This tenth album from Polish blackened death metallers Behemoth is one which sees them coming back from the brink of extinction, signalling as it does the return of band founder and frontman Nergal from his almost life-ending battle with leukaemia.
Nergal came out of the experience even more deeply entrenched in, and passionate about, his personal beliefs and his rejection of what society regards as ‘the norm’ – and it is this belief system that is, in turn, etched into every groove of this dark, cathartic listening experience.
At first listen, it sounds like a relatively straightforward album – more basic and stripped back than anything Behemoth have released until now, with the histrionics and orchestrations by and large eschewed in favour of good old-fashioned riffs and rhythms. And, at one level, this is true – and it is the main reason why this opus immediately starts to work… on so many levels: because, yes, the more you listen and delve into its heart, this is also a rich and complex work, and it is this apparent contradiction which has resulted in Behemoth’s most consistent and singularly appealing album in certainly the past decade if not their entire career.
The darkness of Nergal’s lyrics, and their grim gritty delivery, add an extra layer of menace which they have failed to achieve on their last couple of albums: yes, the epic scope and feel is there, especially on the triumphant opener, ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’, the stunning title track and the joyously OTT epic closer ‘O Father…’, but it is the likes of ‘Furor Divinus’, ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ and ‘Ben Sahar’, with their emphasis on sheer power and passionate aggression, marking a return to the band’s death metal roots, that drive the album deeper and deeper into the listener’s psyche.
The ferocity of Nergal’s vocal performance is matched by that of his longtime sidekick Inferno, who rises to the challenge of helping to take this album to the next level of apocalyptic brutality, with possibly his own best performance behind the kit, while Seth complements Nergal’s stripped back approach with a series of contributions which are by turn writhing and wrenching in their mixture of hard-hitting severity and symphonics.
The result is an album that broils and seethes with anger yet dances with celebration, one that burns into the very core of your soul while at the same time appealing to the darkest corners of both your heart and your intellect. It’s as confrontational as ever – you would expect nothing less from Nergal – but in a completely different way than much of the band’s previous output over the past 20-odd years: it confronts the experiences which have brought Nergal, and his music to this point in time, and slowly raises a middle finger to those experiences and celebrates the triumph over adversity which has brought us this majestic, deeply personal and, quite frankly, stunning opus major.
Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel / Furor Divinus / Messe Noire / Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer / Amen / The Satanist / Ben Sahar / In The Absence Ov Light / O Father O Satan O Sun!
Recommended listening: The Satanist
‘The Satanist’ is released on Nuclear Blast Records on February 3rd.