There are always two sides of every story. Everyone sees things a little bit differently. Every person reading this review knows that. When a relationship goes sour, each person has a different interpretation of what went down. Who hasn’t broken up with that one crazy person? And how many of those crazy exes said it was actually because you’re a massive jerk? It’s not limited to romantic relationships, of course. It happens in all walks of life. So let’s think on that while we discuss the second half of the Krzysztof Drabikowski/Batushka arguments with Batushka’s Hospodi.
As discussed in the previous Drabikowski review, Batushka parted ways when Bartłomiej “Bart” Krysiuk taking control of the band name and Drabikowski spinning off to do his own thing. Drabikowski’s efforts produced Panihida, a record which sounded like the true successor to Litourgiya. It seemed like there was essentially a race to see who could release music first. Bart released “Polunosznica”, then Drabikowski released “Pesn 1”. Then Bart announced his record, Hospodi, would release on July 12th, 2019. So Drabikowski just self-released his record a week later. It received rave reviews, so it put a lot of pressure on Bart to live up to his own hype.
What Bart-ushka has created isn’t quite up to snuff if you’re coming from that direction. It really doesn’t sound like Litourgiya at all apart from adding in church bells to give it the hint of ambiance. It lacks the solemnity and reverence of the first record. There is an energy to this record that seems very out of place considering that the topic of the record, much like Panihida, is about the Orthodoxy funeral rites. It seems like the true soul of what Batushka represents left when Bart took control as this record feels very out of step with the previous effort.
Of course, that can be said only if you take the position that that’s a bad thing. I definitely am in favor of artists evolving over time and changing up their sound as they go along. Hospodi definitely follows that line of thinking. While Litourgiya was very atmospheric, Hospodi is far more structured and aggressive. It’s not creating an environment of sanctity like the previous record; it’s presenting songs that use a theme.
The difference is immediately noticeable and striking. There are more traditional songwriting approaches at work here than there were in Litourgiya. “Polunosznica” begins with the men’s chorus of multi-layered harmonies leading into the ethereal guitar melody. That melody is combined with a blackened-style tremolo picked chord. It’s all presented in a dramatic build-up that meanders its way to a fairly common black metal verse. It does sound like it’s trying to be atmospheric without quite achieving it. The drone is there but the atmosphere isn’t built up to the level it needs to be to truly achieve its aims.
The reaction about this record should be split. It’s not actually a bad record. There are some really serviceable parts to it. It applies traditional and palatable songwriting ideas to black metal, something that nobody really does. In that way, it’s actually a kind of unique record. The problem is the band’s name. That really shouldn’t enter into the conversation normally, but this is entirely different. When you’re trying to produce music under the weight of this kind of controversy, it’s going to come up. If Bart called his version of the band anything else but Batushka, it would be completely different. As it stands, it seems a little artistically dishonest. After listening to the record several times, it does sound like somebody is trying to cash in on something they didn’t earn. That doesn’t make the record bad by any means. But there’s just this unfortunate stain that’s going to follow it into perpetuity.
Hospodi is available July 12 via Metal Blade Records.