Religion and politics in black metal aren’t the best topics to discuss with other people, because things can get touchy and extremely hostile. Some can claim that religion has no place in black metal—think of the unblack metal debate that has emerged over the years—but then, they haven’t heard the eeriness of Gregorian chanting and the atmosphere of black metal combined to deliver one of the most mysterious albums to date. Black metal has evolved—and it’s turning the vernacular on its head.
What makes Batushka (“Holy Father” in English) enigmatic is how we know absolutely nothing about the band itself. All we had is this album, which makes this one of the most interesting things to come out in late 2015—and the album speaks volumes. The album is filled with all the black metal elements we have come to love, including the well-known blast beats and the deep, atmospheric droning that seems to now be a thing in post-black metal. Although the band is Polish, the language they are singing in is Church Slavonic, the language used in the Orthodox Church in parts of Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and some nations in the Balkan Peninsula. There may be also some strong political and ideological undercurrents coming from this album, due to the indications of Poland’s current state of affairs and the anti-Russia stance they have in their government.
The vocals here are not just the deep rasping we have seen in black metal; they include chanting in deep and high male voices and, in one song, there is a female voice. The chants are a nice touch to the screaming we hear throughout the album and accentuate the fact that more interesting instruments are being used. For example, you can hear the echo of ecclesiastical bells being used throughout the album, as well as some cleaning singing that seems to elicit chills. What’s even better is the elements of doom metal that seem to drone on, given the album an edge that has not been used. Even to the most unreligious sort of person, you have to admit that this album brings some sort of peace. You know that the brimstone is coming, but it isn’t going to hurt. It’s a sermon you have to hear—and you want to hear again.
All in all, this album is an excellent piece of work, filled with incredible instrumentality that elevates black metal to new heights. There is nothing quite like it, and it’s a refreshing thing to see in black metal. Black metal is evolving, and we can no longer deny that there is a place for religious overtones. Given the overwhelming positive response since it came out, this album now has a place in black metal, and I have no doubt in my mind that it will become a classic in due time.