Litourgiya by Batushka – or Батюшка – combines black metal with Orthodox Church imagery in appalling ways, and it was one of 2015’s most surprising albums for three reasons: It came out just a few days before Christmas (pushing everyone to review their end-of-year lists), it’s the debut album of a mysterious band that didn’t reveal their precise location or the names of its members, and it sounds fantastic.
Batushka, who supposedly come from Poland but sing in Russian and Old Church Slavonic, surely know how to play their genre. This could be explained by the fact that they share members with well-known Polish bands, according to their label Witching Hour Production. The musical composition of Litourgiya is superb, as the band wriggles between flawless blast-beats, calm parts where a macabre sound of chains often peeps out, and overwhelming metal rides.
The hallmark of their work, however, is the wide usage of Slavonic chants that melt perfectly with the rest of the music and with admittedly typical black metal vocals. These chants are not just samples of clerical dirges but an integral part of the band’s sound, as they always follow the music and contribute to exalt the piercing morbidness of the guitar riffs.
The band’s mystery has increased their hype even more. It’s been said that the chants they recite have some words changed and some lines reversed, with the result of turning these sacred words into blasphemous messages. The cover, with the erased faces of Jesus and Virgin Mary, points to that direction as well. As a consequence, the band received several death threats from Russian religious extremists and had to cancel their performances in Russia and Belarus.
Regardless, Batushka still managed to perform several shows in the rest of Europe, recreating on stage the gloomy atmosphere of Orthodox churches. After all, like their guitar player himself suggested in an interview, “nothing is more black metal than religion.”