REVIEWED: Batushka + Belphegor + Diabolical @ 229 The Venue, London
It’s a decidedly dreary Tuesday night in the capital and, with its glittering array of fairy light-bestrewn bar restaurants, trendy cafes and stylish designer furniture shops, the area surrounding Great Portland Street’s imaginatively-titled 229 The Venue is hardly setting an appropriate tone for the extreme metal carnage that’s moments away from unfolding here tonight. But, slipping through the building’s impeccably polished automatic glass doors and crimson-carpeted lobby into the frenzied heat and chaos of the students' union bar within, it fast becomes apparent that this is most certainly the place.
And as great foaming jets of premium lager gush in thick and fast supply from behind a flimsy plastic partition into even flimsier plastic pint cups, little-known Swedish extreme metal collective DIABOLICAL are already deep in the throes of their darkly arresting live spectacle. Spewing forth an endless profusion of corrosive, larynx-scalding screams and tremendous slabs of blackly contorted bass groove, theirs is a crushing and instantly intoxicating mix. Interlacing these ruinous feats of hammering, tautly muscled brutality with a plethora of gorgeously resonant choral vocals and sleekly unfurling fretwork that glimmers with unearthly majesty, this is, without doubt, one of the most exciting new sonic discoveries Dark Matter has made all year.
From little-known subterranean gems to towering titans of extremity, BELPHEGOR effortlessly hammer, bludgeon and steamroll spectators into submission without so much as breaking a sweat, their frantically accelerating blasts gathering blistering momentum above a scalding array of coldly abrasive guitar accents. Their corpse paint-smeared faces ghoulishly illuminated in the ferocious glare of tremendous tongues of fire that belch forth great, pitch-black plumes of billowing smoke, these inimitable Austrians have once again serviced us with a thoroughly devastating assault on the senses. Atop a stage lavishly adorned with skeletal remains, ‘The Devil’s Son’ is a veritable supernova of searing, white-hot aggression. With its densely muscled undertow of churning riffage half-buried beneath a deafening hail of machine gun-paced hyperblasts, it’s with seamlessly practised ease that the band segue into the blackly grandiose infernal flourishes of ‘Conjuring the Dead’. This blistering, elegantly layered assault complete, the sound barrier-shattering motions of ‘Lucifer Incestus’ transform the venue into a raging ocean of demented movement as its thickly interwoven strains of darkly abrasive tremolo leave fans visibly dizzy with adrenaline.
And so to by far the most hotly debated and controversial fixture of tonight’s gloriously infernal billing: Polish extreme metal collective, BATUSHKA. Not to be mistaken with the incarnation first established by founder Krzysztof Drabikowski back in 2015, the band currently co-headlining this year’s tremendously anticipated Black Rituals tour is the product of a notoriously messy rights dispute that saw these musicians famously sever all ties with Drabikowski back in 2019, establishing their own band formed under the same name and aesthetic as the original line-up.
Problematic band politics aside, there’s no question that Batushka have an undeniable knack for beautifully orchestrated live spectacle. Extravagantly attired in the gilded robes traditionally donned by the highest orders of the Catholic church as dusky clouds of incense cloister the stage in an inky profusion of shadows, these skilful players revel in an intoxicating mix of pulverising blasts and lacerating, deftly manipulated fretwork. Interspersing these intensely brutalising dynamics in amongst expansive flurries of elegantly orchestrated strings and darkly swelling choral sections, it’s with impeccable placement and suspenseful pacing that the band weave their ripping, stirringly evocative magic. And from sculpted lashings of frostbitten tremolo and crushingly heavy riffage through to the finest of melodic intricacies and spectral echoes, theirs is a skilfully balanced and seamless sound. With ‘Utrenia’s’ frenetic flurries of bone-scraping fretwork and weightily brutalising bass comprising one of the most viciously pleasing highlights of their deliciously ritualistic set, the ghoulish presence and sonically expansive character Batushka bring here in abundance is a darkly absorbing pleasure to behold.