Justify Your Shitty Taste: Master’s Hammer’s “Slagry”

Master’s Hammer were always kind of a bizarre band, which I understand is a pretty massive fucking understatement, but I don’t think anyone was really prepared for when they opened their package in the mid-90’s expecting another strange occult black metal record and instead were presented with an album straddling ten genres at once, none of which being what they wanted. Reactions were hilariously vitriolic, especially since black metal’s second wave was still pretty young and closed off. Master’s Hammer “went weird” a few years before whatever magazine coined that term and shit like The Kovenant happened.  And you can kind of understand why; this album is the first real “fuck you” record in black metal.

I’m not going to bother to fact check this because if it’s true, I wasted my time and if it’s not, then I’m going to be incredibly disappointed. At the time, word was Slagry was written and recorded as a giant middle finger to their record label. Keep in mind, Master’s Hammer were incredibly forward thinking, even close to thirty years ago, so a modicum of experimentation was probably to be expected but an album of bizarre covers with only two original members that sounds like a mixture of early Laibach, Devil Doll and old polka thrown into a blender was a difficult pill to swallow, even if it was released under Osmose’s “experimental” sub-label Kron-H.

I remember ordering it and being told by whatever distro (since you used to be able to call in orders on the phone) I got it from that I shouldn’t waste my money but they didn’t go into why. That’s the sort of thing that in those days not only got me to waste my money but provided me with an excessive NEED to waste my money to see what the fucking fuss was about. And even though I had the musical maturity of a six year old, like most people into black metal then (and now, if we’re being honest) when I got Slagry, I didn’t immediately hate it. Sure, it wasn’t what I expected, but when given a serious listen there was a lot I found I enjoyed about it. It might have helped that I’d been into Laibach for a while by the time I put Slagry into my CD player and while it’s not as dark as Nova Akropola, it shares a lot of similarity as it gives you the impression of moving through a weird museum and being given a few minutes to take in each curious exhibition. Cohesive through its own incoherence, it’s not the sort of record you can listen to constantly or easily, but at the time it really stood out to me as being unique in a landscape that was starting to become overrun with single minded clones (most of which I admit to also really enjoying). It’s been some years since I revisited it, but with Master’s Hammer being active again and playing the States, the idea to give it a proper listen and write something you can read on the shitter came to mind.

I like to think that I’m a pretty musically open-minded person in my adult age (I’m probably not, but this would be a good talking point if people ever invited me to parties) so I was curious how I’d view Slagry now and if I could be a decent judge on whether or not it’s aged well. The first thing I need to get out of the way is that I listened to it on headphones from a Youtube stream and there were two times commercials ran and I didn’t think it wasn’t Slagry until someone warned me about the side effects of whatever penis medicine stays in my Youtube algorithm. I swear I don’t know how it got there.

I know that’s not a ringing endorsement off the bat, but several cups of coffee later I gave it my undivided attention. And yeah, there are some really cool moments all over this record, especially close to the middle when the polka parts fade away into what almost seems like a national anthem recorded in space. The last few minutes turn back into the Master’s Hammer of old, just in a more minimalistic setting, but still it feels like ending this record with black metal is possibly the strangest way they could have closed it. The entire record really works together to create something that is less a listenable record and more of a journey through madness. And really, when you listen to at least the patterns and, for lack of a better word, format of Slagry, outside of the genre specific sounds, it’s still very much Master’s Hammer.  Keep in mind that Devil Doll built an incredibly cult following around the world just a short time after Slagry was released into an angry black metal audience and both projects convey very similar sonic world building. It’s just that Master’s Hammer released Ritual and Devil Doll’s creator is rumored to have died in a bomb strike, so the mythology is a bit different.

Look, I’m not looking any of this shit up. We’re going by 1990’s memories in order to give this a more authentic feeling of bullshitting. The point is that if Slagry were done by When or Devil Doll or any of the other outsider projects that black metal’s underground grew to embrace in the later 90’s (and subsequently forgot a few years later,) this album probably would have been seen as a classic, at least by the kind of people who thought Bogus Blimp were the next coming of the Beatles.

So sure, it’s not black metal or even rock ‘n’ roll, but Slagry stands the test of the decades by still being a confusing yet really well-done record. And while my earlier assertion of the origin of this record is still entertaining, I have to say listening to it now you get less of an impression that it’s a “fuck you” to a label or fanbase and more of “fuck you” to restraints, mental or artistic, especially coming from a time and place where such things were unheard of. It’s probably a more enjoyable listen now that I’m almost 40 than when I was almost 18 but, unlike when I was a kid, there’s now also a Youtube comments section to laugh at.