Batushka are a controversial Polish black metal band. Their music is drenched in imagery and texts from Eastern Orthodox Christianity with lyrics sung exclusively in Old Church Slavonic. They are reportedly -- though this cannot be independently confirmed -- officially banned from playing in Russia and Belarus. Pronounced "Batjushka," the band's name is spelled Батюшка in Cyrillic and means "father" in Eastern Orthodoxy, to address a priest. Their songs contain lines of liturgical chanting backed by black metal instrumentation and aesthetics, and they dress in hooded robes. Despite claims by others that they may be blasphemous and anti-Christian, Batushka are ambiguous about whether they are religious -- though translators have claimed the band has inverted the Judeo-Christian linguistic imagery away to reflect the deification of self, not God. Their universally acclaimed debut long-player, Litourgiya, was independently released in December 2015. There has since been a split, mediated inconclusively by the courts, leaving two bands legally allowed to use the name. One is led by founding multi-instrumentalist Krzysztof Drabikowski, with the other being led by vocalist Bartłomiej Krysiuk. The latter signed to Metal Blade and released Hospodi.
In early 2015, multi-instrumentalist Krzysztof Drabikowski came up with the idea for Batushka after watching Orthodox music videos and monitoring the comments section. (One read: "God's hymns are more metal than any satanic black metal music out there.") Based on this, Drabikowski decided to combine black metal musical tropes with traditional liturgical modes, imagery, and melodies from Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Drabikowski composed and recorded music solo, wrote (often transposed) lyrics, and hand-painted the cover art for an album. Unsatisfied with the sound of synthetic drums, he invited Marcin Bielemiuk to re-record them. Vocals were replaced by Bartłomiej Krysiuk (Hermh). Drabikowski convinced his partners to keep Batushka anonymous. For the next year or so, the lineup remained so publicly; its individual members adopted Cyrillic monikers -- Христофор for Drabikowski, Варфоломей for Krysiuk, and Мартин for Bielemiuk.
Batushka's first single, "Yekteníya VII," was released in November 2015, just prior to the band's debut album, Litourgiya, appearing under the Witching Hour Productions label, owned by Krysiuk. The album was acclaimed by critics and music fans. Several metal websites regarded it among the finest black metal outings of the year. Almost immediately, the group found themselves with a mandate to tour and subsequently hired three backing vocalists, a bassist, and a rhythm guitarist. Given their transition from studio to stage, individual members gave up their anonymity. Allegedly -- this is a matter of some dispute -- Batushka had gigs booked in both Russia and Belarus that had to be canceled due to angry protests and death threats by Orthodox loyalists who perceived that the band was blasphemous. Batushka toured Poland with Behemoth and Bölzer, later playing major metal festivals such as Wacken Open Air.
Batushka signed to Metal Blade in 2017. The label re-released Litourgiya in the United States and in Western Europe. Allegedly, the contract and re-release were controlled by Krysiuk, completely unbeknownst to Drabikowski. That incident fostered the split between the two men. In April 2018, Bielemiuk left the band, and later cited that he was fired by Drabikowski. In December, Drabikowski announced via social media that he had also parted company with Krysiuk, effectively kicking him out of the band; he also stated that his voice would not appear on a forthcoming second album titled Requiem. A week later, a different post on the band's Instagram page claimed that Drabikowski "was told earlier this month that he would not participate in Batushka activities as we move into 2019." In addition, it was reported that that any pages operated by him were to be shut down "based on intellectual property and trademark ownership."
Drabikowski claimed he had hired a legal team and countered by posting a video claiming that Krysiuk "hired musicians to produce an album that he planned to release as the new Batushka record" without his knowledge. In May 2019, Drabikowski subsequently released an update on court proceedings, stating that given a judge's ruling, Krysiuk could not tour or release new music under the band's moniker until the case was completely settled. A month later, Krysiuk posted his own update, claiming he and his lawyers had successfully appealed the earlier court decision. He could therefore use the Batushka name for touring and merchandising as the case proceeded. Things got weirder, too: It seems the second ruling did not vacate Drabikowski's claim or ability to continue using the band's name in various capacities for his ends, even as Krysiuk's lawyers attempted to silence him via bans and takedown notices on social media.
Drabikowski's Batushka struck first: On May 13 a video single, "Ode 1," from the forthcoming Requiem appeared. Krysiuk's band released their first single, entitled "Chapter I: The Emptiness," through Metal Blade's YouTube account as a pre-release for Hospodi. On May 27, Drabikowski's Batushka issued the Requiem album; it was followed two months later by Krysiuk's Batushka with Hospodi on Metal Blade. While the latter release had better distribution and promotion, fans remained deeply divided over which Batushka was the "real band." ~ Thom Jurek