Batushka - LitourgiyaWith the widespread appropriation of black metal sonic tropes by an increasingly mainstream range of bands, it’s becoming easier to forget how the genre’s roots were tied, non-ironically, to strong anti-Christian, misanthropic, and Satanic views. None of that imagery or those philosophies can be found in the myriad of shoegaze, transcendental, avantgarde, and eco-black metal offshoots that dominate the landscape today. Still, even in 2015, when a mysterious black metal band crafts a record that mimics an Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy, it’s bound to raise some eyebrows. Especially when the songs are sung in Russian and the band members are Polish.

And yet, Batushka’s Litourgiya doesn’t sound like a subversive and derisive effort, nor like a black metal band’s attempt at introducing an empty novelty to cheaply enrich their sound. Instead, the tracks, all appropriately named “Yekteniya” or “Litany,” come off as honest adaptations and amalgamations of black and doom metal with the brooding atmospheres present in the dark remnants of early Christian mysticism. There, liturgical chants become the main vessel for arcane and occult phrases that speak to something primordial in all of us. While there have been bands that incorporated Gregorian or similar singing in their music, these elements were mostly used as inessential ornaments that failed to substantially impact the overarching concepts. Unlike their peers, Batushka place these droning, ritualistic chants in the focus of their music, pushing growls and shrieks into the backseat. Around them, they weave the usual black metal tremolos, blast beats, and blindingly fast tempos that, even though familiar and expectedly unoriginal, feel strangely fresh in this new context.

The album’s seven songs all share similar patterns of alternating grandiose black metal bursts enshrined in great, goosebump inducing melodies with slower sections during which the vocals often remain alone in the dark, accompanied only by subtle church bells or submerged in doomy harmonies. Since the songs and material are slaves to the underlying conceptualization of a liturgy, there’s little diversity between cuts, making the record best enjoyed as a whole. Still, “Yekteniya 2,“ “Yekteniya 4,” and “Yekteniya 6” are clear standouts based on the songwriting alone, while “Yekteniya 7” allows the band’s true strengths to shine as it does away with black metal rasps altogether. It’s this song that also highlights some issues with the production and mastering: the fabulous vocals feel buried and lost in the meaty and bassy mix, giving it somewhat of a (perhaps intentional?) lo-fi patina.

Batushka are a mysterious bunch, allegedly featuring prominent members of the Polish black metal scene (Nergal? Someone from Mgła or Lux Occulta?), with their identities hidden in a shroud of uncertainty. While I’ve deemed the album to be “honest,” this secrecy alongside other indications, i.e. the prevailing anti-Russian stance and the illiberally-inclined new government in Poland, signal that Litourgiya might indeed carry a deeper political and ideological statement. Whichever case it might be, it shouldn’t and doesn’t hinder the enjoyment of the demonstrated musical mastery. A great record.

Tracks to check: “Yekteniya 2,” “Yekteniya 7,” and “Yekteniya 8”

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  • sweetooth0

    This album rules. Reminds me of Ruins of Beverast quite a bit.

    • Necrocustard

      Definitely get that feeling too.

  • “Batushka are a mysterious bunch, allegedly featuring prominent members of the Polish black metal scene (Nergal? Someone from Mgła or Lux Occulta?), with their identities hidden in a shroud of uncertainty.”

    It’s a DR6. Nergal is a big fan of Ghost.

    Definitely Nergal.

    • That is too funny.

    • Stefunal

      And his show in Moscow was cancelled by some orthodox fanatics. So that’s more than a good reason to make such an album.

    • Kronos

      The face that it’s over DR5 weakens the Nergal case…

    • sir_c

      One can’t polish a turd they say. But the Polish can make a turd golden. It really is an enjoyable listen.

  • Stefunal

    They are coming to Moscow this year, and I am DEFINITELY going to see them. Unless the ol’ doxies start sabotaging shows again, like they did with Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth and Marilyn Manson. The latter was even assaulted with crosses an holy water.
    I love my country.

    • Wow, I had no idea! Is this an ongoing thing?

      • Stefunal

        Well, the orthodox church is quite, um, orthodox (duh), hence their crusades against “rock music from hell”. Problem is that it has strong supporters in the government (why do you think gay people are still hated in the Motherland?) and in the population, too. There was this one semi-extremist group that made three concerts get cancelled, if I recall correctly. First it was Cannibal Corpse (they pretended that a bomb was found in the club which was obviously not the case), then Manson (they just assaulted him backstage, lol) and, most recently, Behemoth (for some reason their documents turned out to be “not alright” all of a sudden and they got banned from the country for some years). It has gotten better tho, we experience some kind of metal naissance (without the “re”) at the moment.

        • bushkov

          I think the whole picture is simple – lgbt and satanic things are not welcomed by the people and peoples of the country, that’s all and it’s OK with me.

          BTW I can’t say anything about the band and their songs because the records don’t seem to be streamed to my country. I just hope they are not ‘anti-Russian’.

