It’s kind of hard now to reconcile the Behemoth of 2014 with the ferocious upstarts who blazed onto the underground scene with ‘And they forests dream eternally’ (a little-known mini-album released via a tiny Italian label back in 1994) and ‘Sventevith’, the band’s official debut, both refreshingly unhinged blasts of toxic black metal that tore up the Polish scene and which harboured sleeves which threatened to “kill trendy idiots”. Not that the signs weren’t all there. Rather like Dimmu Borgir, Behemoth’s stock in trade is a passion for creativity and their fierce dedication to their art saw the band employing the best possible production (automatically alienating a sizable proportion of the black metal community) with which to imbue their sound, by the time the band recorded ‘Pandemonic incantations’ in 1997, the depths of their ambition became obvious to all.
From thence on, Behemoth became an act that evolved an increasingly grandiose style of delivery that drew heavily upon Emperor and Satyricon whilst simultaneously developing its own, unique sound and as the years passed, album such as the monumental ‘zos kia cultus’ saw Behemoth carving out an impressive back catalogue, with each subsequent album representing a pinnacle of metallic achievement. For many, the band’s last album, ‘Evangelion’, was not only a masterpiece of epic blackened death metal, but also a triumphant return for main-man Nergal who had been side lined with Leukaemia , but, without wishing to overshadow that achievement, ‘The Satanist’ surpasses it on almost every level.
From the beautifully crafted artwork to the staggeringly powerful production, everything about ‘the Satanist’ feels huge. Housed in a beautiful digi-book, Nergal has maintained the important and interesting tradition of providing liner notes for each track, whilst a bonus DVD offers live tracks and a making of documentary – it is, without a doubt, a beguiling package. However, without the music to back it up, all the packaging in the world would not aid the bands cause, but here the band deliver and oh, what delights they have to show you. Continuing the band’s penchant for opening with a knock-out blow, ‘The Satanist’ opens upon the doom laden elegance of ‘blow your trumpets Gabriel’, a monstrous, overblown epic that reverberates with a potent fervour that only Behemoth seem to truly exhibit at present. Deployed with the same level of pomp and circumstance as a Catholic ceremony, the band employ vast choirs, furious metal riffs and ornate orchestration to deliver an opening number that reaches a level of grandiloquence that matches, and possibly even exceeds, Emperor. It is an awe-inspiring opening and one that will have you hooked from thence on. ‘Furor Divinus’ is a taut, noxious blast of black metal that swirls and churns with furious hatred and ferocious scorn, the band sounding crushingly tight as they lay waste to all before them, the red-hot riffs leaving behind a scorched and smouldering landscape of desolation. Imposing order upon chaos once more, ‘Messe Noire’ combines the precise, mechanical coldness of Satyricon with a more hectic undercurrent (which becomes apparent only upon the chorus) for a deeply violent and unsettling track. Lyrically concerned with the power of self-will, the song demonstrates the intricate attention to detail that Nergal imbues his music with as well as the stunning musicianship of the band. ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ builds slowly over huge, doom-laden chords before exploding into blazing life, Nergal indulging a taste for fanatical death metal which is deployed here with ruthless efficiency.
With the album’s ferocious pace evoking a sense of claustrophobia, ‘amen’ is powered by a percussive engine so relentless it is apt to leave the listener shaken and overawed. Nergal’s blackened exhortations may lead the charge, but it is the furious percussion that provides the demonic engine that drives this beast and on ‘Amen’ it reaches a peak of perfection that few drummers dare to dream and even fewer attain. The title track is perhaps Behemoth’s most ambitious outing yet, its intro awash with avant-garde fervour and malevolent intent. Heavy and yet driven by a powerful groove, the track offers a complex, sinister, darkly sensuous sound, like staring into the blood soaked abyss of hell’s most tormented passions, it recalls the exquisite machinations of Blut Aus Nord and ably highlights the scale of behemoth’s evolution. Further treading the path of searing darkness, ‘Ben Sahar’ shimmers with an exotic malaise that proves to be both hypnotic and subtly disturbing before a fervent riff tears through the mood and drags the listener screaming into a darkened crypt where Nergal preaches from a diseased and corrupted altar. Easily one of the album’s heaviest cuts, ‘in the absence ov light’ launches itself physically at the listener, tearing at flesh and bone with claws sharpened over years of silent, harboured malice. It’s a devastatingly brutal track that sees the album charging towards its conclusion. The album’s final track, ‘O father O Satan O sun!’, once more finds Behemoth indulging in an expanded sonic palette that borders on the progressive. Utilising huge swathes of guitar and incorporating dark, choral elements, the track has a strong bass groove underlying the epic, symphonic elements, whilst beautifully phrased guitar solos counterpoint the furious wall of sound conjured by the band. It is a remarkable closing piece and it draws the curtain down on what is surely the most completely satisfying Behemoth album yet.
Behemoth are a band, the evolution of whom has been a pleasure to witness. From the early black metal rumble of ‘Grom’ and ‘Sventevith’ through the beautifully brutal outpourings of modern-day classic ‘zos kia cultus’ and the frantic, chaotic ‘demigod’ up to the epic indulgence of ‘Evangelion’, so Behemoth have flourished, powered by Nergal’s ferocious self-belief and a passion for the earthy pleasure of art for art’s sake. Behemoth have always offered more than just the violent stench of death metal and here, with tracks like ‘the Satanist’ and ‘O father O Satan O sun’, Behemoth have demonstrated the musicianship and song writing skills required to create a genre classic. ‘The Satanist’ is the pinnacle of Nergal’s achievements (and they are many) and far from just being an excellent Behemoth album, it is an excellent metal album, period. An easy candidate for end of year lists, Behemoth have reached a new plane of excellence with ‘the Satanist’ and, if you call yourself a metal fan, this album is an essential addition to your collection.