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Chanting doesn't save the tedium - 48%

Empyreal, August 6th, 2019

This band has been the subject of controversy for months now, over their vocalist Bart basically stealing the band out from under them and forming his own, much shittier, version. That said, don’t let that distract us from the fact that this is also not a very good album anyway.

It’s black metal, for sure, with chunky, distorted guitars playing fast and an overall evil vibe to it. They add some interesting liturgical chant vocal sections that break things up, which I guess passes for some level of ethnic, worldly influence. The first few songs, it sounds cool. But it gets old. The riffs all sound the same and aren’t terribly compelling, and the melodies are candified and kind of weak. Despite the heavy production it sounds like Black Metal 101 and is actually pretty cleaned up and melodic for anyone who’s actually been listening to metal for a while. That wouldn’t be bad if these were sweeping, epic songs, but to me they sound stunted and homogenous, not really ever going for the throat or crafting something of true beauty.

Once you’ve heard one of these songs you’ve heard them all, and despite the chanting elements adding something slightly odd, even that isn’t exactly some groundbreaking thing – it’s mostly like they just took normal black metal and added those vocals over-top and called it a day. Occasionally they’ll do a kind of cool slower, moodier section, but it always goes back to the dull blast-o-rama. The regular non-chanting vocals are a fairly competent rasp, fierce enough, but not really anything spectacular enough to stand out. Overall I found the writing on this to be pretty standard and dull barring a few parts that rise above that, albeit briefly.

I do think the main guy behind this project had a real artistic vision and put thought into the production. I find that cool. Anybody who has this much inspiration and craftsmanship, I can respect to some degree, despite the music not being for me. But I can’t even unequivocally praise that, due to the goofy ‘message’ or lack thereof. They say it’s basically open to interpretation as to whether they’re actually religious or just doing it all satirically. What kind of weak shit is that? His whole quote is basically “well, we’re leaving it up to you to figure it out what this music is about,” and while I am not one to disparage people reacting emotionally to art, I’d like to at least see some proof that you came into this with a genuine idea. Just going “well, it can be whatever you want it to be” is basically being the stoner college kid who doesn’t turn in a paper and goes “I just couldn’t do a paper without the proper inspiration, I’m an artist at heart.” Me, I’d rather have an actual point of view. Have some conviction, man.

So I guess this is one of those albums that people will be talking about for years to come, especially with all the circus-like controversy and scandal now, but personally I found it weak. It’s nice that they wanted to do something original, but the music lacks anything that really compels me, and came off as all style and no substance.

Mysterious metal mess - 90%

kluseba, May 14th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2015, Digital, Witching Hour Productions (Bandcamp)

Batushka is certainly one of the most intriguing black metal bands in recent memory and the hype around the Polish group seems justified in my book. The group combines blistering black metal, more atmospheric mid-paced passages and mysterious orthodox chants. Some people have described the band as an extreme metal version of Ghost and I do understand the reference but Batushka tries to be atmospheric and obscure in the first place and not necessarily entertaining and extroverted. It's a mystery whether the band actually sympathizes with or criticizes religion. The listener is invited to make up his own mind which is quite intriguing. It's respectable that the band judges its fan base to be intelligent enough to draw its own conclusions.

The group's first album Litourgiya oozes with sacral atmosphere from start to finish. You can almost smell the incense, picture the majestic churches and watch the choirs sing during a mess. In order to keep things diverisfied, some tracks have slower pace reminding of timeless ambient influences and traditional doom metal while others quicken up the pace and remind of Scandinavian black metal from the late eighties and early nineties. Hypnotizing sacral chants meet bitter black metal shrieks that are employed with care. Occasional percussive elements such as bells and chimes increase the record's atmosphere.

Black metal purists might criticize the record for being too slow, too melodic and focusing more on sacral music than actual extreme metal references. These are however precisely the reasons why this band is so unique and has become the most interesting black metal band in the past three years. This is also the fascinating thing about metal music. Even though this genre has been around for roughly five decades, it still manages to surprise and reinvent itself. If you have an open mind for something new, you should give Batushka's Litourgiya a chance. Extreme metal fans will like the fast and frosty passages while fans of other metal subgenres might admire the hypnotizing and warm sacral elements. On a closing side note, I would like to thank the open-minded person who introduced me to this intriguing band.

Sounds Of The Apocalypse - 95%

eletrikk, May 10th, 2019

Batushka is a really enigmatic, yet super popular band. Enigmatic as all of their members are shrouded in some mystery, tending to obscure themselves with long flowing robes that are very monk like and covering their faces with a very odd sort of mask. Popular as the vocalist and guitarist have very disputed claims on who's Batushka is right. What do I mean? Well, Krzysztof and Bart both say that they have fired one another from the band, Krzysztof firing Bart, then Bart doing the same to Krzysztof. Now, at the time of writing this, both say they wish to release music, with Bart's version most likely to do so first. In all honesty, the future of this project for me is uncertain, but I am willing to support both versions. This album is my first experience with "orthodox black metal," a sub-genre I honestly did not know existed until I discovered these guys. The basic rundown is that people that play music under the genre name acknowledge Catholicism, and in turn the Devil as a real entity, but denounce the Catholic God in favor of the Devil. I probably butchered that explanation, but then again that is coming from someone who honestly just discovered it.

