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Review

Batushka – Panihida Review

Band: Batushka
Album: Panihida
Label: Sphieratz Studio
Genre: Black Metal
Country: Poland
Release Date: May 30th, 2019

A joy that comes out of following musicians for a number of years is being able to see them find a group that slowly churns out better and better material with every album release. Numerous instances of this occurrence can be found in all genres of music, but to see this in metal is especially a joyous occasion. Metal itself is already an unusual take on music, so to have musicians that come together and create something new in this genre always leaves me blown away. However, this is a double-edged sword because it always leaves me hurt when I see these musicians have a falling-out as a result of petty grievances. Over the last couple of months, yet another falling-out of musicians befell the metal community. The main vocalist of the black metal band Batushka, Bartlomiej “Bart” Krysiuk, decided to kick the guitarist “Kris” Kryzysztof Drabikowski from the band due to Kris’ apprehension of releasing their sophomore album following Litourgiya. After much drama, it seems that both “Bart” and “Kris” have claims to the name Batushka and are releasing music under the same band name. Recently, “Kris” released Panihida, the supposed successor to Litourgiya. In the midst of all this drama, does Panihida live up to the expectations that fans of Litourgiya have for a sophomore release? To answer to this question, we need to first address what made Litourgiya such a special black metal album (special enough for me to get a limited edition vinyl of) and then compare/contrast it with Panihida.

I remember distinctly the first impression that I got when listening to Litourgiya for the first time was realizing that Batushka was a black metal band that nailed exactly the kind of atmosphere they were striving for, a feat rarely achieved by black metal bands across the globe. I could visualize a choir of Christian monks who decided to turn things up a notch with their music. As ridiculous as this image is, it is a very apt depiction in my humble opinion. The music exudes the gentle and mystical feel that medieval church music had thanks to appropriate clean vocal chants and chords, yet it still retains the harsh and venomous sound that black metal is so notoriously known for thanks to the excellent vocals and tasteful black metal drumming. The guitars are oddly enough not abrasive and are quite melodic. The vocals are your classic black metal shriek, but are executed with mastery. As odd of a description it is for drums of black metal, the fills and interplay between the blast beats, cymbal hits, and guitars/bass are tasteful and varied enough to maintain the brilliant verve found in Litourgiya. I’ll repeat this again; I have yet to hear a black metal band that executes this dichotomy of beauty and bleakness so perfectly as Batushka. Litourgiya also pleased me because I could tell that there was a collective effort on all parts. The guitarist, vocalist, and drummer respectively contributed their fair share of creativity and effort to create the image of Batushka and brew the feel of Liyourgiya. Such an organic album can only retain so much fidelity because of equal collaboration. However, this bliss was short-lived thanks to despicable and petty relationships between bandmates, specifically the vocalist and guitarist. In the wake of this drama, we are left with two Batushkas, with both claiming to be the real Batushka. “Kris” released Panihida while “Bart” is set to release Hospodi sometime in July. Does Panihida live up to the expectations set by Liyourgiya of the original and cohesive Batushka? Has Kris proved anything with the release of Panihida?

One quality of Litourgiya that separated it from many other black metal albums was the magnitude of the melody. Every song had a distinct and catchy melody that stood out to the listener, giving them the impression of being on a journey when listening through the entire album. The same quality is aptly demonstrated in Panihida, and I think it does well to prove who the main creative force was behind the original Batushka. Whether it be the riffs of the songs, the chanting vocals in the background, or the overall feel of the album, I think we can all agree that it is Kris who provided the foundation of the sound of Panihida.

The first song begins with gentle plucking of guitar strings while there are some background voices, giving us the visual of being inside of a church where people are coming to worship. Immediately, the all-too-familiar guitar comes riffing along, providing an apt backdrop to low-ended chanting. Thirty seconds into this song and I can already tell this is going to be a good listen. Then, about two and a half minutes in, the harsh vocals come in, and unfortunately this is where the first disappointment I have with Panihida comes to light. I addressed this earlier, but I want to make it clear that the vocal parts contributed by “Bart” were what gave Batushka distinction. Yes, the atmosphere established by the guitars and ambience gave Batushka the religious air, but the high-pitched vocals was the quality that made Batushka stand out from the rest. The high-pitched growls maintain their clarity throughout the entire album, and always cut through the wall of sound produced from the drums and guitar. I also thought the high-pitched growls were appropriate because they added a brilliance and purity to the sound, which in a way enhanced the religious side of Batushka. I was saddened when that superb quality was not brought back, a distinct element of Batushka lost to pettiness. The growls in Panihida are generic, muddled, and dark, all which are indicative of a loss due to the partition of Batushka. By no means are the vocals bad, but they’re not nearly as distinct and clear as the vocals from “Bart” found in Litourgiya. If anything, they sound generic and are added to emphasize the black metal rather than to enhance the black metal.

Unfortunately, this observation leads all too well to a second wave of disappointment hit me; the drums have lost all of their fidelity compared to what can be found in Litourgiya. Again, the drums feel as if they were there to emphasize the black metal qualities of the album and maintain the black metal image of Batushka. All the tastefulness of the black metal drumming found in Litourgiya is lost in Panihida. The drums sound mechanical and produced out of necessity. A metaphor that encapsulates my beliefs is the difference between an amateur chef and a master chef. The amateur chef measures out the exact amount of spice called for in the recipe, while the master chef adds the amount of spice he or she feels appropriate. The same thing can be said for the drums, and that is an apparent deficiency which diminishes my hopefulness for Panihida to be a worthy successor to Litourgiya.

After listening to the first song and through the rest of the album, it is with a heavy heart that, as good of a black metal album Panihida is, it fails to topple Litourgiya from its throne. It seems that the first half of Panihida struggles to establish itself, as if it’s spending time trying to distance itself from Litourgiya. I only began to take this album seriously when when the second half of this album comes around, specifically after Lament 4 (the Linguee.com translation of Песнь 4) comes around. This is where the duality of the harshness of black metal and the beauty and magnificence of Batushka comes to shine. The riffs are more powerful, the vocals are more varied, and the aggression is amplified. In a way, the confidence of Panihida shines brilliantly in the second half. This is where Panihida shows that it is a solid album that deserves recognition, demonstrating its appropriate paced and diversity that retains the interest of the listener. It is also here where Panihida demonstrates that it is chock full of entertaining riffs and instrumental parts, specifically the guitars. It is a good black metal album that is a cut above most, but don’t expect it to be better that Litourgiya. Panihida gets a two thumbs up from me, but the unfortunate reality is that it is a lesser Litourgiya with diminished fidelity and confidence. I was entertained with Panihida, but I was also saddened by it because of how it demonstrates that Litourgiya will never be matched again.

Rating: 8/10

Tracklist:

  1. Песнь (Lament) 1
  2. Песнь 2
  3. Песнь 3
  4. Песнь 4
  5. Песнь 5
  6. Песнь 6
  7. Песнь 7
  8. Песнь 8

Total Playing Time: 42:14

Click here to visit Kris’ Bandcamp

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