Behemoth – The Satanist
I was sixteen the first time I ever saw Behemoth play. I was so jazzed about their then-new album, Demigod that when I saw Nergal stroll by the merch table, I bounded up like an excited puppy and asked him for an interview. He gamely answered my questions whilst I scribbled his paraphrased responses on napkins nicked from the bar, then we went outside to take a photo on my flip phone. The light was better out there, and because of his kindness, I still have that picture of the two of us throwing the horns and grinning like loons in the Philadelphia sunshine.
That first brush with Behemoth took place just as their star was beginning to rise over here. Demigod proved to be their gateway into the hearts and stereos of thousands of new fans, and their popularity only increased as the years went by. Now, Behemoth is one of the biggest bands in extreme metal, and frontman Nergal is a bona fide celebrity and movie star in his native land. For the past half dozen years they’ve been coasting along just fine, dispensing bombastic black/death that’s palatable to beginners and snooze-worthy to more demanding listeners, and probably would’ve continued to do so had it not been for Nergal’s 2010 cancer diagnosis, then drummer Inferno’s own appendix surgery in 2013. They both recovered, and the band picked up where they’d left off — smack dab in the middle of a European tour. Now, nearly five years after the release of their last full-length, and as a direct response to their vocalist’s dance with death, the band have conjured up their most compelling and, yes, extreme offering in a decade. The Satanist marks the band’s tenth studio album, and just might be their strongest work, period.
From the first stricken chords of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” until the last gasping note of “O Father O Satan O Sun,” Behemoth delight in keeping their audience guessing. Forays into classic heavy metal, experiments with brass, ghostly synths, and even acoustic spoken word passages pop up hither and yon, woven so cleanly into ‘The Satanist’s framework that there’s no question of their necessity. For a band that has been seen as one-dimensional for longer than not, they’ve dived headfirst into a dazzling array of tempos and sounds, making this undoubtedly their most dynamic offering to date.
Behemoth got its start as a black metal band in the early ’90s, and while The Satanist is miles away from those pagan vastlands, the savagery of those early days has resurfaced within tracks like “Furor Divinus” or in “Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel”s icy closing. With its dirty, swaggering punk vibe and thrashy groove, “Ora Pro Nubis Lucifer” stretches back even further, and sounds like nothing else they’ve ever done. Despite its Eastern tinge, “Amen” is more straightforward, an imperial black/death march that dovetails neatly into the ominous title track with its synth-laden midtempo stomp. The stylistic shifts keep things interesting, the orchestral element keeps things classy, and then all of those things get weird. “Messe Noire” is a bizarre, mangled heap of a song that sees guitarist Seth clawing at strings that melt like rotten taffy and Nergal succumb to a wild, raving delivery before a glistening Dissection riff shoulders in. It’s their “Deathspell Omega song” for certain, but it works.
Inferno continually shows himself to be damn near superhuman and one of metal’s most smoothly precise drummers; the man is a machine, and his inspired patterns and fills provide an unshakable base for the more exotic elements to glom onto. “Ben Sahar” is the album’s most satisfying effort, graced with meaty solos and a steady, satisfying mid-tempo foundation that allows the brazen grandiosity of the riffs to shine. “In the Absence ov Light” balances harsh aggression with an unexpected acoustic passage, the somber Polish words floating above a lone wailing saxophone. The stately, larger-than-life “O Father O Satan O Sun” goes heavy on the orchestra, relying on an apocalyptic choir to bolster the song’s already compelling formula of thrumming bass lines, soulful solo, and layer upon layer of Nergal’s straining vocal chords praising the Morning Star in all its dread glory. It’s an epic closer for an equally epic composition.
Were it not for the spacious, buffed production job, Behemoth’s tenth album would be the closest thing to a black metal record they’ve recorded since the turn of the century. Pray not for the sinners, and thank Satan for that.