To begin with, this has some of the best vocals in the black metal game, both the harsh screams and the Gregorian chants. The combination of the two add a sense of impending doom, like the Earth is soon going to be plunged into doom and despair with no hope of recovery. I assume that Bart and Krzysztof both did vocals. I am not sure who did what, so I am not going to label. The chants remind me of listening to a true chant by actual monks somewhere in the Alps or Black Forest. The screams are more or less traditional black metal howls, but are still awesome to listen to regardless. It is truly something else to hear classic screams with chants.

With the instrumentation, it is truly something else. It is dark, atmospheric, and all sorts of chaotic with beautiful moments in between the madness. It truly does make me feel as if I am listening to a litany of some dark satanic cult. Krzysztof is an excellent song writer, being able to provide dark moments coupled with seeming unattainable beauty. So far, this record and band has the best use of eight string guitars from anywhere within the genre of metal as a whole, not being so heavy it is obnoxious yet still hitting you right in the chest. Krzysztof's playing is damn good, keeping up time with the guitar and bass. It is always cool seeing one guy doing guitars and bass on a record, as the guitars and bass always feel much more in sync with each other. Marcin is a hell of a drum player, keeping things interesting without the need for a classic constant black metal beat, even though it is very much present in his style of playing. The accompaniment of bells throughout certain portions also gives the record a feeling of being played and recorded in a church.

The production of this record is honestly amazing. It is very echo-y, almost choir and symphony levels of awe and space taken up. Everything on this record takes up a lot of space, but doesn't clash with anything at the same time. Litourgiya has that feeling of treble and bass, all meeting up in a mid range that doesn't make me wish I had gone deaf. It is so spacious, yet so full at the same time that the only way for me to accurately describe it is by telling you to listen to the damn record. Both Bart and Krzysztof would appreciate the listen, despite their apparent feud of who owns the band and all that jazz.

I wish I could remark on the lyrics, but they are all in Polish, so unfortunately that will not be an option, and I am way to lazy to go off and translate them, but I am sure they have a lot of rantings and ravings about religion and the like.

In short, Litourgiya is a really interesting album within the realms of black metal. It is heavy, one of the first black metal albums that I have heard using eight string guitars, and they use them well, not relying solely on the lower two strings to be heavy. The vocals are flat out amazing, the classic screams mesh so well with the chanting, giving the record a whole new outlook on vocal styles. The mixing is truly otherworldly, spacious and full at the same time, sounding as if the apocalypse has come early but got bored and decided to record a black metal album. Amazing album, check it out as soon as you can, hell, even buy it.

Something New In Black Metal - 96%

Vortic, March 3rd, 2018

Here I am, again ranting how black metal has become mainstream. Seriously, the genre has spawned so many copycats of the original norwegian BM bands that barely anything original comes out these days. Pop metal in its truest form, bland, repetitive and talentless. Batushka, on the other hand are a breath of fresh air. How hasn't anyone come up with this earlier? Orthodox chants + black metal, holy shit, now this is something! Batushka are essentially the heavier, Orthodox version of Ghost, and I like that band. But while Ghost bring back the old and forgotten elements of heavy metal, Batushka managed to create something completely new and unheard of by building upon black metal tradition, instead of following it.

Now, look at the album cover. The moment I saw it I immediately knew what I was about to deal with - some crazy mashup of extreme metal and Christian traditions (being brought up in an Orthodox family myself). But I never expected that it would be to such an extent. The guitars you hear here feature traditional BM riffing on 8-stringers, but much more refined, melodic and clear. The tremolo sounds smooth and pleasant to listen to and the fact it isn't stale and lacking in diversity is good enough in itself. The clear production helps those guitars get through the listener much more easily, proving you don't need to record on a potato to be "kvlt" or, in general, you don't need to be "kvlt" to be interesting. The drums are in time and are quite impressive, actually. Normally BM drummers are not so "tight" on their blast beats and double bass, but here - the musician is clearly well trained and suits the music with his traditional yet professional extreme metal style. The bass, well, fine, you can hear it at least so you know it's there but nothing really special. Now we come to the vocals. The harsh vocals - again, typical but I do have to note I am surprised by how good the technique actually is (yes, I have an ear for such shit). The flow of air is steady and the screams are well maintained, so it is more than obvious the vocalist has dealt with quite a lot of other extreme metal projects in his career. As for those "soft" vocals, this is what everyone is here for - the Orthodox Christian chants, providing a satirical portrayal of these exact traditions by incorporating them in harsh "satanic" music. This "inversion" is the driving force of the whole band, you take something and you do it in the complete opposite way it is intended to be.

