Where Strides the Behemoth

[12 August 2009]

By Adrien Begrand

PopMatters Contributing Editor

It might be a travel day for the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Fest, but typical of Adam Darski and his band Behemoth, there’s no such thing as a day off. Calling from Richmond, Viginia, where the band is getting set for an off-date show with Mayhem tour mates Cannibal Corpse, the tall, genial, Polish dude who is best known by the god-like moniker ‘Nergal’ finds himself in the middle of a worldwide metal media maelstrom.

Behemoth’s ninth album Evangelion is just over a week away from its street date, and the hype machine, coordinated by the band’s new labels Metal Blade and Nuclear Blast, is in full throttle, Darski in constant demand for interviews, whether it’s a small alternative weekly or a glossy metal mag from somewhere on the other side of the world. Fully aware that nearly two decades of hard work is about to pay off in a very big way, he might be swamped, but judging by his energetic tone, he’s relishing every minute of it.

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(Metal Blade; US: 11 Aug 2009)

“I have the impression that every show has been better and better, improving all the time,” Darski enthuses. “And especially last week, all the shows we did, Detroit, Chicago, it was fucking amazing, so much better than we expected. I don’t know why. Yesterday, Detroit just went fuckin’ sick, it was one of the biggest crowds, chanting our name before and after the show. It was pretty motivating, we loved it.”

Behemoth’s progression over the past decade has been remarkable to witness. One of the most visually imposing and sonically punishing bands in all of metal, guitarist/vocalist Nergal, bassist Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski, and drummer Zbigniew Robert “Inferno” Prominski have been making tremendous strides as of late, their fusion of death metal and black metal (the latter’s influence more than evident in their use of corpse paint and elaborate costumes) first coming into its own on 1999’s Satanica and continuing on the superb follow-ups Thelema.6 (2001) and Zos Kia Cultus (Here and Beyond) (2002).

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(Enhanced; US: 25 Jan 2005)

It was on 2004’s classic Demigod, however, where ears started to perk up en masse Stateside, and for good reason. A stunning, immaculately recorded album boasting an unrelenting wave of blastbeats and astonishing vocal roars by Nergal, it somehow balanced all that brutality with a melodic sensibility few of the band’s peers could match, the overall package made all the more enticing by Nergal’s smart, confrontational lyrics.

Ideally, the big creative and commercial leap should have happened with 2007’s heavily-anticipated follow-up The Apostasy, but while nowhere near a bad record (it debuted at an admirable #149 in America), it did lack the crystalline production and flamboyance of Demigod, the approach coming off as more workmanlike rather than ambitious. Openly dissatisfied with how that album came about, Darski and his bandmates reunited with Demigod producer Daniel Bergstrand for Evangelion, and the improvement on the new disc is quickly apparent.

With nearly five years’ worth of touring in North America and prominent spots on European festival bills slowly building a very loyal fan base, and now that the follow-up that Demigod deserved is finally here, this band, formed in Gdansk back in 1991, seemingly a lifetime ago, is set to explode at long last.

“You know what, I would really love it if it happens, to be honest,” Darski admits. “We’re working our asses off to get the biggest push, the biggest support of Evangelion that we can afford. What happens, we can’t tell. There are certain things that we simply cannot control, but it looks like the feedback has been un-fucking-amazing.

The media are loving the record, we are just getting news that German Metal Hammer made it Album of the Month.  We’re Album of the Month in the three biggest Polish magazines, all these cover stories with Metal Hammer, Zero Tolerance, and now Decibel, it’s just crazy you know, there’s definitely a lot of talk about the band, about the record, there’s definitely hype. Obviously the album leaked to the internet, so I already know what’s going on when it comes to people’s opinions, and people fucking adore this record.

So yes, I would love to think this album is definitely bringing Behemoth to the next level. What happens in reality, give us a few months, maybe a few years, and see what happens. Having Metal Blade picking us up, having Nuclear Blast in Europe picking us up, I really think it’s possible.”

So why did it take until now, and not two years ago, for Behemoth to deliver the kind of album that everyone knew they had in them? Darski quickly admits that he’s in a much healthier frame of mind than he was during the writing and recording of The Apostasy, but he cannot underestimate just how important his band’s constant touring over the last few years has been to the songwriting process on Evangelion.

We Are Not Storytellers

We Are Not Storytellers

Ever the provocateur, Darski would much rather see what different people make of his striking imagery instead of providing a narrative that is easy for listeners to comprehend.

There’s an unmistakable chemistry between the three members, and it’s discernable on such instantly memorable tracks as “Daimonos” and the viciously catchy “Ov Fire and the Void”, the overall feel reminiscent of Demigod standouts “Conquer All” and “Slaves Shall Serve”, yet at the same time, more refined.

“We do this tour now, and we play ‘Ov Fire and the Void’ which is a brand new song, and there is something about it,” Darski says. “[It] sounds much better, much tighter than songs we’ve played 500 times so far, like ‘Decade of Therion’ or ‘Demigod’. Those songs are sloppy, and we can never play them super-tight, but ‘Ov Fire and the Void’ is just tight as fuck. On a songwriting level, that’s what happens, they are very smartly, intelligently put together, so it’s the right balance between the song being groovy and catchy and at the same time not being primitive, feeling ambitious.