          • Stefunal

            I don’t think they are. As far as I’m concerned the lyrics are just inverted sermons and prayers, so they seem to be pure blasphemers without any anti-Russian context.

          • Roquentin

            It’s straightforward and as you describe it if these are Russian members in the band. But if they’re Polish (as is implied around the web), then maybe there’s an additional layer of symbolism in it all. Hard to tell, anyways.

          • Stefunal

            They did blow up the Russian internet though – I’ve never seen an album becoming this popular in an amount of time that small. And besides, they’ve announced two shows in Russia already, so I doubt there is that much symbolism around. On the other side, Polish have plenty of reasons to hold grudges against Russia.

          • Assia

            what does “inverted” sermon mean? thanks!

          • Stefunal

            What I meant is that they basically changed the perspective of the sermons (first person instead of second person). That way they don’t sound like prayers but rather like accusations made by satan.

          • Assia

            thanks much! very interesting, I will try to listen more carefully to catch that! Have to brush up on my Russian too :)

          • Stefunal

            No problem :)
            They don’t sing in Russian but rather in Old Slavian, which is the clerical language in the Russian Orthodox church (similar to Latin in Catholicism) so you probably shouldn’t bother listening to the lyrics that closely – even Russians don’t understand it fully. You’d better listen to other bands if you want to work on your Russian ;)

          • “…lgbt and satanic things are not welcomed by the people and peoples of the country, that’s all and it’s OK with me.”

            I’ve read this a few times, and if my understanding is correct you’re saying that you’re ok with LGBQT people being unwelcome in Russia? o_O

          • SK94301

            the fuck difference does it make?

          • Someone making bigoted, homophobic comments isn’t a problem for you? Okay, you just carry on being a fine upstanding human being then.

          • SK94301

            the fuck cares what some random person thinks? for the duration of human history, there have always been some who discriminate against others based on any number of criteria. won’t be any different in the future.

            and as for your judgmental comment…i couldn’t give two fucks.

    • Stefunal

      They’ve actually banned it. Who would have thought.

  • This is good. I like this a hell of a lot.

  • Great record. It was actually close being on my top 10.

  • Belphegor Walpurgis era level blasts, this is good.

  • sir_c

    This is one of the hidden gems of 2015.

  • Martin Knap

    Stara Rzeka, also a noteworthy Polish release form 2015.

    • Roquentin

      Stara Rzeka is amazing, easily one of the overall best records that I’ve heard in 2015, but I wouldn’t call it “metal”.

      Poland’s got a very active, creative jazz-scene as well. Wacław Zimpel, for example, featured on a few of my personal favourites from 2015.

  • Scourge

    Love this album. It was a late edition to my year end favorites. The comments above make me wonder how a Russian band like Gray Heaven Fall is treated in Russia. Gray Heaven Fall’s recent album is amazing too, btw.

    • Stefunal

      Nobody cares because nobody knows, simple as that :)
      It’s difficult to play metal in Russia because there is no media coverage at all. It is really a scene in it’s infancy, but there was some progress made in terms of quality and western shows recently.

      • Just to be clear, you mean like death metal and black metal, right? I seem to recall a number of famous metal bands in Russia. Aria comes to mind.

        • Stefunal

          Aria and Kipelov are the only two bands in Russia which actually do money with music due to the cult status of their ballads (similar to Metallica being famous because everyone has heard “Nothing Else Matters”), which is really the only thing still holding them on water. Yet other cult bands like Master and Black Obelisk have to tour around in small clubs, which is unspeakably sad. Not only extreme metal doesn’t get any love, famous bands don’t get it either. Even Aria is almost never aired in the radio.

          • I don’t think that’s all that different from the states then. We do have stations that play only rock which will occasionally play old metallica or megadeth but mostly just the latest hardcore. I’ve never been to Russia but lived in Crimea in 2003. There at least MTV would not stop playing Glaza by Delfin, which was a sort of hardcore song.

          • Stefunal

            It’s worse than in the States because almost no one buys music in Russia. There is a very strong mentality here that says “why buy something if you can get it for free”. So it’s not just that labels or media are the problem, the fans are partly responsible, too. But as I said, things get better.

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    Wow. Hell yes to this.

  • [not a Dr]

    Where is the Orthocorn band pic?

  • You wot m8?

    Okay, generally I like to gently ease myself into a band. Put in a toe, test out the hype. If it seems to be something that I’ll actually like over the long-term, maybe my knees will make it in, etc. However, this is so fucking cool I think I’mma just jump right in. This is some of the coolest [black] metal that I’ve listened to in a long time.

    • Sharp-Blunt Boy

      Agree with your reaction completely – very exciting stuff. Probably my shortest lag between first listen and shelling out on Bandcamp yet.

      This could have so easily been Enigma meets Metal, but these guys have conjured something truly awesome.

  • Reese Burns

    I listened to this, and my God, I was blown away. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, had I heard this last year, I’m certain it would have cracked my top ten list. Amazing stuff.

