Bands are a lot like families. They are a group of people held together by bonds who live together and often work on common goals. They have good times and bad and see similar struggles to try and stay together. Sometimes like families, they rise above it and come together stronger. Other times, they fall apart under the strain. It isn’t pretty, but it happens. We all know families like that, and maybe the metaphor hits close to home for some of us. In times of familial strife and disintegration, the best you can do is make peace with the past and do your best to move on to a more positive and happy life. Maybe you hold on to some relationships and lose some others, or maybe you have to just separate yourself entirely. The point is what has passed has passed and you simply have to keep going.
Such is the case for Krzysztof “Derph” Drabikowski’s Batushka. The original iteration of this band released Litourgiya, a modern classic of atmospheric black metal. It was praised for its use of religious symbolism and iconography while also making an extremely compelling record. Then the fallout occurred. According to Derph, the other half of Batushka, Bartłomiej “Bart” Krysiuk, pressured him to release the new record they were working on. Derph stated he wouldn’t want to release an album that was only partially finished, so Bart hired a band behind his back to record the new record and kicked Derph out. Legal battles ensued, and now we have competing versions of the band racing to release new music.
While Bart’s version only dropped a single, Derph released Панихида, or “Requiem”. The record is full of that atmospheric and reverent quality we would expect from Batushka. Much of the album reflects the previous efforts. There is a strong respectfulness given to the source material, this time about the Orthodox traditions of funeral rites. To reflect that, there’s even more of the chanting choruses this time around than on Litourgiya. It creates an atmosphere of solemnity and shows a sonic consistency with the first record. It’s particularly fitting that all of the song titles translate to “hymn”.
What makes this record and band so uniquely different from their peers is just how calming and meditative this music can be. It’s clearly black metal so it’s going to have those moments of chaos and extremely abrasive tones. At the same time, there’s a rhythm to these tracks that let you just kind of sit in what you’re listening to. It becomes your environment in a way. The atmospheric clips taking place during the described services make you feel like you’re taking part in the funeral rites. It’s absolutely astounding how a musician can create this kind of atmosphere.
To that end, “Песнь 1” is the perfect introduction. Much like any church service, it eases you in to the proceedings. The reverb makes the track a cathedral with vaulted ceilings. You can even imagine a room lit only by candles, further reinforcing the requiem qualities of the record. Once the band cuts in, there’s an odd conflict between the sounds of the rough-edged guitars and the baritone chanting of Orthodox liturgy. While the two sounds seem incongruous, they actually work well together given the right guide by the overall tone. The slow continuation of the track further builds this world around you, and before you know it, you’re feeling as spiritual as the theme would have you be.
If we were to assign a “true descendent” of a broken Batushka, this record would be it. It has those same qualities of the predecessor with its spiritual atmosphere and instrumentation. Панихида doesn’t necessarily break new ground for the band, though it’s pretty special to see the band fall apart like they did but still get those essential parts of what made them fascinating. However, Derph’s Batushka is the kind of band that’s doing something so unique that any dramatic change to the sound would be highly detrimental. This record is just as impressive as the last one, and we should all be pleased that Batushka isn’t a one-off.
Панихида is available now via Krzysztof Drabikowski’s Bandcamp page.