Essential Extreme Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces (Da Capo) Rating: 9 Decibel magazine’s monthly Hall of Fame series has grown into its most popular feature, and now 25 articles have been compiled and expanded by editor Albert Mudrian, offering readers a valuable history lesson in the evolution of metal music, from Heaven and Hell, to Reign in Blood, to In the Nightside Eclipse, to Jane Doe. Featuring the full participation of every band’s members, we get to hear the stories in their own words, and it’s nothing short of enthralling, absolutely essential reading for any metal fan. Bergraven: Till Makabert Väsen (Hydra Head) Rating: 7 Pär Gustafsson returns with his follow-up to 2007’s fascinating Dödsvisioner, and to no one’s surprise, it’s another slab of weirdo art metal, fitting somewhere between the experimental sounds of Deathspell Omega, the dissonant arrangements of Captain Beefheart, and the progressive mindset of Opeth and Enslaved. It’s completely overblown and self-absorbed, but then again, what do you expect from a one-man studio project on Hydra Head? Bizarre, but never for a second dull. Iron Age: The Sleeping Eye (Tee Pee) Rating: 8 Don’t let the hardcore label on their MySpace fool you, Austin’s Iron Age is metal through and through, and their second album is an absolute beast. One second they’re channeling classic Bay Area thrash, the next they’re getting their early Celtic Frost on, and the next they’re unleashing killer, crunchy riffs a la Anthrax circa 1984, all with a flamboyance that few young bands can muster. If you dig fellow hardcore crossovers Saviours and Bison B.C., you will love this one.

“We don’t want to play stuff that’s going to be too challenging live,” he adds. “I think it kind of happens subconsciously, too. With the increase of experience, we just write better songs. It’s not like we sit and analyze, ‘Okay, how about writing this song so it’s going to be easy to perform live,’ we never do this.

It’s a lot of spontaneity, it’s like a volcano of different vibes and emotions. There’s definitely a very intellectual approach to what we do, but there’s also a huge Dionysian approach to it too, all hell breaks loose, it’s out of control. What we always try to do is just control it.”

No question, Behemoth is in full command of its craft on Evangelion. Never one to overdo things, Nergal’s guitar-playing style is always more direct than flamboyant, often sounding like the work of a craftsman than a virtuoso, but what these nine tracks lack in face-melting technical prowess is made up for by the sheer charisma of the towering riffs and serpentine solos.

A fine example is the stately “Alas, Lord is Upon Me”, which follows the example of Gojira in slowing down the pace enough to let the classy melody of that central riff carry the bulk of the track. Even better, though, is the eight-minute closing track “Lucifer”, one of the slowest songs Behemoth has ever recorded, and according to Darski, one of the easiest to write.

“It was a very spontaneous song,” he says. “I just came up with the riff two weeks before we even entered the studio, so the song wasn’t even meant to be on the record. It just came out very natural. I just started jamming out this riff, the guys picked it up, and it grew into a fucking-eight minute monster.

This song definitely stands out, not just out of Evangelion, but maybe all Behemoth albums. It’s a big song, very epic. The lyrics are in Polish too, which makes it even more special and exotic for foreigners to listen to. The lyrics are actually a poem from this guy called Tadeusz Micinski, who used to live a hundred years ago.”

Although he clearly puts a lot of thought into his lyrics, which tackle the oft-overdone anti-Christian gimmick with a much more thoughtful, less cartoonish approach than other bands, Darski, ever the provocateur, would much rather see what different people make of his striking imagery instead of providing a narrative that is easy for listeners to comprehend.

“I really hate analyzing my own songs,” he admits. “You tell me about the song, I want to know from you what you think about the song. Of course, I will give descriptions, with every song you’re going to find a statement, and once I did that I’m like, ‘You know what, you tell me, what’s your interpretation of this song?’ Because everyone has his own.

“We’re not storytellers. So I cannot tell you that this song is about this guy who went there and did this and came back. It’s just expression. It’s energy. It’s millions of thoughts, it’s chaos. So when someone asks me what the song is about, I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’

I just channel a certain energy into the words and the riffs, and that’s what it is, I know nothing else about it. I’m just trying to materialize it by playing it live, to bring it into the next dimension, and that’s it. Once the album is done and I give it to all the people, my role is over. I’ve done my job.”

In their home country, Behemoth continues to be a source of controversy, whether it’s being pursued, Wile E. Coyote style, by one Richard Nowak, head of the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects, who takes offense to the band’s defiantly anti-Catholic stance, or Darski’s relationship with pop singer Dorota “Doda” Rabczewska. However, he’s been around enough by now to not let either demagogues or the paparazzi get in his way. Besides, if it’ll get people talking about the band even more than they already are, then Darski will gladly take it.

“Ever since I started dating this pop star, that’s when all hell breaks loose, you know,” he laughs. “All these heavy metal fans are like ‘What the fuck.’ So I guess we are even more controversial than ever, but of course as you can see, we don’t give a fuck, we are who we are. Nothing’s going to change that, it’s not going to affect our music.

We are dedicated, we’re passionate about what we do. We really are an example of people in a band that follow the Crowleyan rule, ‘Do what thou wilt.’ We make our own rules, our own law, and we basically don’t bend to anything or anyone. That’s awesome, you know. There’s no compromising here.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/109715-where-strides-the-behemoth/