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    Great write-up and a pretty huge miss for 2015. Cheers for the great tip, this sounds quite good. Wouldn’t surprise me if Inferno was involved in this, the blasting sounds like its in his style.

    • Roquentin

      Thanks! And, indeed, I’ve thought of Inferno as well. But who knows, maybe it’s all a smokescreen for someone from Russia trying to stay below the radar.

      • Kryopsis

        It’s very unlikely that Batushka is a Russian band given the Polish accents of the vocalists. Good article, though!

        • Roquentin

          Thank you!
          Yeah, the vocalists are most certainly Polish, but maybe some of the other members are not. In any case, I welcome this bit of mystery. :-)

  • Andy777

    I’ve been listening to this heavily since it came out (thanks Bandcamp!) and I have to add one more voice to the praise of its awesomeness. I ordered the vinyl from witchinghour during their 25% off December sale. Now I just have to wait for it to get here from Poland.

  • Grymm

    So incredibly awesome… hitting my doom and black metal buttons square-on.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Will there be an AMG decree on the biggest and best miss of the year?

    • Kryopsis

      I’m not sure who the best miss of 2015 was but I think Madam X was the best madam.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        For sure…not exactly what I meant tho…:)

  • Kryopsis

    I kept seeing the band name appear here and there throughout 2015 but never actually listened to the album until now. This is definitely a unique experience. I particularly like how the Wagnerian, quasi-militaristic Black Metal sections clash with the austere religious choirs. The overall atmosphere constantly alternates between mournful and grandiose, with some parts of the album being contemplative and minimalistic while others delight in excess… I don’t see this disappearing off my playlists anytime soon.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Dang. Was meaning to give this a listen so thanks for reminding me. Alongside ‘Ototeman’ by Entheos, I think this is one of the best hidden gems of 2015.

    • MrAidscancer

      Well, I don’t think they are hidden gem. They hit metal grounds out of nowhere month ago and it’ still shaking. Surprisingly many people at least have heard of them. I suppose every band would like to have coming-out like their ;)

  • Monsterth Goatom

    I’ve been living with this for almost a month now since seeing it on your Top Ten list for 2015. A great find. Thank you!

    • Roquentin

      And I’ll extend your thanks to my SO that pointed out the record to me in the first place. :-)

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Sigh…. I wish my wife liked Metal.

        • Patrick L. Bertlein

          Right? Freaking sucks. They will never get why its such a big deal that they aren’t more into it either.

  • Matthew Phillips

    This album made my top 10. Sixth, to be precise.

  • MrAidscancer

    This is one of the best surprises of 2015. IMO really great, clean album. There are some rumors there can be some people from outside of Poland involved into Batushka. It was released under Witching Hour Productions label which is located near eastern border. Maybe someone from Belarus or Russia? Anyway the label, it’s owner and geographic location let some people think and guess who could be the part of project. Ah, they are going to perform on ThroneFest in Belgium.

    • Roquentin

      I bet that they’re going to be using some kind of masks. They’re either Polish and making a statement for show or Russian/Belarus and honestly don’t want to be identified because of concerns over their own well-being.

  • Jonny

    Aoty for me, glad you wrote about it

    • Roquentin

      My pleasure. :-)

      • Jonny

        Their merch is cheap too n_n

  • Worldeater

    Oh yes, this is really good. Litourgia will be the perfect contrast to Critical Hits! Thx for the review.

  • Definitely missed this, could have been a 2015 best of contender…great find and great album.

  • Mr Bungle

    Thanks A LOT for this review. As soon as I heard a couple of minutes, I went to the label’s shop, bought a T-shirt, the LP and the CD (went all out cause prices were just that democratic). It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt such an incredible urge.

  • lennymccall

    I’m just over here trying to figure out how I’m the first person to mention the Rotting Christ comparison?
    Love this btw but that’s who they remind me of.

  • So, for people who are late to the party, did I just miss out on the CD or something? The Witching Hour site just has t-shirts and vinyl on sale. Ffs. :(

    • Grymm

      They keep printin’ them, and they keep sellin’ out.

      Patience, grasshopper.

  • Przemyslaw

    Roquentin: how on Earth there could be a interplay between extreme metal (with unknown lyrics!) and political actions in Poland? ;) Gues it’s just overintepretation. Nevertheless, great review – as always. Cheers!

  • Wayward Son

    If you think this sounds low-fi then your system sucks. I’m using 64 audio ADEL A12’s w/chord mojo and samsung s7 edge via UAPP app and it sounds glorious.

  • Filippo der Opponent

    I saw them two days ago at the Summer Breeze festival, I was there as a photographer so I had a chance to peep backstage and see if I could recognize anyone during their dressing… they were a little far from where I was so the only thing I can say for sure is that the singer is clearly NOT Nergal, as this guy maybe like 120 kilos :-D another guy, instead, was smoking an electronic cigarette, does this ring a bell to anyone?!

    Plus, one of the three choirists is 99% a woman.

  • Plutarch X

    Still tasty.