So the flow of the music, from the beginning of the album to the very end is smooth. You put that record on and immerse yourself in something new and fresh. The songs all have a core sound that makes them go well together, but they are different from one-another, some are slower and deeper, others - faster and with more tremolo, some feature more chants, others - more screams etc. Diversity, although not so much, is indeed present here and it is enough to set this album apart from the tons and tons of garbage most BM bands produce. The lyrics are written in church Slavonic and from what I understand (which is not much, since the language is still quite different from Bulgarian) they are prayers ("Yekteniya"). And when you first read them they seem like actual Orthodox prayers. But you read them again and again and something seems off. The more of these you read the more God seems like this narcissistic, hypocritical yet still almighty being (a statement I have long lost interest in debating in defense of but is still rather intriguing). So, the style of the lyrics is a direct hyperbolisation of the one used in the Bible, the members do mean it when they say they aren't a Christian band.

This album isn't progressive, so it should take the average metalhead no more than 3 listens to completely appreciate this masterpiece. The combination of Orthodox Christianity and black metal seems like something that should've been done ages ago but we get it this late. But I am not complaining, because the execution of the concept really couldn't have been better. The production quality is exactly the one needed to make this album enjoyable, I express my most sincere apologies to the lo-fi fanboys here, this is not a harsh record in any way production-wise. And it is better that way. Well structured, steady, fresh and enjoyable, these are words few BM records deserve to be described with but are the ones that exactly fit my impression of Litourgiya. So, throw away that rotten potato and enjoy some real music.

Litourgiya - 85%

6CORPSE6GRINDER6, December 8th, 2017

“You always judge me for your actions
I demand the glory, credit and worship
Forever and always”

I love the tyrannical tone from the Old Testament god these guys use in their lyrics, that are actually biblical passages of the Russian Orthodox Church. Even if it’s somehow ambiguous, my interpretation is that religious institutions twisted the messages from the first spiritual masters so blasphemy becomes redundant; you just have to expose them as the bullshit they are, decorated with some melodic but dense black metal -blastbeats and 7 string guitars included- plus some sort of Gregorian chant and the result is marvellous. Batushka isn't reinventing metal but they take all the points in originality and satanism. Their live act looks killer too.

Vocals consist of a mix of traditional high pitched black metal shrieks, with deep and low but clean choruses, that add the cathedratic effect distinctive of the band. Lyrics are written in some old Russian dead language, using the Cyrillic alphabet as you can see displayed in this website. I found this detail refreshing and interesting, extreme metal is known for indistinguishable vocals anyway. The energy they transmit is stronger than words. The string department is conformed by thick sounding guitars, mostly downtuned but sometimes doubled by higher octaves to highlight melodies. Bass guitar isn't particularly outstanding but helps the band to achieve a “surround” feel.

Besides the classic distorted strings, there are some fragments of the album that feature acoustic instruments, that desaturate the massive body of their intense counterparts the album is mostly about. Aggressive percussion is present, fast and relentless high tempos adorn the blast beats and make the melodies even more trance-like. Accelerated tupa-tupa thrash beats remind you of the roots of black metal, but are often used. Some intros and slow and mysterious passages feature atypical percussive instruments that sound kind of ethnic and develop a ritualistic atmosphere, present in different shapes but constantly through the whole album.

Composition is simple, compared to technical bands, but very effective. You can feel how every instrument is oriented to develop the same feeling in every different part of the album. You could say that simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication here, that statement works pretty well for Batushka. Nowadays is hard to hear innovative bands, pretty much everything is already invented but these guys managed to pull a refreshing sounding brand of black metal and I'm looking forward to see them live next year because of that. I recommend this record to any black metal fan longing for a refreshing listen.

The Mysterious Liturgy - 89%

psychoticnicholai, July 31st, 2017
Written based on this version: 2015, Digital, Witching Hour Productions (Bandcamp)

I can already hear people crying "gimmick" from miles away, but in all honesty, this mixture of black metal with Orthodox liturgical chants feels very natural and certainly interesting. These mysterious robed figures find a way to blend the already dark and ethereal sounds of booming medieval church choirs with the unholy heaviness of black metal, and make it work. Batushka creates a new take on bizarre black metal, without sounding forced or ridiculous. This is dead-serious in the monumental levels of darkness and grand rhythms to make this sound like an infernal version of the holy hymns sung in the ancient past, with more weight and power than before. Even if the chanting weren't there, the music is mighty and biting enough to stand firm. But, the vocals on here act as an instrument all their own, adding another layer to the melody of Litourgiya and they blend well with the music on offer, as well as giving it some added strength. Here we get something inventive in a good package that I hope gets built-upon and explored more.

The method of creating a rich sound with a spiritual bent is used very effectively on Litourgiya with the entire package sounding monstrous, epic, and strong. The riffs are not neglected at all and make for some very thick and murky passages. These passages are crushing and meditative at the same time. You think that the vocals would take primacy on Litourgiya and they certainly are strong, but the guitar is certainly still in position to write some especially weighty tremolo riffs. On to said vocals now, they are done with plenty of strength and enough tact to really fit in. They also resonate like the winds of the stratosphere with all their might. The vocals tower high and mighty like storm clouds over a valley ready to let loose the thunder. And like thunder, they are low and threatening while still being of the air. They are so powerful that the more regular black metal screams on here get outperformed by clean choirs. Fans of a low, clean-sung approach to black metal a la Root will probably enjoy this, though this is far more regular black metal-tinged, more serious, heavier, and less fantastical. The sound of Litourgiya is rich and ethereal, with plenty of ominous presence to boot.

