There’s a sense of the old-school about Batushka and I don’t mean merely about the music. Formed in 2015 and releasing their debut Litourgiya the same year the band subsequently spilt, with both multi-instrumentalist Krzysztof Drabikowski and vocalist Bartlomiej Krysiuk laying claim to the band’s name and its legacy. 2019 sees both members releasing albums under the Batushka name, with Drabikowski’s Panihida emerging in late May of this year, beating Krysiuk by a matter of weeks.
Hospodi begins with Wozglas, a chant reminiscent of Atilla’s opening exultations when fronting Sunn O))), delivered in Old Church Slavonic. When the album begins properly, Hospodi starts to reveal itself as deeply inspired by Orthodox funeral rites, dirges and prayers for the dead. This is an album in which the blast-beat takes a back-seat to atmosphere and although tracks like Weiczernia and Pierwyj Czas veer into the speedier waters of certain strands of black metal, for the most part Hospodi’s menace is built around its ability to develop eerie soundscapes and explore the concept of being a liturgy of death.
Whereas the Scandinavian blueprint for Black Metal is the sound of frost-bitten forests and snow-capped mountains, Batushka’s point of origin is the cloistered corridors of ancient monasteries, with chants echoing from low-stone chambers. The tracks Powieczerje, Trerij Czas and Liturgiya all begin with ageless voices, before giving way to guttural screams of torment, as though the issuers of those aged words were, themselves in spiritual peril. In that respect they invoke the spirit of fellow-Poles Behemoth in their blasphemous fire, while at other times they a reminiscent of the eco-black metal of Wolves in the Throne Room, as on Polinosznica. There are even times when Hospodi pulls itself back into the Symphonic realms of early Dimmu Borgir or even, dare I say it, Emperor themselves.
Like all the best albums, Hospodi’s themes and ideas are too vast to be fully understood on an initial few spins; the concept itself can take a lifetime to consider and unless you are fluent in Old Church Slavonic then I imagine the nuances of the lyric content may be lost on most people. But music is about being taken on a journey and, as I have written in these digital pages previously, the genre of Black Metal is the most able to lead you on that journey.