Hailing from the Czech Republic, Maniac Butcher are well-known for a grim style of Black Metal that takes a lot of cues from their northern predecessors, as well as some influence from the likes of Master's Hammer. Anyone familiar with the band has a general sense of expectation whenever exploring a new album, as Barbarud and Vlad were very consistent with their songwriting. This hold true for their fourth full-length, released in 1998, Cerná Krev.
One of the first things that one might notice is that the production is slightly improved from the last offering. Without being overly plastic or soulless, Krvestřeb was still too over-produced for this type of music. Cerná Krev appears to correct some of the mistakes, with a more cohesive sound. The drums are not quite as hollow and distracting as the last time around, though they could still be buried a little more in the mix. The guitars have a cold and thin tone, really suitable to the compositions.
Regarding the songwriting, this record contains over half an hour of rather straightforward Black Metal. The vocals are raw and often tormented, sounding like they are emanating from a shredded throat. This is quite appropriate, as the guitar riffs are razor-sharp and hearken back to the classic Norwegian albums from the likes of Darkthrone and Mayhem. There are even certain shared sensibilities with early Gorgoroth, especially as it relates to the guitar melodies. There is a good dynamic with the somewhat epic riffs contrasting with more urgent and intense ones, though the difference is subtle enough that it may not be perceptible by all. It is a shame that the song titles are not only in Czech, but that they are so lengthy, as it is rather difficult to identify the tracks by anything other than their numbers. The exception to this is the much more ethereal "Intermezzo", which slows things down and creates an atmosphere of almost calming darkness with more melodic riffs and use of a somewhat introspective clean guitar. After the blistering aural assault of the previous three songs, this instrumental is somewhat necessary.
Following this, the album shifts back into high gear with intense riffs that would make Euronymous proud. Despite the obvious influences, by this point in their career, Maniac Butcher definitely had a sound that was easily identifiable. There is a certain dreariness that creeps into some of the tremolo melodies that serves as their mark. Track five is the first proper composition to feature any really noticeable tempo changes. The added dynamics do take away from the momentum built up by the initial parts of the track, but this is followed by an even faster section that is almost reminiscent of early Dark Funeral, before the main riff returns. The next song adopts a slower pace, building on the somewhat sombre feeling established in the second half of the album. The effort is a little hampered by the overactive drumming (which would not be as bad if it were lower in the mix). There are certain times when drummers should realize that less is more and that the guitars should be allowed more room to breathe and to create atmosphere, without so many fills and extra bits tossed in without reason. There is a Gorgoroth vibe as the song speeds up, but it is not done exceptionally well.
Cerná Krev is strong album from this Czech Black Metal band and is an improvement over the previous record. While there are some average parts, the majority of the material is very solid and does well to continue the traditions that were established in the earlier part of the decade, while also putting their own stamp on it. The rawness and intensity shown by this band really put most of their contemporaries to shame and Maniac Butcher deserves all the more respect for keeping this style alive at a time when so many despicable bands were clogging up the scene. If you are sick of all of the current trendy releases and want something much more in line with the classics, this is very much recommended.