Much of the music on here does a good enough job with the massive sound presence of Batushka and that leads us to some interesting pieces. Some of these songs have riffs that stick and carry a lot of charisma with them. I find myself frequently returning to songs like "Yekteniya 3" and "6" with the guitar riffs being enough to bring me back to them and with a strong vocal delivery to make these litanies all the more infectious and powerful. The others are nothing to sneer at, as this is a very consistent album with many solid pieces. Again, comparing them to Root, don't expect epic sagas like Root makes. This is one area that I can definitely see potential for improvement and more developed songwriting. But what you get is still aggressive with the presence of a giant and the atmosphere of a seance with the songs having a strong epic undercurrent to them.

Litourgiya seemed like it could become a gimmick, but what we got was a mighty and developed sound where ominous church choirs are blended as the primary vocal method with a wall of crushing black metal. Fans of the unorthodox in metal will probably find a bit to love with Batushka and their moody variety of corrupted ecclesiastical black metal. There's some room for growth, and it could do with some more developed songs before I would ever call it a masterpiece, but Batushka have started on a solid foundation. That foundation provides us with plenty of songs that grow on the listener and have loads of power. It's a seamless blend of two dark genres with a heft that really drives home an apocalyptic and immersive atmosphere. This is very odd, but also a display of strength that I can't help but enjoy.

Unpredictable and unforgiving black metal. - 95%

DSOfan97, April 29th, 2016

Batushka were formed last year by three Polish musicians who are said to be well-known in the scene but decided to keep their identities secret. Overtime, there were various advertisements of the album being described as 'KILLER RELEASE!'. But the hype is rarely a friend and when it is combined with mediocre releases it becomes a truly dangerous foe. Countless bands have been thrown in the trenches of obscurity after releasing dud albums that had been lauded by their label as masterpieces...

That being said, Witching Hour is the most honest label I have ever come across. The album is masterfully crafted, it doesn't feature any weak links or any fillers. Black metal and doom metal have never being so well blended before. The band tuned their guitars so low that at some points they sound like distorted basses! The slow pace of the first songs slowly accelerates until it reaches a raging tempo with the exception of the second song that is very fast. Another thing that you will notice is the harrowing atmosphere of the record. There is a gloomy feeling lurking in every track, starting from the very first second and finishing when the album ends.

The guitars are not overproduced whereas a more raw production has been pursued consisting of merely two easily audible effects: heavy distortion and reverb. The band has used clean guitars as well but the album in its majority is full of tremolo picked riffs and bombastic rhythm guitar lines. The very low tuning makes it sound even more abyssal and fierce while the bass adds a thicker layer of stringed instruments. The drums are pretty much basic stuff: some blasts here and there and maybe even some slower moments.

And then there are the orthodox chants. Out of all the components that make this album such an adventure, the one that stands out for me is the chanting. I felt those needed an exclusive paragraph because instead of being just the top of the iceberg, they evolve into the album's epicenter. I am not sure wether those are actual psalms that are sung in Russian Orthodox churches, or if Batushka wrote them themselves. That does not matter that much since the album cover clarifies the band's blasphemous intentions.

Batushka's debut is unpredictable and unforgiving. It is arguably the best debut of 2015 and I am glad I didn't check it until the new year because it would have fucked my top 10 list up. However I cannot deny that it would definitely deserve to do so. Nothing more needs to be said. If you can obtain a copy go on and grab it. Such albums are rarely released. Indeed Witching Hour, this is a 'KILLER RELEASE'!

Favorite tracks: 'Yekteniya III', 'Yekteniya IV', 'Yekteniya V'.

95/100.

Blackened mass - 91%

Homo Sapiens Metallis, April 28th, 2016

Back when the entire Orthodox direction within black metal was indeed synonymous with novelty, ingenuity and experimentation, this was clearly reflected by the number of such artists. You had the most mentioned and certified candidate, that is Deathspell Omega, but it did take a number of years for the other artists to appear that would even dare to create music to rival or reflect the sound Deathspell Omega had concocted in whatever Typhonian trance they were in. Nowadays, when the said scene is oversaturated and encumbered by an army of copycats and clearly influenced bands, even the given genre seems to become stranded in a sea of stagnancy, with artists continuously opting for the easily discernible dissonance or tempos, that while still difficult to perform and achieve, hearken back to the bygone glorydays of the movement. But all may not be lost, as finally a dash of fresh air, or decomposing putrefaction, if you like, has taken the scene by its mighty and morbid genius. And its name is Batushka.

