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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.