Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Thurible Reviews: Batushka - "Litourgiya"

There's a "doth protest too much" quality to much of traditional black metal's attitude towards religion. The fascination is, after all, very one-sided; Christianity cares about as much about black metal as black metal cares about Katy Perry, and yet anti-religious angst remains a prominent lyrical theme in the genre. Even more suggestive, though black metal may pay lip service to Satan, the monk robes, incense, and general obsession with religious iconography and ritual tells another story. Black metal may loathe traditional religion, but it also envies its antiquity and mysticism; qualities most black metal bands are eager to embrace and that the faux-spirituality of Satanism and neopaganism don't deliver.

Poland's Batushka embrace the tension between traditional black metal and traditional religion on Litourgiya. Combining black and doom metal aggression with the haunting chants of the Russian orthodox church, the band actually captures the ritualism and esotericism many black metal bands lust after. The rich, sonorous vocals give a depth and texture to Litourgiya's ominous atmospheres on tracks like "Yekteniya 1" and "Yekteniya 6." The impressive lower range of Batushka's vocalist shines throughout the album, delivering more than a few moments of startling resonant depth.

Yet the band's unique style isn't perfect. At times, the chants and riffs battle each other for dominance in the mix. This is black/doom with choral vocals, not a harmonious union between black metal hatred and orthodox liturgy. Litourgiya is an album carried by a gimmick; when the band embraces that gimmick, they produce primeval, mystical atmospheres of deepest dread. When they don't, it's little more than standard black/doom with chanting sprinkled on top for flavor. While Batushka prove they are proficient black metal musicians on tracks like "Yekteniya 2," that's not what the audience is here for. The shrieked vocals on the album usually feel unnecessary, and the strongest tracks give the resonant, solemn vocals center stage.


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