The relatively little information available about the band members does not facilitate or imperil the appreciation of their sound in any way, as Polish acts are not as prone and intent to experiment as would be expected from such a largely developed and established scene. Yes, there are bands such as Furia and Morowe, and there were bands such as Lux Occulta, that hazarded to expand and distort the frontiers of black metal, but they are but a miniscule percentage. Hyper speed blasting and tremolos are still the trademark and backbone of the Polish movement. And Batushka is the precise opposite of this, with a heavily atmospheric and ritualistic sound, heavily embedded in doom metal, and with certain elements borrowed from the post metal movement, merely in the fact that it so easily embraces the musical elements alien to metal in general and black metal in particular. The chanting so frequently forefronted adds an otherwordly and nightmarish quality to the music, and begins so promptly, with the very first song “Yekteniya I”, and when combined with the typical shrieks, sows even more terror and discomfort. The riffs are mostly mid-paced and doomy, and remain so even when the drums picks up the pace and fury, with bass thumping beneath it all for that additional annihilation. just in case one happened to be at ease with what they were hearing. A bell is then added amidst all of the confusion to further disorient and decimate your senses. Another standout track “Yekteniya III” also opens ceremonially, before descending into a hectic collage of emotional and tremendous riffs and scales, with provoking and unnerving shrieks and cleans, and crushing and climactic changes in tempo. It is also the track with the most attention placed on riffing, unlike the ritualistic tendency of the other ones. “Yekteniya V” also has a ridiculous range of vocals and tempos, all supported by adequate aggression placed between the more emotional and liturgical elements. With eerie female chanting and a sinister bass sound, “Yekteniya VI” is perhaps the most easily distinguishable of the bunch, although the amount of aggression and ceremony carefully distributed during its duration is on pair with the rest of the tracks. These tracks could perhaps portray the amount of ideas and talent behind this band, but at no means do the other ones suffer creativity and conviction

Without bands such as Batushka, I can hardly picture the black metal scene achieving the same level of genius and glory it was once graced with. Yes, the furious blasting and ominous riffing are the most identifiable and essential elements of it, uncompromisable and inextricable from the overall sound, but there are so many external influences and possible borrowings, that it seems ridiculous that such a major part of the scene is willing to persist on obsolete tenets, without willingness to color them with at least some memorability and versatility. Thankfully, artists such as Batushka realize the risk and absurdity of this, and are willing to give the scene what it deserves: some much-needed and oft-neglected revision. 91/100

Crushing liturgy. - 93%

ConorFynes, April 6th, 2016

The whole concept of orthodox black metal has been dragged through the mud and back. Highbrow atmosphere and a consummate seriousness to the music's religious subject aren't elements with an expiry date, but it can certainly feel that way in the wake of so many dry imitators. There hasn't been an orthodox band with such an intellectual heft as Deathspell Omega, despite the budding legions they inspired. Nor has anyone wielded Gregorian chants as well as Funeral Mist, nor conjured melodies so crippling as Ondskapt. Orthodox black metal (if it's to be seen as a style to begin with) has always been entrusted to an elite few, a observation which incidentally plays into the trend's inherent arrogance.

With that cynicism in place, it is beautifully affirming to hear a new band breathe so much life into a waning trend that it deserves mention among the very best of its class. Between superb albums from Amestigon, VI, Blaze of Perdition and so many others, 2015 was a remarkably strong year for black metal. Batushkha's Litourgiya was released quietly into the last few weeks of that way. Clearly, it didn't take people long to take notice. Litourgiya already sounds like a golden ticket in theory: a black/doom hybrid in the vein of The Ruins of Beverast coloured with a dominant presence of Byzantine chanting and Russian orthodoxy. Batushka take any would-be gimmicks in their sound as seriously as they deserve. The result of this effort is one of the most passionate and authentic black metal albums I've heard in the last few years. What more or little can be said about an album that dares to leave me speechless?

Gregorian chants have been used by countless bands, and while the trick is arguably overused, I'll admit the atmospheric effect is never spent. Batushka's classical influence is better described as Byzantine chant, and while the musical differences between the two probably wouldn't be apparent to outsiders of liturgical music, you can definitely tell Batushka are operating on a different wavelength than their Western European peers. Although they're from Poland (an overwhelmingly Catholic nation by any standard) Batushka take from the Russian orthodox tradition more than anything. Their name (aptly chosen) is derived from the Russian word for "father", the chanted vocals are deeper, rougher-edged than their Gregorian counterparts. In virtually all other black metal albums, the use of these chants would not be dominant enough to be worth a paragraph. A strong part of Batushka's immediate charm is their willingness to bring this usual accessory to the forefront. The yet-unnamed frontman offers chanted vocals as convincing and throaty as you'd hear in the most pompous cathedral. The band aren't without the traditional black metal rasp, but it sounds thin in contrast with the chanted vocals.

Batushka's lean on these chants in a rare "lead vocal" role gives them an immediate character you almost never see on a debut. Alongside Funeral Mist's Salvation, this is probably my favourite use of chanted vocals on a black metal album; it's only to Batushka's credit that they focus on this strength so much. That's not to say that Litourgiya depends on this one aspect to stand out. While it's easily their most defining element, Batuskha's tactful songwriting and crushing presentation round off the debut perfectly. The similarly inventive Cult of Fire could be brought up in terms of describing their compositions, at once spiritual, eerily melodic and still every bit in touch with black metal traditions. As mentioned earlier on in this review, The Ruins of Beverast are a close mention in terms of the applied sound here. The performance is thick and oppressive

Litourgiya is only slow enough to constitute real doom metal a fraction of the time, but the band have harnessed an incredible and appropriate sense of heaviness that begs the mention. Batushka are as superb with writing memorable guitar parts as they are with their vocals. The guitar tone here is too thick to be considered truly melodic, but the hooks are there, and they had me completely drawn in from the first listen. It shouldn't go without mention that Litourgiya has an impeccable production, sans the stifling compression of some of Batushka's comparisons. Although the band have remained anonymous, the expertise they brought into this project is apparent, and I hope they keep this flame going now that the match is lit.

