Hospodi by BatushkaRelease date: July 12, 2019
Label: Metal Blade Records
This time last year Batushka could do no wrong. With 2015 debut, Litourgiya receiving massive critical acclaim and a spectacular live show touring around the world, fans were eagerly awaiting the next move from one of the most exciting new bands in the black metal scene. However, in December the situation changed. There was a messy and very public dispute between the band’s two principle members; vocalist Bartłomiej “Bart” Krysiuk and guitarist Krzysztof “Derph” Drabikowski and as such the band split in two. Now with both sides entrenched in a legal battle over the rights to the name, and the previously secretive and unknowable band’s dirty laundry aired in public for the entire world, it certainly does not seem like the best time to be releasing new music. Yet both sides are, and with both sides claiming to be the real Batushka any and all new music from these two men will be soured by the circumstances surrounding it.
Setting aside this sordid history however, an album should always be judged by its music. Hospodi (an old Slavonic word for God) is from Krysiuk’s version of the band, and to an extent he tries to keep the sound of the first album intact. Litourgiya’s use of the trappings of the Eastern Orthodox Church – Gregorian chants, ritualistic intonations and its general monastic atmospherics – were a unique addition to the symphonic black metal roots, a gimmick perhaps, but one that meshed well into a cohesive and exciting sound. Hospodi keeps the gimmick, but doesn’t try to copy the first album – based around the Liturgy of Death; the album sounds more like a funeral dirge than the worship ritual of the first album. It’s a natural extension of the band’s sound.
This is where the album’s problems creep in however. It feels too long, every riff outstaying its welcome, with songs feeling like they start half a minute after they should. This feels suitable for a Liturgy of Death, but as a musical experience gets old fast, as songs blur together. Final track ‘Liturgiya’, in particular feels like drag. This is a shame, as the album does have some highlights – ferocious lead single ‘Polunosznica’ and the energetic, upbeat ‘Szestoj Czas’ are among the most immediate songs on the album. Krysiuk’s vocals, too, are a large step up from the debut. On ‘Utrenia’ he switches from an aggressive preacher to a demented beast with great aplomb, and his guttural shrieks breathe life into the album.
That Hospodi should not exist is a hard thought to escape. To release music into such an uncertain environment is bad enough, but the way both Krysiuk and Drabikowski seem to have raced each other to release new music is downright petty. Hospodi is not a bad album; if it had been given more time and attention to accentuate the instrumentation it would feel a whole lot better. As it is it feels trapped – trying to insist on its legitimacy as the true sequel to Litourgiya, while at the same trying to tread its own path; one that is much less vibrant and ultimately a little boring.