Batushka Gig Review – The Dome, Tufnell Park
Batushka are a Polish black metal band who recently played at the Dome in Tufnell Park on 3rd March 2020. To all intents and purposes they are the brainchild of Krzysztof Drabikowski, who writes all the music and lyrics as well creating the album artwork, and is responsible for the style and ethos of the band.
Their lyrics are written completely in old Slavonic church language in a cyrillic style, all very heavily influenced by imagery of the eastern Orthordox Church. And very creepy it is too.
They have two short albums to date; Litourgiya – their incredibly atmospheric debut, and the followup, Panihida – not as strong but still worth listening to.
I’d wanted to see them for a couple years, as I’d heard their live performances are a site to behold. Somehow, however, I’d always managed to miss them. I had originally planned to see them at Incineration Fest in Camden last year, I had my ticket, but shortly before the event they pulled out and chose to play at Download Festival instead. The selfish bastards. Then in January this year, they were due to play a gig at Islington Assembly Hall; again I had a ticket, but the fuckers cancelled the show last minute. It was as if they held a personal grudge against me.
So when I saw they were to be playing a couple of months later in March, I jumped at the chance.
The reason for the cancelled show in January was attributed to “musical differences within the band” which is something of an understatement. What had started as a rift between Krzysztof Drabikowski and vocalist, Bartłomiej Krysiuk – that threatened to tear the band apart – had actually done exactly that. Drabikowski subsequently sacked Krysiuk and Batushka were split in two, bisected right up through the cleft of the bottom, leaving each man clinging to a bloody arse cheek.
Now this is where it gets complicated. Founding member and chief songwriter, Drabikowski, then formed Batushka by Krzysztof Drabikowski; a new version of the old band. Krysiuk and the remaining members of the old Batushka formed Батюшка. Then Batushka (by Krzysztof Drabikowski) released the album, Hospodi, to coincide with Panihida by Батюшка; the follow up to Litourgiya by Batushka. Even more confounding – Litourgiya now falls under the canon of Батюшка albums, even though they didn’t write it. Got it?
Me neither. And with this in mind, I was still unclear as to which incarnation of the band I would be seeing in Tufnell Park.
Anyway, on to the actual gig. The scene onstage is set. A large sacrificial alter is laid out as a centrepiece, surrounded by chains and assorted candlesticks. The backdrop is the black silhouette of a medieval castle and some wizened old trees against chilling blue sky. There is much chanting and the ringing of bells, all very reminiscent of The Name of Rose (a gripping thriller in which a young Christian Slater plays a holy apprentice to Sean Connery and has it off with a grubby peasant girl – but I digress).
The band appear on stage in hooded monk’s cowls that look a bit like Kappa dressing gowns – the kind that boxers wear on the way to the ring. The cynic in me wants to scoff and mock, but as this is what I have waited a long time to see I might as well get into the swing of it. Their faces are completely masked and remain that way throughout the performance, adding to the air of creepiness.
After solemnly lighting the candles the band are ready to go. The devout are in attendance. And so are the damned. This is clearly not just a gig. We are here for a ritualistic ceremony. The last rites are about to begin.
The band play with vigour and vim – always remaining in character – blasting through songs from Litourgiya and Panihida with fiery aplomb. The answer to my question has been given; this is the Krzysztof Drabikowski version of Batushka.
Ambience and atmosphere are the glue that holds the set together, though it only lasts for an hour (due to not having many songs in their back-catalogue). As the show ends, I can’t help wondering how Bartłomiej Krysiuk’s band would have compared tonight.
Neither band will probably last for too much longer, so see them if you can. And make sure you listen to Litourgiya next Halloween. Or today, seeing as it’s Friday 13th…
This is a personal website and the views expressed here are my own (or stolen from other people down the pub). Facts may not be accurate, or could be poorly paraphrased gags borrowed from proper writers - or simply, outright lies.