It is inspiring to see so many excellent black metal records coming out of Poland this past few years in particular. Litourgiya may be the best of them all. The fact that Batushka are drawing upon Eastern European orthodoxy compared to Western Catholicism makes them sound all the more dangerous. Even if they're perverting that inspiration through blasphemy, the sound is so authentic that you can't help but feel these guys at least respect some of the culture and values that sprung from orthodox Christianity. As an institution, Catholicism has been lopsided by a perpetual string of scandals and a sequence of Popes that seem more interested in pandering to a Liberal zeitgeist than upholding tradition. Between the popular conservatism of Eastern Europe and the 'no tolerance' doctrine its nations have upheld in the face of an Islamic incursion, it's clear that orthodox Christianity stands head and shoulders above its Western counterpart now in many ways. Regardless whether that is moreso a cause to celebrate or blaspheme against it, the aesthetic has resulted in a stronger brand of black metal than I'd have ever expected from any new band.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical.

Russian orthodoxy + epic BM in 8-track liturgy - 80%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, February 12th, 2016

At present this band just has one album out so the time may be too early for us to say whether Batushka is a long-term proposition or a one-off project for its members who are involved in other metal bands. If "Litourgiya" turns out to be a dark horse winner then perhaps Batushka should consider another full-length release riffing on its blending of Russian Orthodox chanting and black metal. That possibility might be more real than just hypothetical as the album is gaining a lot of fans, to judge by various online reviews I have seen so far.

And those reviews do have a point: "Litourgiya" does not sound at all like commonplace melodic black metal with a religious gimmick attached to it. The entire album is structured like an Orthodox ritual with each track a petition in itself, in which chanting takes place and a response may follow. The music is deep with heavy crunching bass riffs and foghorn drones that boom out. Tremolo guitar riffs act as heralds and the pounding blast-beat drums add able if not flamboyant support. The songs are structured around the vocals, often two sets of vocals with one set being clean-toned sonorous religious chanting and the other set being typical rasping satanic BM roar. The contrast between the two styles of vocals, with all their different, conflicting associations, provide a stentorian edge to the already powerful instrumentation.

It takes a while to absorb the music with all its thunder but a few tracks stand out. "Yekteniya 3" features the chanting and BM vocals running in parallel while the guitars and drums storm away on the edge of deranged chaos. "Yekteniya 4" develops something of a groove and builds up steadily to a tempestuous climax. "Yekteniya 6" features sombre chanting so deep that it becomes hypnotic and droning, and there is some tremulous female chanting at the beginning. This track and the one following do point up one issue that may be a problem for some listeners: the vocals can get lost beneath the monumental riffs and rapid-fire drumming, and when there are quite a few voices going all at once, following them can be confusing.

Listeners expecting significant moments where there is just cool ambience, in which they might imagine seeing and meditating on icons in their minds' eye, might be disappointed because there is hardly any pause for reflection in the urgent and intense songs.

The album is best heard and enjoyed as one whole as the tracks don't differ much from one another and together form a narrative - as the album title suggests, all eight tracks constitute the liturgy. Taking it all in at once can be daunting once you realise how grandiose the music is right from the get-go but at least you have the liberty of sitting down, unlike actual Orthodox church worshippers who would normally be standing up the whole way through without a break.

"Litourgiya" might not inspire enough people to convert to Orthodoxy but it will sure impress its audience with its power, ambition and majesty.

Sermons From A Blasphemous Clergy - 97%

dystopia4, February 1st, 2016

I initially avoided listening to Batuska because I was a bit put off by the all aboard the hype train situation surrounding them, with every battle-jacket clad metalloid I have on Facebook yammering on about it. To make matters worse, there was the whole hidden identity of the members thing – you know this gimmick has gotten old when a saccharine radio friendly pop-metal band like Ghost adopts it as part of their never ending attention whoring campaign. As more and more people who’s taste I respect sang Litourgiya’s praises and as I caught wind of rumors that a member of Mgla might be involved (the Polish black metal scene is a favorite of mine, with Mgla easily being one of the country’s best acts), I finally relented and gave the album a chance.

Am I ever fucking glad I did. While lots of over-hyped metal bands end up being more image than substance, I knew from the first listen that I’d be spinning Litourgiya for years to come. While this record is full of nuances and atmosphere and more of its intricacies are revealed with each listen, it’s also really fucking fun and chock-full of riffs that get the blood running.

