Batushka in 2019 is a fucking mess. With two different versions of the band having split off from the original as part of a very messy and public battle, plus a host of imitators – many of which are low-effort and barely worth being called “meme quality” – it can be difficult to remember just why we’re in the current situation. But then, a quick listen to Litourgiya will act as a reminder as to why. The 2015 album was a jolt of orthodox black metal filtered through the trappings of the Russian Orthodox church, taking its rituals and sigils and twisting them. That the band have chosen not to state whether this is something sincere in worship of God, or an intentional blasphemy, is neither here nor there. Black metal is theatre, and Batushka embraced that; and so did their fans.
Yet theatre is nothing if the music is not worthwhile; and, in Litourgiya, Batushka released an album of impressive quality. Heavy with melody, and making good use of dynamics and contrast, Litourgiya also possesses that something extra which only the best black metal has. It is an album that taps into something deeper, that feels religious and spiritual. Some of this is overt, and so intentional that it’s almost hilarious – the chanting choirs! The bells! – yet that is a huge part of the appeal of Litourgiya. It is an incredibly immediate album as far as black metal goes, bolstered by a very strong production that gives the music punch and weight that their live shows, for all their splendour, have struggled to replicate on each occasion this writer has seen the band (little surprise, perhaps, when the live show consisted of at least eight musicians). There is a vibrancy and, ironically given the genre, a life-affirming power to Litourgiya that is rare in extreme metal. Put another way, the album is a lot of fun to listen to.
As such, it’s no surprise the album was so warmly received upon release, and that – with a few years of hype behind them – egos would surface and control of the band be split between guitarist Derph and vocalist Bart. The messy split over ownership of social media accounts and legal ownership of the Batushka name/brand added an uncomfortably human side to a band that had previously presented itself as largely anonymous and mysterious. A sad ending for one of the more interesting bands of the 2010s, seemingly motivated by little more than greed.
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Words: Stuart Wain