I think it was quite clear for anyone that wasn't swept up in the initial craze of Batushka that there wasn't much gas left in the tank after their first album. Sure, it made for an 'apparently' novel and new approach in Black Metal (excluding the fact that nearly every trope they use has been done by numerous other bands prior to them), and it got black metal fans who'd never heard choral music alongside their tremolo riffs before, damp in their underwear.
The problem is, the writing was on the wall to start with; their debut was a remarkably average slice of black metal infused with orthodox chanting (Deathspell Omega's 'Carnal Malefactor' or even Rex Mundi's 'Sepher Seraphim' manage to create more stirring pieces using this formula than Batushka ever did but I digress...) and what became abundantly clear was that any following works would have to follow a similar formula and it would grow stale very quickly. This is surely the case with either of the albums that one can pick from whichever version you pick.
One thing I will say Batushka managed to do very well was their live concerts; once again, not particularly original, many of the elements that they brought to the stage have been seen in various guises before. I will give credit where it's due however they fucking milked it for all it was worth — "Litourgiya" was 4 years ago now and they toured nearly non-stop off the back of that album and surely netted themselves a significant paycheque from doing so.
Money, whilst we're on the subject of it, for anyone that has paid much attention since the dawn of this band they will be aware of the numerous scandals with fans being ripped off by Witching Hour, either never receiving their items or not getting everything they paid for. One thing that seemed highly suspect to me from the moment when Krzysztof uploaded his video in December, complaining about Bart taking the band from him. I seriously question why he never raised concerns before when fans were having their cold earned cash stripped from them, I struggle to believe that he didn't see any of those ill-gotten proceeds.
After ordering Batushka merch via WHP, a fan received a parcel full of trash
In December when 'the story broke', I couldn't help but laugh. This was a band that had gained a reputation for ripping people off in such a short space of time, evidently conspired by Bart but it would seem the rest of the band were complicit in it. The fact that Krzysztof is shocked he got fucked over by the guy that was fucking everyone else is either a display of extreme naivety or stupidity.
And so it is that the band has splintered, becoming two entities; one of whom signed a surely lucrative deal with Metal Blade and the other left pissing in the wind. It would seem Krzysztof's Christian virtues of 'the meek shall inherit the earth' was baseless because he has had his band taken from him by an opportunist that was bold enough to do so.
I want to be very clear here, I am no fan of the band in any of its guises but after a listen to both of the albums it's obvious who was the musical driving force in the band. It's also apparent who is the more talented composer from the two projects.
So, onto the albums...
Do you remember the South Park episode Giant Douche vs Turd Sandwich? This is that situation! Trying to pick either of these albums and labeling them good is impossible, the only advantage that the Krzysztof iteration "Panihida" has is that is clearly the musical successor to their debut and for those that are looking for the follow-up to "Litourgiya" this is where they'll find it.
The problem is with "Panihida" is that it sounds rushed, I assume that this has something to do with Krzysztof wanting to get it released before Bart's record. The production is sloppy, the songs are even more average than they were on their debut and it is a very forgettable listen. I will admit that 'Litourgiya' had some interesting moments, a couple of riffs across the album that stuck in my head, this cannot be said for this album. It 'sounds' and 'feels' like a Batushka album but it lacks any substance, there's nothing here that will blow anyone away and lacks the theatricality that infused the debut. For the fans that want to know which album to buy, it's this one. It's biggest positive is that compared to "Hospodi", "Panihida" is almost transcendent.
And what of "Hospodi" I hear you ask? In short, it's abysmal. It is one of those albums that after listening to it, you question why you wasted nearly an hour of your life on it. To call it second-rate black metal is an insult to all of those bands that are doing a great job of ripping off Darkthrone and Dissection/Watain. It is woefully uninspired, bland and just bad. There is barely a moment on the whole album that invokes the debut. Sonically it is clearly a different handcrafting the music, now this is not necessarily a bad thing, someone else can write for the same band and produce great music (Secrets of the Moon for instance) but the music is just plain awful.
I would love to have been a fly on the wall at the Metal Blade offices when they got the finished album through and realized that they'd backed the wrong horse. It's telling that the first promo that was released for this album is for the only song that evokes any similarity to "Litourgiya", "Polunosznica" with it's jangling chorus-soaked guitar opening.
It would seem that ultimately Bart has won, Metal Blade has doubled down and not said a word on the controversy, and Bart will likely tour for another 5 years using material that will probably be comprised mostly of songs from the debut and a few of the least offensive tracks from his attempt at a Batushka album, making a nice paycheck.
In summary, I can't endorse either album, they're both lacking, uncreative and bland. It just so happens that one is a lot more uncreative and a lot blander, so Krzysztof's attempt wins by default? Congratulations Krzysztof I'm sure that'll warm your soul, being the lesser of two evils.
I have to give an even bigger congratulations though to Bart, he managed to rip-off a bunch of his fans, screwed over the creator of the music and is now able to enjoy the fruits of very little labour, sitting pretty with a big label behind him. He might be a giant douche but he's done a phenomenal job of capitalizing on opportunity.
Hopefully, both bands will fade into obscurity once Bart's finished riding the hype-wave and Krystof realizes he's got little chance against the media machine that Bart's created. Then we can all go back to looking at Poland's bands that are worth a damn; surely Bestial Raids и Mgła are due to release new albums soon?
"Panihida" — 5/10
"Hospodi" — 3/10
Reviewed by Dan Thaumitan
Photo by Mila Immortality