Batushka’s feet are firmly planted in the orthodox camp, with its arms feverishly attempting to hack them off. The backbone of Litourgiya stems from a very well established black metal tradition, largely informed by the usual suspects of the second-wave innovators. However, it’s where Batushka wanders a bit from the beaten path (and not even particularly far, mind you) that really makes this album so damn memorable. The ecclesiastic vibes give Litourgiya a unique flavor very distinguishable from your average second-wave worship black metal band. Look - are Batushka the first band to use orthodox chanting in black metal? Absolutely fucking not. However, this is easily the best integration of these chants with black metal I’ve ever heard. While lots of bands choose to separate both elements, Batushka integrates the Slavonic choir parts into the black metal instead of entirely keeping them reserved for calmer moments. I suspect most bands keep them separate because doing what Batuska did here is damn hard to pull off, but they took a risk and nailed it flawlessly.

This is not where Batushka spicing up the worn-out template ends. I’ve seen the band being given the ‘black/doom’ tag a few times, which strikes me as a tad hyperbolic. This is definitely a black metal album through and through, but that’s not to say that a slight doom influence isn’t lurking in the shadows. However, what I found much more interesting was the influence of Rotting Christ, specifically when they stopped being so much a black metal and included many influences from across the extreme-metal spectrum and beyond (‘dark metal’ is the most used descriptor of this sound, I guess). This comes across brilliantly here, and helps in fortifying the atmosphere. There are a fair amount of reverb-drenched clean parts as well, which have an almost meditative atmosphere that goes well with the Slavonic choir parts.

I could rant for days about all the little things Batushka do to reanimate the bloated orthodox corpse, but let’s look at the meat of the music. The black metal backbone that forms the springboard for all these little experiments is honestly not particularly original. And I think that’s where the band really triumphs – adding to a well established sound rather than attempt to reimagine its framework entirely (let’s not forget that originality is not always synonymous with quality). This is jam-packed with tremolo riffs; sometimes rambunctious and sometimes more pensive. Very typical of the polish scene, there’s a fair amount of melody injected into orthodox black metal riffs. While there is surely lots of shitty melodic black metal out there, these sort of melodies retain lots of bite. Litourgiya is a tightrope walk between extremes – orthodoxy and innovation, accessibility and savagery and nowhere is this more evident in the production. The production is of a much higher quality than the vast majority of black metal bands and indeed feels a bit “professional”. While everything is clear and sounds big, the production is not polished to the point of sapping the album’s lifesblood.

There’s really not a lot to complain about here. The riffs are memorable and are just as likely to kick your ass as to weave a catchy melody. The drumming is incredibly tight and it knows when to unleash the savagery and when to lay down some more intricate patterns. The bass largely does its duty in a supportive role, but in some of the clean section does some really cool jangly stuff. The rasps are blistering and the ethereal clean vocals add a whole new dimension to the sound. There seems to be something here for every black metal fan, no matter what their chosen vein of black metal is. I could go on forever but I’ll just end with this – if you like black metal, just fucking check out Batushka already. The hype is not a lie, for once.

A Different Shade of Orthodoxy - 94%

TheStormIRide, January 17th, 2016

Litourgiya is the debut album from the mysterious Polish entity Batushka, which seemingly flew in under the radar at the tail end of 2015, but has been getting heaps of praise in recent weeks. The band reputedly has members from well known bands in the Polish scene, but they’ve chosen to operate under the veil of secrecy. While black metal has fervently spelunked into the realms of theological Satanism, Batushka opts for approaching black metal through a completely different orthodoxy, colored by the rituals and mysticism of the traditional Slavonic Church.

Indeed, everything about Batushka seems to be highlighted by this epic flair of Slavonic Orthodoxy, from sweeping liturgical chants to the sporadically placed ecclesiastic bells. Even the band’s name is a nod towards the Eastern Orthodox, with the name roughly being a rural endearment for the word father, but is mostly used when speaking of a priest. Litourgiya offers eight movements that seamlessly flow from fiery blasting to moments of serpentine doom. The base of the music bears a lot of similarities to Mgla, in the both the riffing style and percussion, with a lot of winding trem riffs that are bolstered but flowing melodies and strong hooks (just listen to the main riff of “Yekteníya 3” for an example).

The vocals alternate between rather typical raspy screams and clear, liturgical chanting, which is what really helps Batushka stand out from the pack, bringing an extremely epic flair to the music. While the chanting is mixed throughout the entire album, even some of the blasting segments, the band offers several passages of writhing, pulsing doom which allows the chanting to shine even brighter at times. This mix of fiery trem riffing and plodding doom set to the tune of liturgical orthodoxy is explosive and intriguing. The tempos are changed up just enough throughout to allow the forty minute album to pass without stagnating in the least bit.

Batushka is able to capture the darkness of black metal despite the ecclesiastical leanings and imagery utilized. The sound is epic and thunderous, triumphant yet bleak. Many black metal bands have placed short-lived segments of folksy chanting in their music, but Batushka seems to be among the first to use this a primary vocal style. While there’s really no way of knowing at this point if the band is just using this imagery and mysticism for aesthetic purposes or if the band members are truly adherents to the Eastern Orthodox religion, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that Batushka have crafted a stellar debut album in Litourgiya, and one that should continue to gain fans as word spreads.

