clean vocals are surgically integrated into the music, adding an extra layer to the band’s already epic sound, elevating the composition to a higher level.
“Lesovik” begins with an introduction featuring wolf sounds, creating the perfect ambiance for a more direct, aggressive, and faster track that still manages to preserve the characteristic melodies that are unquestionably the band’s trademark. These melodies reach an even deeper level in the subsequent track, “Z tisícich trónov.” Just listen to the final riff of that song and tell me it’s not something sensational… truly sublime.
The last two tracks, “Pustina II” and “Plameň už tíchne II,” are reinterpretations of two older songs by the band. The first composition was originally introduced on the band’s debut album “Na konci Ciest” in 2016, and the latter on their first official release, the split album “Ked padnú hmly” in 2012. The closing track of the album has received a new acoustic introduction and is dedicated to the memory of Samuel “Wolkogniv” Samos, the band’s first vocalist, who tragically passed away in 2017. The new arrangements and improved sound production have accentuated many details in these two final tracks that were not very discernible in the original versions. Personally, I wouldn’t object if the band decided to revisit some more of their older compositions in the future.
The album’s cover art and the illustrations in the booklet are creations by Svjatogor and provide a visual identity that masterfully conveys the epic and heroic elements present in the band’s music, as previously mentioned.
Regarding the graphic aspect, there’s an interesting point I’d like to address. When I saw the album’s announcements, it seemed that the cover art would be in black and white, and I initially speculated that it might be a cost-cutting maneuver I’ve seen many labels employ. They often claim to maintain an old-school aesthetic, but in reality, they are economizing, resulting in poorly executed releases and embarrassing outcomes. This is unquestionably NOT the case with “Cez Ostrie Skal.” The band sent me a physical copy of the album, and Werewolf Production spared no effort to deliver a release worthy of the excellence that KRAJINY HMLY’s music and their audience deserve. The booklet includes the lyrics in Slovak and its respective translations into English. The white part of the booklet actually resembles a beige tone, creating an aged effect, and the paper quality is exceptionally high, making it a must-have item in physical format.
I plan to bring an interview with the band in the near future because it’s a name that deserves to be better known among all enthusiasts of extreme music. Do I recommend it?? Of course, without a doubt. Highly recommended, and absolutely essential!