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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.