If you’re reading this and you don’t know what’s been going on in the world of Behemoth, here’s a very short recap: frontman Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski got leukemia and made a ridiculously speedy recovery, then got charged with heresy because he tore up a Bible on stage in his native Poland. If you want any more details than that, try Google, son. Anyway, what doesn’t kill you either makes you stronger or leaves you weak as a kitten. Behemoth are evidence of the former. Twenty years after the band’s inception, they’re only increasing in sheer quality and their tenth album, The Satanist, is undoubtedly their strongest offering to date.
Opening with a slow riff and tom beat (with the odd ride bell hit thrown in for good measure), Darski begins vocal proceedings in the typically heretically titled “Blow Your Trumpets, Gabriel” with the normal blasphemy but there’s something different this time. The horns and choirs are there, the down-tuned grungy guitars, the tight drums; it’s Behemoth, but better than ever, because then Inferno does a quick drum fill, the strings start building and then EVERYTHING GOES MENTAL. Inferno is a vortex of sheer power and precision, Orion has the low end down to a science, and Nergal just SHREDS. His voice has always reminded me of Joe Duplantier (Gojira, my friends. Gojira), except instead of singing about environmental degradation and hope in the strength of humanity (hippie), it’s about demon hordes engaging in bloody, cataclysmic battle with angelic forces, smiting them down and then descending upon the human world to feast.
I always bring this up when I write about Behemoth, but, despite what my potty mouth would suggest, I’m a Christian. I don’t have any problem with what Behemoth do. They don’t hurt me with their Satanic worship any more than my glorification of my saviour hurts them. More to the point, the band members are actually agnostic. They only promote that image because it’s theatrical, puts on a hell of a show and it really, really annoys some fundamentalist Christians. They’re basically professional trolls, and I respect the hell out of that. The point is this: if they shake your faith, then your faith can’t really be that strong to begin with.
I digress. Actually, no I don’t, because Behemoth are 90% image, and that image has managed to permeate into the audio that seeps out of the headphones and into your ears. However, the term ‘seep’ is completely incorrect. This thing explodes its way into your consciousness and demands your attention. Everything about The Satanist is captivating. You wouldn’t think that a band could make an album of blast beats captivating, and you’d be right. They couldn’t and they haven’t. The casual listener will hear songs like “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” and dismiss it as a blast beat fest, but they a) didn’t listen to the freaking song properly and b) haven’t listened to any of the other songs, either. “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” is undeniably one of The Satanist‘s faster tracks, but it’s got heaps going on in the background while the drum nerds are distracted by the kicks. There are choirs, bells, rapidly interchanging riffs, a breakdown at the end that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Hatebreed song, and the sheer power and speed of Nergal’s guitars demonstrate how good this band is at full speed.
The title track, however, is the most variable song on the record. A good two or three minutes of it is Nergal freaking SHREDDING over Inferno’s ludicrous blasts, but again, there’s so much going on in the background that it would be remiss of me not to mention it. The horns, the strings, the slow, building intro and the climactic orchestral finish…there’s so much more, but I’d be describing it all day and I haven’t got the time or the word count at my disposal.
Satanism is all about strength, and Behemoth have never been stronger. Battling leukemia and religious zealots has galvanised the band. They’ve pushed through all the adversity and created something wonderful. It’s confrontational, blasphemous, heretical, all of those things, but it’s also inherently beautiful. The musicianship is sublime and the theatrical image is uncompromising. Twenty years in, and they’re still getting better. Hail!