Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: Behemoth - "The Satanist" - And not a single "f" was written that day

A pig roast and a drum circle? Sweet!

It has been five long years since Polish blackened death metal giants (subtle?) Behemoth released Evangelion, their last full length studio recording. Evangelon was classic Behemoth; epic, powerful blackened death metal propelled to breakneck pace courtesy of Zbigniew "Inferno" PromiƄski's masterclass in percussive destruction, Adam "Nergal" Darski's signature Eastern-tinged guitar lines and snarling vocals, and a metric fuck-ton of Satan. Simply put, Behemoth sound like the apocalypse if it were to be mic'd properly. Both Evangelion  and 2004's Demigod (Full disclosure: I have yet to listen to 2007's The Apostasy and have only heard a handful of tunes from their earlier studio work. Am I missing some crucial shit?) were excellent records that featured a number of stand out club bangers and very little filler. For Example:

The five years between Evangelion and The Satanist would prove to be incredibly difficult for Nergal, Behemoth's lead vocalist/guitarist. In March of 2010, Nergal was put on trial in his native Poland for violating the country's strict blasphemy laws by tearing apart a bible during a concert in 2007. The charges were eventually dropped. Less than a month after the end of the trial, Nergal was diagnosed with leukemia. While Nergal would eventually find a compatible bone marrow donor and recover, the illness effectively dashed any hopes of a new Behemoth record anytime soon. While Abyssus Abyssum Invocat, a compilation of live recordings, re-releases of previous material, and bizarre covers (While Behemoth covering Nine Inch Nails may sound interesting in theory, it is actually pretty Goddamn awful in practice), was released in 2011, fans eagerly awaited new material.

Thankfully, that wait is finally over and we have 2014's The Satanist. While I would have been completely content with Behemoth treading familiar ground, what is so wonderful about this album is the monumental amount of progression it shows in musicianship and songwriting. The opening track, Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, begins at a slower, anthemic pace, with Nergal's growl chiming in over a simple down-tempo riff that includes the aforementioned horn section. And just before the flock begins to lose faith, the song explodes into a maelstrom of blasting drums and cacophonous, sporadic vocals, then switching yet again to a softer, melodious, multi-layered (was that a harpsichord?) outro.

 The next few tracks begin with Behemoth's typical fast-paced fury, but throughout these songs is evidence of more mature songwriting;  Behemoth make much better use of dynamics in order to create tension. In Messe Noir  the highly dissonant chorus sections are lent additional heft from the light touches in between. To top it all off the whole thing ends off with this ballsy, Power-Ballad-esque guitar solo, and it just fucking works! 

 The album's title track is again atypical in its structure; the song starts off subdued and mid-tempo, reminiscent of ballad-prone Nordic death metallers Amon Amarth, and as well  showcases drummer Inferno's technical ability beyond being able to jump to ludicrous speed. The song eventually ends up in the blast zone, but the guitar work is far more melodic and the accenting horns add an extra layer of grandeur to the whole affair. In The Absence ov light kicks off with signature Behemoth fury, but then abruptly cuts to an acoustic section with Nergal reciting what I can only assume is some seriously evil, pro-Devil, not-so-pro-Catholicism shit in Polish (however, it would pretty rad if he was just rhyming off his grocery list in a spooky voice). The album  ends with arguably the strangest, and in my opinion best, song on the record, O Father O Satan O Sun!  - Choir-like vocals are layered onto Nergal's in certain sections, and the riff is reminiscent of Led Zepplin's Kashmir. Just when you think Behemoth are going to let things fade out on a sacrilegious slow jam, they kick the fucking hornet's nest one last time for good measure mid way through before heaping on an ultra groovy guitar solo. The track ends with Nergal giving what sounds like a proper Sunday sermon, where one would assume this particular pulpit is built out of goat heads. 

If you are a fan of Behemoth's previous work and are worried by my description of this album that they've gone off the Underworld reservation fear not, this is still Behemoth: crushingly heavy, blistering speed, epic grandeur, and evil as fuck. This time around, however, it's the subtle touches and spaces in between the blasts that bring it to the next level. A more mature Behemoth, if you will. Go buy this now.

Oh, and I feel it would be improper to talk about Behemoth without taking a little shot at metal fandom, especially black metal purists, who tend to poo poo Behemoth for integrating elements of death metal into their sound in the early 2000's (Behemoth''s early releases, such as From The Pegan Vastlands were straight up black metal). Because of this style change, Behemoth are apparently no longer "cool". Gents, let me fill you in on an important truth; arguing about which bands that wear face paint and costumes are cool and which are lame is akin to arguing which version of Magic; The Gathering cards to bring to highschool to get girls to like you. 

For those who are curious, Jim plays a blue/green mill deck.


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