Review Summary: Secretive Polish 'supergroup' Batushka create a monumental debut release that revels as much in religious influence as it does in blackened savagery.
Poland, as is the case with most (if not all) of Europe, has been heavily shaped throughout the past millenium or so by the forces of religion. The dominant group within the eastern European nation are the Catholics, although here the groupings and denominations become complicated. One such splinter of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Byzantine-Ukrainian, forms the inspiration of clandestine 'supergroup' Batushka's debut Litourgiya
, and the result is an experience few other bands within the metal sphere can match. Blending black and doom metal with Slavonic chanting, it is almost impossible for one to leave without a sense of reverent awe and a heavy heart.
The greatest idiosyncracy that Litourgiya
harbours is its blend of vocals. The Galician chanting style Samoilka
is a key component that lends heavily to the ecclesiastical atmosphere cultivated throughout; contrabass drones underlay the incantations that constitute most of its running time, and these have a surprising emotional impact. The lead vocals on 'Yetkeniya 1', for example, sound God-fearing and vulnerable, whereas 'Yetkeniya 4' is nothing less than ritualistic and confident in its delivery. As well as this chanting, black metal rasps are an equally prominent feature. The effect that these have on the atmosphere is remarkably powerful - to feature something so demonic alongside something so monastic seems somewhat blasphemous, as if hearing the sins of the clergy spat out within the walls of God.
However, what makes Litourgiya
move with such frightening intensity is the instrumentation. Dense, tremolo-picked guitar lines are used sparingly alongside doomier, low-register riffs that only add further to the monolithic nature created by the choral elements - however, tracks such as 'Yekteniya 8' show their capacity for establishing a truly melancholic mood when needed. The drums cater to this accordingly. Effective use of the bass pedal results in the slower sections barely ever stagnating, while the blast beats are frenetic, violent affairs usually intertwining with the aforementioned rasps to yield a terrifying yet immensely satisfying atmosphere. The occasional use of the zither during Litourgiya
's quieter moments really helps to drive home the Slavonic influence, and creates rare moments of beauty in an otherwise pulverising wall.
Crushing intensity is a term bandied about with gleeful abandon nowadays, but it's more than applicable when used to describe Batushka's brand of Slavonic-influenced black metal. The mysterious nature of the band's members only finishes off the creation of a truly intriguing entity, but in all honesty Litourgiya
has done most of the hard work for them; a violent, devout, moving and sibylline affair, and one that will hopefully in time be revered as such.