Batushka

support Mortuus + Pestkraft
author RUB date 09/05/18 venue Atlas, Århus, DEN

First time I encountered the ritualistic spectacle that is Batushka was at last year’s edition of Copenhell. They had a time slot after midnight on the festival’s smallest stage, but it still stands as one of that year’s definite highlights. It was a pure ritualistic phenomenon, unfolded before my intoxicated eyes, but the memories of it are still very vivid. Therefore, there was no way that I was going to miss out on the band’s playing a more intimate show in the city where I live. This time around, the stage was quite different; even though the stage at Atlas is the smallest of the two ‘sibling stages’ (the biggest being VoxHall), the concert had still managed to sell out in the hours before the first band was going to take to the stage. With them, Batushka had brought Pestkraft from Spain and Mortuus from Sweden, both of whom play black metal, albeit nothing in the vein of the evening’s headliner.

All photos courtesy of Steffen Jørgensen

Pestkraft

Quite fitting to their name, the five-piece enters the stage wearing plague masks and long, black hoods, albeit with no bells ringing when they slowly walk onto the stage — only haunting shrieks and bleak melodies. Apart from their outfit this is straight-up black metal. In front of the lead singer, there is a massive tripod holding a huge book. I am told the lead singer is a woman, which you wouldn’t notice unless someone told you. Her malevolent shrieks are very high pitched in best black metal style, and it would seem that she is reading from said book just like in some sinister ritual. The stand of it is covered in skulls, which only adds to the dense atmosphere.

The venue is about half-full, even though it was sold out prior to the concert. This is a shame, really, as the Spaniards give it their best. The entire visible aspect of the concert is indeed very malevolent. No movement on stage is detected, but as they play their instruments, the haunting masks just stare at you in a very creepy and nightmarish way. Even though I mentioned in the very first paragraph that the two warm-up bands are nothing like the headliner, this is not entirely true. Because while I haven’t encountered a band just like Batushka before, Pestkraft certainly comes close, which makes them a very fitting act to open the stage. Although I have no previous experience with them, they still manage to leave a noticeable mark on my mind. The whole trade with the masks is, of course, a big factor in this, and even though it might seem a bit gimmicky (even for a black metal band), the music itself can easily stand on its own as well, which makes the entire experience stand out. Therefore, the overall expression is fairly good — but most importantly, in my book: a fitting warm-up to the mysterious Batushka.

Mortuus

The gimmicks are gone when Mortuus enters the stage. Luckily, the ritualistic, almost chanting-like music isn’t, however. These Swedes play black metal with both heavy and progressive parts. Actually, it reminds me of the way Behemoth’s “The Satanist” sounds in terms of both the tempo and the atmosphere, which by no means is a bad thing. Their songs are droning and slow for the most part, whilst still staying true to both their origin and of course the style of the headliner. The lead singer often introduces the songs in a way that almost sounds like speaking in tongues; very mysterious and enticing, and something that really sets the mood for the songs.

In fact, the general style of Mortuus’ music seems to be so much like Behemoth’s later material that one could wonder if they have anything to offer by way of their own, personal material. The short answer to this question is yes, they do. Their slow, droning and heavy take on black metal absolutely slays in my opinion. They actually slay so much that this is definitely a band I have to check out properly after the concert. Alas, for now they will have to settle with a grade only slightly above average, as the show never really reaches that ultimate climax that Batushka always manages live. This might be because of the short set length allocated to them (who knows?) but it definitely isn’t because of the sound mix, as this remains top-notch throughout. Hope to see you again, Mortuus!

Batushka

Enter a sole monk with a Sacryn bell, which rings the crowd together for the ritual. This is accompanied by chanting monks on the stereo, while Myrrh fills the room slowly, without anyone exactly knowing what is about to happen apart from the fact that the black mass is about to begin, as the band enters the stage slowly. Lit candles are everywhere, along with skulls on the microphone stand and several upside-down crosses mixed with what looks like several other strange religions. A hooded monk with a guitar starts to play, and the audience is slowly but surely mesmerized into a trance, and everything about the scene that unfolds in front of my eyes screams ritual.

Then, the music explodes, as the main monk (read: lead singer) enters with an incense-burner swinging from side to side. He stops at the altar with skulls and begins to chant with the choir of monks, now located in the back of the stage. The music then ventures into standard-fare black metal with those classic shrieks familiar to fans of the genre dominating the soundscape. In fact, even though the band’s identity is unknown, the main monk could quite easily be Attila Csihar of Mayhem fame — but that is of course only a hunch.

The ritualistic part of their performance never seizes to amaze me. Some tracks are more straight up black metal, such as “Yekteniya III”, but they still keep to the ritualistic vibe very closely. Sometimes the band even performs satanic rituals on stage, which I’m sure would not sit well with either Moses Hansen or Kristina Djarling (some very strict Christians from Denmark, who tend to protest outside of Copenhell every year), as they would probably perish in the midst of this occultist and obscure ceremony. The composition of Batushka’s songs is really just mesmerizing and it makes me wonder where the band will go from here — both in terms of their on-stage demeanour and an eventual sophomore album.

Towards the end, the spectacle reaches even higher levels, as the monk-like chanting continues and the vocalist raises some candles, crossing them for yet another satanic ritual. For the most part, he keeps his vocals to the deep, clean, chant-like style as he sends the audience into a trance, but when the composition of drums and guitar allows it, those vocals do also turn into shrieks. I’m not sure whether it is because people are talking too loudly, or if it is part of the ritual, but the lead singer shushes the audience, which instantly ceases its chattering. This is the kind of power the vocalist (and indeed the band as a whole) has over these small and insignificant disciples that form the crowd. Just after this segment, the song erupts into blazing black metal, yet the audience is still just standing fixed in a trancelike state. Never once is it necessary for the crowd to go crazy and mosh, since the concert really just speaks for itself. This is exactly what I was hoping for — and then some. The intimate atmosphere created by the sold-out venue provides the perfect setting for such a spectacle… nay, the phenomenon that is Batushka. Of course, it also has something to with the mysteriousness that surrounds the band, but the music is nonetheless just really good as well. This is indeed a night to remember, and I urge everyone to check this group out in the future. But be aware: you might succumb to the satanic forces that engulf this band, and when they first have a hold on you, they will never let you go.

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