The ongoing situation with the parties laying claim to the Batushka name is one which appears to be dividing fans across the board. Any such discussion is beyond the scope of an individual album review, but if you’re remotely interested in my opinion of 'Hospodi' (Metal Blade Records Batushka) then the review is listed within these virtual pages. Legalities over the use of the Batushka name - and, for that matter, who the ‘real’ Batushka is - is for the courts to decide but I think it becomes easy to be partisan, to pick one side rather that accepting both parties. As a reviewer, it is my responsibility to be impartial, to adopt a strict Formalist stance and let the music do the talking.
Panihida beat Hospodi to release by a matter of weeks but both records retain much of what they jointly produced back on 2015’s Litourgiya. The nature of album is such that its eight tracks are all named Песнь, with only the additional of numerical suffix to differentiate them. By so doing Drabikowski has created a singular piece of music, subdivided into movements, but intended and beneficially to be listened to as a whole.
The musicianship is unquestionably tight as you would expect, but the music itself ebbs and flows, from understated symphonic Black Metal on Track 1 to the more raw and guttural sounds of Tracks 6 and 7.
When Drabikowski fires up the Black Metal he embraces the spirit of the Swedish rather than the Norwegian; the opening section of Track 2 possesses a Watain-like urgency, whereas elsewhere on the album the likes of Dissection and Naglfar can be identified. But it’s the spirit of the mighty Bathory’s second trilogy which most often brought to the fore.
The variation in the flow of the music, from huge, wailing walls of sounds, to subtle solo passages; from the intense blast-beat to the restrained, all mark Panihida as a record of complex mood and texture. This is achieved by Drabikowski layering his Black Metal assault over a continual choral chant, as though the album itself is haunted by the ghosts of the past. This was also done on Hospodi, but in a much less subtle manner: here, Drabikowski’s music feels possessed by the ancient spirits of his homeland, who keep pushing through the thin fabric of his creation.
As Panihida is a complete piece of music divided into eight movements, these themes recur across the piece, like stanzas of an epic poem. The genius of the album is that the understated Gregorian chants never reduce into being a gimmick and do not feel like a distraction from the rest of the music; rather it compliments Drabikowski’s savagery when it appears, reiterating his less intense passages when appropriate.
Krzysztof Drabikowski is perhaps one of the most interesting musicians working in extreme music at the moment and Panihida is a masterwork. Regardless of the legalities over nomenclature, it’s the music that matters; so is Panihida better than Hospodi? I would say so.