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  • Review by Sarah Stubbs and Faye Coulman

REVIEWED: Bloodstock 2019 - Part II


BATUSHKA

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.

SS

ABORTED

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 exhil