REVIEWED: Batushka + Hate + Ghosts of Atlantis @ The Dome, London
From the brutally expansive, brimstone-scorched majesty of Hate to the lavishly ornate, blasphemous spectacle of Batushka, tonight’s stellar line-up is testament not only to the rather glaringly obvious fact that Poland is absolutely killing it in the extreme metal stakes, but also richly illustrative of the vastly differing forms and variants in which darkness can manifest itself. In happily serendipitous addition, too, it’s also a distinct pleasure to be back in the roomy and quaintly old-fashioned quarters of the Dome, its lofty ceilings and dusky, low-lit recesses lending themselves perfectly to the epic, diabolical antics about to unfold here tonight.
But first, it’s over to genre-straddling UK metal horde GHOSTS OF ATLANTIS who, with boundless energy and enthusiasm, set about warming up tonight’s steadily expanding early crowd as punters continue to trickle into the venue in increasingly sizeable numbers. Caked in corpse paint and audibly thick with hefty slabs of weightily churning groove, theirs is a pleasingly crushing and abrasive turn. Furnishing these extreme elements with liberal smatterings of Maiden-esque trad metal in the shape of soaring cleans and frantically barrelling blasts, it’s hardly the most original material we’ll witness all evening, but GoA’s sizeable measures of hammering aggression and hook-laden riffery nevertheless makes for solidly entertaining listening.
With visceral texture, tautly muscled groove and exquisitely layered complexity in rich, ceaselessly battering abundance, blackened Slavic aggressors HATE manifest a gargantuan presence from the get-go, their lean, leather-clad forms gleaming darkly beneath a ghoulish deluge of blood red stage lighting. Accelerating frantically through the whirling, weightily bludgeoning throes of ‘The Wolf Queen’, every bristling, viciously angular rasp of tremolo is as keen and nimble as a knife edge. Beneath these insanely paced flurries of lacerating fretwork, a brutalising onslaught of propulsive blasts and humongous slabs of churning bass leave the venue quaking to its very foundations as frontman ATF Sinner lets loose a caustic outpouring of guttural vocals. Within a deftly engineered mix that sees its various layers of abrasive, densely battering and finely sculpted dynamics audibly pop and implode with blistering clarity, we progress now into the frenzied, multi-directional motions of ‘Threnody’. With its searing, densely entangled strains of tremolo bristling with hostility in amongst a stupefying onslaught of bone-shattering hyperblasts, there’s a deliciously blackened change of pace as these impeccably skilled players plunge headlong into the sultry, subterranean grooves of ‘Valley of Darkness’. Awash with crushing yet tautly manipulated lines of endlessly contorting guitars that abound with ink-black malevolence, it’s here that Hate combine calculating arrangement and primal, earth-shattering power to brutally epic effect.
With fans still reeling from this gloriously brutalising assault on the senses, BATUSHKA's veritable army of a stage crew set about undertaking the lengthy and visibly laborious task of assembling the various, innumerable altars, candelabras, draperies and skulls that comprise their famously extravagant live spectacle. Atop a stage lavishly adorned with ornately woven tapestries, gleaming expanses of gilded metal and a glimmering multitude of elegantly tapered candles that flicker like restless spectres in the palpably heavy, prevailing gloom, the shrouded collective finally commence their ghoulishly magnetic ceremony.
As fragrantly intoxicating clouds of church incense hang decadently thick and vaporous in the air and the stage lights fade to black, an immense roar of applause rises from the riotously cheering assembled masses. Through an intricate tangle of gilded strings that echo and reverberate into the ether with a grandeur quite removed from this mortal realm, this ritualistic entry-point into tonight’s proceedings takes generously unhurried time to ramp up ample, cinematic atmosphere before finally imploding in a blaze of frantically battering blasts. Above a darkly swelling undertow of stately, baritone choirs and mesmeric, chanted utterances, choice cuts from 2019 smash ‘Hospodi’ revel in a myriad shades of bludgeoning and bone-scraping ultra-violence. Across intensely hostile layer upon layer of sinewy groove, searing tremolo and brimstone-scorched screams of torment, ‘Wieczernia’ amasses darkly absorbing majesty and dizzying brutality in equal, deftly intermingled measure.
Extracted from iconic 2015 debut ‘Litourgiya’, ‘Yektenia III’s’ eerily immersive multitude of tinkling, ceremonial bells and woodily resonant staccato is quick to work its ritualistic magic on the crowd, together with a visually arresting assortment of blazing pyres, crucifixes and elaborately rendered Catholic iconography. Then, it’s with frantic, brutally propulsive momentum that we’re hurled headlong into a synapse-scorching assault of bass-laden riffage and lacerating spirals of tremolo, with additional, caustic strains of viciously contorted screams transforming the crowd into a turbulent ocean of wildly energised motion. Underpinning ghoulishly beautiful aesthetics, staggeringly grandiose musicianship and stirringly evocative atmospherics within a seamlessly practised and theatrical repertoire, it’s no exaggeration to describe Batushka as a towering entity of an extreme metal band.