There are times, moments, brief glimpses, of perfection. When we get those moments we often don’t know that that is exactly what those are, sometimes though we realized what these moments are and we are able to cherish them for what they are. I had one of these epiphanies recently and knew I had to talk about it. Batushka, a black/doom metal band from Poland and made up of unknown members rumored to be parts of larger, more famous bands, came out with an album last year called “Litourgiya.” It’s had quite a bit of traction and attention throughout the black metal world throughout the years and thusly would normally fall outside of Resounding Footsteps purview (normally I go for the very deep underground or the Irish scene) but upon listening to this I felt as though I listened to something truly perfect, something that really has only happened maybe 4 times before this (and maybe one day I’ll do a nostalgia review to tell you about it).
The iconography and image of the band is steeped in the Eastern Orthodox Church despite not being a Christian band, and as I grew up in the Lutheran church, felt very familiar, almost comfortable. The album begins with what could be called a Gregorian chant but it’s fundamentally changed, like a river soaked in blood at its source, it’s still a river but it’s very different from what you would define as a river. So, too, this has an air of familiarity yet is completely unknown. Blending century old traditions and sounds with the fury and chaos of black metal has created a beast that really has never been seen on this earth before.
Each song is a liturgy, for those of you unfamiliar with the term it’s an order of worship, usually only used in Catholic, Lutheran, or Orthodox church services, deepening the connection the pseudo religious experience. The sounds themselves, to say nothing of the actual music, swell and fill the listeners hearing, blocking out everything else and assaulting the senses with wave upon wave of deeply and fundamentally religious sounds. It’s an aweing experience to be sure, surreal in it cathedral like atmosphere.
Using religious chanting or liturgical music is nothing new, it’s been used from the beginning to add atmosphere, to add a sense of depth and majesty to the music. Marduk was the first I remember using Gregorian chants and Latin rites effectively, thickening their already heavy and blasphemous sound with a sinister and ancient atmosphere. But Bathushka takes it a step further on their album, instead of relying on the religious service music just to set the tone for the song or the album, it is used as a base, as a foundation. The resulting mixture of religious and antireligious music is breathtaking, inspiring, and terrifying all at once. As I said earlier, a perfect moment captured forever.
The metal is also excellent. It would have to be to keep up with the liturgical music after all because this is still a black metal album. It rises and falls like the waves against an empty beach, filling the air with a strange harmony with the liturgical sounds, an odd yet blasphemous counterpoint that sets it apart from anything else. The guitars, drums, bass, all add something inexorably strange and wonderful. It’s difficult to put into words exactly but the music lends itself to a deeply emotional and eye opening experience. Each instrument is played to perfection and is blended and mixed together with the liturgical church atmosphere so that one cannot exist without the other, they create a symbiotic relationship that should not work within the realm of reason. The vocals, of course, tie it altogether, somehow existing in both the church and in the black metal. It’s harsh and cruel, rasping like a predator stalking and toying with its prey and yet at the same moment it feels almost godly, supernatural, omniscient.
Having grown up in the Lutheran church it’s deeply familiar and yet it feels brand new. I can close my eyes and feel myself transported back in time to the Renaissance with bright, flickering candles, the scents of corruption and decay mixed with fervent faith and hope. This is an experience that any fan of black metal or doom metal ought to explore. There are depths to this music that cannot be stated with words or phrases, such intricacies and details that can only be understood once they are heard, things that do not and cannot exist within the realm of words because words are too shallow to fully express those emotions that cause the deepest ache and the greatest pleasure. Listen to this album, this is something not a one can miss.
Listen and support!