Written for The Metal Observer.

Batushka - Litourgiya - 90%

Ylmir, January 1st, 2016

This is an album that likely would have flown under the radar for me if not for some "end of year" lists, of which many either mentioned this as an interesting release or a stellar one. My initial reaction was that this was an album worth at least a spin or two and my first impressions were similar; an interesting album. I put it to rest for a short while, regarding it as a somewhat niche release, but quickly came back feeling it was maybe something more special. As so often is the case, brilliant releases may require a few more runs before their full power becomes apparent to the listener.

I've heard many black metal artist use orthodox chants before. Most merely use them as intros, interludes or as a part of ambient, atmosphere building sections. Litourgiya does something different and more.

This is a brutal album, an epic if you will. This is a weird combination which I'm not sure I've heard the likes of before. As mentioned before many artist employ orthodox chants as meas to build atmosphere. Batushka take a step further and fully integrate the orthodox chants and singing into the songs to create a truly unique experience. In this case, the sum really is greater than the individual parts.

At it's foundation it is blast beat and tremolo driven black metal but doomier sections are used to give the chants space to shine. Overall the vibe is heavy, both in the riffs as well as a direct result of the doomy sections. That said, the album definitely has a lot of fast paced black metal sections. In a way the two complement one another. The faster sections seem to make the slower, heavier sections even heavier and in return they give a contrast for the faster sections to shine.

At the time of writing not much information is available on the band members, only that they are based in Poland and are no newcomers to the scene. The blacker parts remind a lot of Mgła who are of course Polish as well. I, for one, would not be surprised to see M. of Mgła listed as a member later on. As far as those black metal centric parts is concerned, there is not really much new to talk about. The classic blast beat patterns and raspy black metal shrieks followed by tremolo riffs are maybe nothing special on their own. However, it is the combination and active part of the orthodox chanting and singing which really makes the album unique. There is no need for orthodox atmosphere building sections or interludes to make the album stand out when the songs themselves take full care of that by flawless integration of this side.

As far as individual songs goes there is, to be honest, not much to say. This is because the album shines best as a whole, consumed in it's entirety, preferably in a dark room at maximum volume. The one song that stands out in particular is part 7 which includes no shrieks or screams, only pure orthodox ecstasy. An what a song, the ending turns my brain to porridge every time. The opening number gives perhaps the best combination of both sides while the other songs seem more black metal favored with orthodox doomy parts carefully and beautifully intertwined.

Overall, it's a very surprising and exceptionally strong album. This is one I would highly recommend, not only to orthodox black metal enthusiasts, but too all purveyors of the darker side of music. Hell, even my non-metal friends found this interesting. As far as rating goes, at the moment 90/100 will do, if this still melts my brain in a few years it will deserve a full 100%.

Orthodox Ceremony - 97%

Oscar1989, December 15th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Witching Hour Productions (Limited edition, Wooden box)

It's always like that - the more something is hyped before the actual release, the more I think 'is it really going to be worth all that excitement?'. Batushka kept being advertised by Witching Hour Productions as the absolute sensation coming to the scene. It was being described as the Polish project with incognito musicians who are generally well-known in the business. It was supposed to stir the black metal scene. Well, it did... In fact, it messed up my annual summary already jumping to the lead as one of the best albums and debuts of 2015. Behold the mighty Litourgiya!

As soon as you play the first track, you realize you are not dealing with yet another black metal album that is going to be put back on the shelf acting as a dust collector. The unusual inspiration of Batushka is noticeable from the very start. All in the form of the orthodox ceremony, Litourgiya creates an implausible aura which, I must admit, I have never heard before. Alright, first thing that came to my mind was Cult of Fire or Death Karma, but Batushka is a level beyond that. Both visually and musically.

What do we actually get in terms of tunes? I really struggle to find any unguarded moment on Litourgyia. It feels to be a sort of very uniform concept album with a perfect balance between doomy sections and real black metal blasts. Subtle church bells and orthodox chants in Russian sound incredibly genuine and act as a perfect accompaniment for this inimitable atmosphere. All the riffs are really diverse and you can easily tell that they have not been composed by amateurs.

Yekteníya 3 and 4 are definitely the strongest compositions on the album treating a listener with an unbelievable dose of orthodox celebration. The base line of Yekteníya 4 is very effective in its simplicity and can guarantee you instant horripilation. The whole song is really thought through and it just precludes you from stopping it without listening to the very end. Well, this actually relates to the entire Litourgyia as after one week of listening, I can't get enough of it.

Litourgyia is a play on your imagination. Being so professional, legitimate and natural it enables you to imagine the orthodox ritual very easily. Also, I am the lucky owner of the special wooden edition which is a real piece of brilliant craftsmanship. Pure artistry in terms of music makes this album stand out beyond the level of black metal which we knew so far. I don't know if that was the authors' aim, but if so, they really deserve a massive pat on the back. And yes, I do hope that Batushka will become a live band. Period.

Originally written for The Goat Tavern:
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