The unconventional story of Poland’s Batushka has all the hallmarks of a soap opera. The band’s earliest incarnation in 2015 was only to be a joke and “something stupid,” according to original drummer Marcin Bielemiuk. Guitarist Krzysztof Drabikowski wrote most of the debut ‘Litourgiya’ and when they posted the first song online, the Internet fell in love. A similar thing happened after the release of ‘Litourgiya’. Fast-forward to December 2018, and both vocalist BartÅomiej Krysiuk and Drabikowski claim the other kicked them out of the band and wanted to go on without their former bandmate. Both parties are now confusingly committed to using the Batushka name (although Bielemiuk pre-emptively trademarked it) and tonight’s show features guitarist Drabikowski.
First up is Danish death metallers Konkhra. Old school death metal is resurrecting in a huge way right now and this four-piece formed in 1990. Last year they released their seventh full length ‘Alpha and the Omega’, ten years following the release prior. Their death metal is very varied; there is a wide range of different grooves, creative guitar solos and bone smashing battery. There’s nothing revolutionary about them but the variety sustains attention and the attendees appreciate them. Their active stage presence harbours plenty of zeal and enthusiasm. Malevolent Creation vocalist Lee Wollenschlaeger even appears on stage quickly to supply vicious guest vocals for the track ‘Spit Or Swallow’. Konkhra do a fair job at whetting the audience’s appetite.
Death metal veterans Malevolent Creation were at the forefront of US death metal’s heyday in the early ‘90s. Many years have elapsed since these Americans were on these lands and things have changed a little. Main man and sole original member Phil Fasciana remains but founding vocalist Brett Hoffmann quit in 2016 and passed away from colon cancer in 2018. Lee Wollenschlaeger double duties as vocalist and guitarist now, making his recorded debut on last year’s ‘The 13th Beast’. Such a rare appearance justifies the dense crowd turnout that greets Malevolent Creation tonight. They launch into ‘Infernal Desire’ from the highly praised ‘Eternal’ album, a furious Floridian death metal assault. Chugging riffs come thick and choking, almost shadowing slam death metal territory. ‘Living in Fear’, ‘Blood of the Fallen’ and ‘Manic Demise’ bludgeon the venue.
Strangely, not a single mosh pit erupts amongst this supercharged fury. It’s likely that the vast majority are Batushka fans and less inclined to mosh, presumably to the band’s disappointment. The Americans’ stage presence is also more subdued than you’d expect – there’s some movement and headbanging but nothing as energetic or frenetic as their songs. ‘Mandatory Butchery’ and ‘Release the Soul’ showcase ‘The 13th Beast’. ‘Coronation of Our Domain’ from 1992’s ‘Retribution’ is one of the highlights of the night and is appended with a brief drum solo from new drummer Ron Parmer. Unfortunately the band leaves the stage after this, never to return. This is disappointing given that they finished 10 minutes before the end of their allocated stage time. Nonetheless, Malevolent Creation delivered classic meat-and-potatoes vintage death metal. It would have been better if they were on a full death metal menu as it seemed the black metal audience struggled to digest their course.
There’s a full 40 minutes in between bands and the venue is heaving with bodies. Headliners Batushka played the Cathouse in 2017 when they were most recently in Glasgow and that venue would have been a superior selection tonight. Roadies light candles and incense – a typical trend of many occult black metal acts these days. The incense is certainly welcome. Eventually the lights dim and seven hooded figures in ornately decorated ceremonial robes walk on stage. The Gregorian chant song ‘We Bow Down Before Your Cross’ is the intro tape, transforming the punters into a congregation. Next the band proceeds to perform the entirety of last year’s ‘Panihida’ album from beginning to end. The obvious objective of the performance is to emulate a church service, the Gregorian chants really being the sole characteristic that can be considered creative.
Despite all the decoration and costumes, it feels insincere, lethargic and dull. It’s clear which black metal artists Batushka attempted to replicate with robes, candles and incense. The likes of Cult of Fire, Hetroertzen, Nightbringer, Acherontas and others are more proficient and authentic with their ritualistic presences, pairing them appropriately with an energetic metal performance. Batushka is sadly a case of substance over style, their music a slavish but simplistic pastiche of the occult names that are en vogue in the black metal subterranean.
There is little refreshing material here, it’s repetitive and uninspired melodies abound. Passages are clumsily conjoined and shift jarringly within a song. Tracks also end suddenly with no proper affixed conclusion. Any black metal collective that puts this much effort into their image can get far without much commendable musicianship with social media. It’s telling that a group that was conceived as a joke saw its parents battle tooth-and-nail for sole custody after tasting a morsel of commercial success. Those gathered in the Audio seem even more unanimated than they were for Malevolent Creation but dutifully applaud between each song. ‘Yekteniya I: Ochishcheniye’from the debut album completes this lacklustre performance. It’s a relief to leave the venue. Batushka definitely feel more hype than aural merit.
- date performer venue price
Tue 16 Nov 2021
City of Westminster
[W1W 5PN] £25.00
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Wed 17 Nov 2021
[MK40 2QG] £20.00
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