Batushka – Panihida (2019) – Review

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2019 is the year of the Batushka controversy, one that will write Black Metal history. The genre is not devoid of its past troubles, and this one here just sounds like a fitting continuation. Albeit a bit less fiery, or deadly – come to think of it.

Yet we still got ourselves one major metallic earthquake that hit our metal shores like a steely tsunami at the beginning of the year. And which never ceased with its aftershocks since.

But it is also true enough that without all that drama, we would never find ourselves with two brand-new records instead of one. A crime committed by members of a band that decided not to get along with each other anymore. And who finally split to go separate ways.

The first record – Hospodi – already featured on the blog. And it wasn’t a resounding success in this reviewer’s opinion. But now it’s time to get to the version Krzysztof Drabikowski released in May 2019. With one, single and brightly burning question.

Will Panihida deliver the goods, or fall by the wayside too?

You will remember the year of the Dark Lord 2015. This is when Litourgyia took us all by surprise first, and then by storm. Batushka slily released this pretty outstanding album anonymously. In a format that probably taught Black Metal specialists a thing or two. And they delivered a mix of cathedral chanting with a total tremolo attack on a foundation of rumbling blackened metal.

A blasphemous thought, ain’t it?

But then, Black Metal is all about blasphemy, so it must fit. And it did just that, and so much more. So, these are godawfully mighty shoes to fill for any sophomore album. Without any complications that Batushka decided to inflict on themselves. An unforced error, if there ever was one.

Once Panihida (or Панихида) unleashes Song One (or Песнь 1), you’ll understand that you landed right in Litourgyia‘s backyard. Absolutely no fucking doubt. So much so that we feared suffering through yet another edition of much more of the same.

And at first, Drabikowski truly sails down that route. He’ll serve you beats that you already heard somewhere, with sounds that feel familiar. All those bass-laden riffs and rasps rumbling about your stomach.

Comfortable, that’s the expression.

But just give it a few moments. Nothing is ever what it seems. Already later that first track, intensity increases. This is when we get to a level of aggression that wasn’t there on the former record. Panihida is full of it. So, I guess that controversy breeds brutal crunch and blackened, grim and searing riffs.

And this is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Reconstituted, unholy flesh on dead priests’ bones, and ghostly monks having a bunch of midnight rituals. A truly black and blasphemous expression of tremolo-laden walls of noise that befits this genre. And again, at a much higher level of intensity than what many other bands are able to muster.

But the journey still gathers unholy speed. By Song Two the sound on Панихида takes a hike. Into aggression territory, that is. This is when you feel that emotion wash over you, all that rage and frustration on full display. Faster, meatier, yet still grounded in the style Batushka created for itself in 2015.

And this is what differentiates these two split personalities. Hospodi blatantly tendered run-of-the-mill Black Metal to their audience. Whereas here we get unholy progression on a foundation of well-known orthodox chanting from the pit.

Panihida craftily continues to wield this in-your-face Black Metal assault right through to the bitter end. The tune is often reminiscent of traditional offerings like Geisterfels, but then continually whacks you over the head with undue force. A sometimes blistering demonstration as to how Black Metal ought to sound. Smothered in orthodox chanting with a smattering of atmospherics here and there.

The rage and intensity continue to grow until all comes to a fulminant end. In other words, you’ll find the aforementioned progression until the last note squeezes out of them sorry guitars and the rasps finally cease to attack your eardrums. No fillers, just total, relentless Black Metal blitz.

It is thus a sore pity that the whole production feels rushed and – to an extent – unfinished. There are just too many rough edges all about the album. A somewhat raw mix and a master that doesn’t smoothen or finish things out is just shoddy work. And this will knock a star or so off their rating.

On top, I see no marketing effort from the Drabikowski camp, no effort to beef up social network presence, and no communication to speak of. This may – in part – be due to on-going court proceedings. But this will for sure give Metal Blade and their considerable resources a free forward pass to score early.

Just sayin’.

If anything, Panihida does show that Krzysztof Drabikowski for sure is not out of ideas. This record really turns out to be a fitting sophomore concoction, with just the right amount of old style and new elements combined. One that holds its water against the mighty debut album the old Batushka was able to create.

And let’s be clear. To debate what the true Батюшка should be or not is a moot point. So let’s not even go there. Yet again, Панихида really speaks by itself – and it does that extremely well. It delivers a powerful, yet darkly ominous message of trve Black Metal once again. Crunchy, meaty, brutal, rough and mean.

In short, total blasphemous aggression, and just the way we like it.

Ed’s note: The record made it onto the 2019 Top 10 records. Congrats!

Record Rating: 8/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Official Website
Release date: 26 May 2019

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