As far as support act selections go, the pairing of classic death metal veterans Malevolent Creation with the blackened, stirringly ritualistic magic of Batushka is about as harmonious a combo as a KFC Megabucket washed down with copious lashings of fine Chianti. Then again, with their uniquely forged melding of violently lacerating aggression, richly orchestrated guitar lines and ancient orthodox trappings that positively ooze diabolical, ink-black majesty, the rare spectacle of witnessing tonight’s anticipated headliners is truly an experience quite unlike any other.
And so, with a densely packed venue already visibly heaving with anticipation, Malevolent Creation set about unceremoniously hammering eardrums into submission with a well-worn repertoire of battering blasts and guttural vocals whose toxic, darkly clotted contortions palpably reek of the grave. With its incandescent screams and frenzied whorls of abrasive tremolo displaying demented aggression above a densely-muscled backbone of pulverising blasts, ‘Manic Demise’ is deliciously rife with old school aggression. Elsewhere, ‘Blood of the Fallen’ audibly crackles with percussive energy, its violently ricocheting blasts drenching the synapses with adrenaline while ‘Release the Soul’s’ lurching, weightily expansive grooves revel in all the slow-burning menace you’d expect from a death metal act hailing from the late 1980s. As such, there’s nothing particularly novel to distinguish Malevolent Creation from those of a similarly traditionalist ilk, but theirs is a nonetheless pleasingly vicious and solidly executed turn.
It’s been more than half a year since Batushka last brought their blackly entrancing craft to UK shores. And since then, the absurdly talented ensemble in question has been subject to no small amount of troublesome controversy, with a prolonged battle over creative rights resulting in the permanent severance of founding member Krzysztof Drabikowski from his former, now bitterly estranged, bandmates. With the original act now split into at least two now totally separate artistic entities, we are, at long last, finally about to witness the full, darkly ritualistic glory of Drabikowski’s original vision here tonight. And as the stage lights dim to reveal an eerily gothic set-piece of skeletal tree branches and lofty church spires darkly silhouetted against a luminously ethereal backdrop, there’s a beautiful, nightmarishly surreal ambience about this lavishly visual affair from the off. Until, of course, the prerequisite sea of flashing cameraphones rise from the audience en masse, shattering, in an instant, all the darkly absorbing atmosphere this scene would have otherwise evoked in spades.
But then comes the duskily sombre swell of church choirs, their heartrending liturgies borne aloft to the heavens on bittersweet ecstasies of ethereal beauty as the darkly cloying aroma of incense hangs thick and heavy in the prevailing gloom. Performing each of the eight tracks comprising 2019 epic ‘Панихида’ (that’s ‘Memorial Service’ to us Brits) in its darkly immersive entirety, this meticulously orchestrated outing is truly a wonder to witness unfolding here before us in all its epic, violently energised glory. With its eerily hypnotic opening sequence of starkly metallic percussion and gilded strings dissipating into nothingness beneath a crippling expanse of turbulent bass riffage, ‘Песнь 1’ violently ensnares the listener from the get-go. Deftly interspersing intensely visceral strains of tremolo in amongst luxuriant layer upon layer of lush baritone choirs, theirs is a darkly electrifying musical alchemy that, in part, recalls the towering, ritualistic majesty of Hellenic metal titans Rotting Christ.
Yet, for all the breathtakingly immersive atmosphere the Polish ensemble deliver in richly intoxicating abundance, this is, in the same breath, one of the most relentlessly vicious and violently energised black metal collectives we’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Indeed, from its crushingly expansive slabs of churning bass and frantically accelerating barbs of tremolo to screams so devilishly inhuman as to have been dragged from the deepest bowels of the abyss, this is as savage an experience as any extreme metal fanatic could wish for. Together with its sharply inventive array of crushingly melancholic, tensely suspenseful and hauntingly ethereal atmospherics, the resulting effect is nothing short of explosive.