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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.