REVIEWED: Bloodstock 2019 - Part II
As a hushed silence falls over the assembled congregation, disturbed only by the chimes of bells and archaic Slavonic chants, the solemn rites of the Liturgy of death are performed. Amidst swirls of smoky incense, piles of heaped skulls and all the intricate paraphernalia of arcane religious ritual, elaborately robed, hooded clergymen set alight a sea of flickering candles. Tonight, the Sophie stage has become a darkened shrine, its devotees gathered to worship at the brimstone-blackened, unholy altar of all that is openly blasphemous in metal. All hail Batushka, the underground’s most compelling and mysterious new arch-deities.
Valiantly stepping in to fill the void left by Dimmu Borgir’s shock last minute cancellation, the more recently formed Batushka are rapidly gaining notoriety for their immersive live shows, intended to recreate the intense spiritual experience of Orthodox funeral rites and resurrect cherished old traditions. And by happy miracle, the artistry of these luminaries more than lives up to the spectacle. Grasping the flaming sword of innovation, the band stoke the fiery furnace of black metal with the folk elegies of their native Poland and the lofty hymns and dirges of the Eastern European church, resulting in skilfully precise, remarkably accomplished ethereal epiphanies of blazing sound.
As the cerebral chanting gives way to the carnal force and beauty of savage melody, deft, furious riffs, gravid, baritone vocals and ambient waves of pulsating, celestial groove begin to surge across the rapt arena like baptismal waters. Their identities concealed with masks and priestly habits, the profoundly secretive band members proceed to play even their most furiously aggressive passages while poised unnervingly still as statues, transporting listeners to otherworldly celestial realms without movement - only their bestial shrieks and dextrously plucked bursts of quivering tremolo. Focusing mainly on tracks from their phenomenal second album, newly released Hospodi, the sullied harmonies and distorted atmospherics soon descend into a rich, Dantean inferno where the extremes of brutality meet the heights of the sublime and deepening litanies reach the soaring hard rock climaxes of traditional heavy metal. The awe-inspired Sunday survivors of Bloodstock are left stunned, bathed in the pure transcendent majesty of Batushka and ripe for full-blown conversion to their exquisite heresies.
It’s approximately 11am on a Sunday, and as revellers emerge bleary-eyed and nauseous from the assorted, beer can-strewn debris of the night before, it’s at this precise moment in time that we witness the true and authentic meaning of the phrase ‘diehard fan’. Couple this uncomfortably early start with a freak deluge of torrential rain that instantly drenches punters where they stand, and Aborted’s odds of drawing a sizeable crowd this morning are almost certainly not in their favour.
That is, of course, until the madly careening throes of ‘TerrorVision’ erupt, with blindingly propulsive force, out of a darkly intoxicating flurry of sultry ’80s horror synths. Beneath a gargantuan expanse of lurid, neon-drenched visuals depicting grotesque one-eyed beasts bloodily spearing their hapless human victims on a snaking multitude of razor-sharp tentacles, frontman Sven De Caluwé is a veritable inferno of bristling hostility and motion. Stalking the stage with a violent and restless energy that borders on the demented, the ever-charismatic frontman lunges toward the crowd, unleashing a slew of blackly contorted gargling into the mike as he thrashes back and forth like the proverbial man possessed. Expertly bantering his way through an impeccably tight and brutal set as he roars, “C’mon, you bunch of wet c***s!”, the deliciously crushing and percussive ‘Deep Red’ thoroughly drenches the senses with aggression. Deftly interweaving an electrifying array of plunging, subterranean groove and dizzyingly agile fretwork in amongst frantically accelerating bursts of blastbeat-driven aggression, this finely orchestrated blend of tautly manipulated, technical prowess and searing aggression marks one of numerous exhilarating highlights.
Intermingling wondrously dark and brutalising standouts from 2018 masterwork ‘TerrorVision’ alongside choice cuts extracted from various corners of the band’s illustrious back catalogue, onward the savage collective rage and accelerate, their battering, unabated momentum rather fittingly matched with that of the the equally unrelenting summer rain. Advancing into the unflinchingly vicious, pummelling throes of 2014 smash ‘The Necrotic Manifesto’, here nimbly twisted lines of ripping, knife-edged guitars instantly seize control hold of the senses. With their technically impeccable feats of calculated cruelty and instinctive knack for crafting the most deliciously sinister of atmospherics, Aborted have yet again showcased a sound that’s as skilful as it is drenched in unadulterated darkness.
Serving up sinister slabs of melodic death with an extra-terrestrial edge, metal mavericks Hypocrisy don’t just think out of the box - they’re out of this world. The Swedish crew’s weirdly disturbing obsession with conspiracies, cover-ups and gory pulp tales of alien abduction has resulted in an innovative, quirky and highly original fusion of melody-lashed riffs infused with paranoia, mind-shattering drums that beat to the sound of hysteria and spine-tingling solos dripping in sci-fi body-shock horror.
As the slightly eerie, instantly recognisable opening notes of Fractured Millennium echo around the smoky environs of the main arena on Sunday afternoon a fair smattering of fans, a number of them gripping blow-up alien dolls, are already bopping around in anticipation of entering Area 51. When those distinctive, otherworldly dramatic riffs finally kick in, an exhilarated, wind-whipped head-banging frenzy ensues both on and off the RJD stage. Bouncing from track to track with unalloyed energy Hypocrisy deliver a stellar show, perfectly balancing a mix of the old school death that made their name and the more recent, harmonic material that has made them stand out today. Such tracks as Adjusting the Sun with its burst of raw, anti-religious chants and lurid, grit-encrusted classic The Final Chapter harken back to the primitive sound of the 90s, while the more dulcet tones, yet just as brutal underlying notes of Eraser and End of Disclosure showcase death at its most melodic.
The popular Roswell 47 rounds off the set, a fun, riff-filled treat with crashing cinematic chords reminiscent of such classic alien films as Close Encounters, Fire in the Sky and It Came From Outer Space. A skilled and gripping example of oft maligned genre mash ups, Hypocrisy prove that there is more to this much beloved cult outfit than little green men and flying saucers.
Missed Part I of our Bloodstock Festival coverage? Click HERE to check it out now!