Being taken from the Slavic Old Church word for God, you may go into the new Batushka – The Metal Blade one – album with expectations of something continuing in their ritualistic approach to black metal. You would be correct. With their sophomore release, Batushka continue in the manner that made them such an exciting proposition on the debut album. Black metal with elegiac choral chanting is abundant and obviously what the band trade on. Basically it’s as if Behemoth’s Bartzabel were a whole album. Sound good?
The first thing to note of this album is how well it flows together. Utilising the choir that gives Batushka a unique charm to their sound serves the album well as keeps things ticking along at a consistent pace. The choir acts as a sermon between songs, invoking a sense of the Almighty, before the thunderous black metal makes you want to commit deicide. There is a consistency to the album that is laudable as it never drops in terms of its quality, from the chilling choral refrain on opener, Wozglas right through to the bombastic finale, Liturgiya.
From a purely sonic standpoint, this album’s closest bedfellows are Behemoth’s I Loved You At Your Darkest and Ghost’s Opus Eponymous. This may seem a strange combination at first, but one listen to the album provides ample ammunition to make such a comparison. The production is sparse and lo fi like black metal of old, but with a clarity that can only be achieved through modern recording techniques. There’s almost a sense of pretence about this willingness to hark backwards when Batushka are so clearly trying to move the genre forwards, and it serves as a time dilation that is ultimately jarring. It gives the whole thing an almost black n roll feel rather than a straight blackened slab of infernal musicianship.
The instrumentation on the album is dextrous and played with a fiery sense of purpose. Nothing feels ancillary, bar the arguable over use of the choir, and the percussion in particular should be applauded for its stunning craftsmanship and panache for performance. Since Watain’s The Wild Hunt and Behemoth’s The Satanist, black metal hasn’t been afraid to make a play for the mainstream – whilst still maintaining a truly hellish verve it must be said – and this influence can be felt in the musicality of Hopsodi: While the guitar work is scathing and white hot, this is blackened music that could serve as a perfect entry point to the genre as it is not so abrasive as to deny entry to those less well versed in the world of extremity.
Overall, Batushka have written a rather decent follow up album. While the pretension of the choral refrain may make some listeners balk, it does give the album a flow that can often be absent in blackened releases. The music itself is devilish in its execution and can be accessed by a wide range of listeners, even those averse to the genre, and the performances are undeniably brilliant, if not a little understated. With music this steeped in religious iconography and soundscapes, you can’t help but wish for a little more bombast and pantomime, though it would be a fine line to tread before descending into parody. Batushka should be praised as well as critiqued for their restraint. There is nothing inherently wrong with this album, and for some it will remain a standout release of the year, but you can help but feel a little short changed by it’s inability to go beyond its self imposed limitations, and the restrictive nature of its ideation.
Hospodi is released on the 12th of July 2019 through Metal Blade Records.