Batushka (БАТЮШКА). Summit. 10.12.22
It was the summer of ’18, and we had just braved the asphalt-melting heat of the Vegas strip to line our guts with In-N-Out burgers before consuming copious amounts of overpriced beer for the third day in a row. It was Psycho Las Vegas, and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino was packed with blue denim, black t-shirts, and many tattooed limbs. The sweat on my bald head immediately began to solidify as it encountered the cool atmosphere of the heavily air-conditioned money pit. There was no time to take another shower because Batushka, my first must-see act of the day, was playing an early slot. Standing in the dark auditorium, watching the hooded figures light candles and burn incense, was a shock to the system after being in the blinding light of the real (fake) world of Sin City. I don’t remember what songs were performed or what band members were on stage that day, but I remember it being one of the weekend’s most memorable sets.
Flash forward four years, and I am again standing in a dark room watching hooded figures lighting candles and swinging incense amulets in circles, creating an aroma fog in the front section of the Summit in Denver, Colorado.
If the men (and women?) under the hoods were all the same as in Vegas, the main hall would have been open, there would have been more than a hundred people in attendance, and the ceremony would have been taking place on the big stage. Alas, that was not the case. Unfortunately, this Polish band is now known more for the controversy surrounding the legal battle between former bandmates than for its merger of traditional liturgical songs of the Orthodox Church with black metal.
Without getting too far into things I cannot possibly understand unless I take internet gossip for fact, the narrative goes something like this. Batushka was signed to Metal Blade. Krzysztof Drabikowski, the band’s founder, had a falling out with vocalist Bartłomiej Krysiuk. They kicked each other out of the band, but neither was willing to go down without a fight. Now there are two Batushkas; one led by Drabikowsk and the other by Krysiuk. Krysiuk’s version owns all social media and releases albums and tours extensively but is derided by many fans. Drabikowski’s version has not released as much material or performed live much (probably due to the pending lawsuit) but is considered by many fans to be the true Batushka. Bartłomiej Krysiuk (known as Bart) is accused of stealing the band from Drabikowsk, while Drabikowsk is accused of being a control freak and abusive to the other members.
Again, I don’t know shit about shit when it comes to their internal feuds, but what I do know is that Bart’s Batushka was indistinguishable from the Batushka I saw in Vegas. Eight figures wore black habits with white writing on them, the songs were sung in an old Slavic language, there was much ceremony, and the music flowed from chanting to extreme eight-string slicing black metal. I have no clue what songs were performed as the stage lighting bathed the band blood red or what songs were performed under greyish hues of blue. I don’t know if Bart was reading text from the manuscript in hand or what significance all the stage props had. I don’t know if they handed the candle to the girl in the front row for a reason or if they liked how she looked.
None of that mattered. And, at least to those who attended, it didn’t matter whose faces were obscured by those hoods. It was about the experience. It was the ritual as much as the music. And it was quite the experience. As for the band’s politics, I hope they can figure it out. It would be a shame if the infighting forever overshadows the music and live performances.