It must be lonely at the top. After all foes are vanquished, one finds the next competition to be against the self. After humble beginnings in the Polish Black Metal scene, Nergal realized that satisfaction truly is the death of desire as he consistently retooled his arsenal both in band members and riffs, gradually climbing the ladder of the Extreme Metal scene. The bands that weren’t conquered on the way were simply outlived. It was a shock to see Behemoth releasing a new studio album this fall for it was just this past summer that the band released a live album (also reviewed in Antihero). It seems the band intends to stay at the forefront of the collective Metal mind for after supporting Slayer on their hyped farewell tour this past summer, they are commencing a headlining tour this month with At the Gates and Wolves in the Throne Room.
Perhaps it is simply a convention of the times but it seems that in the last twenty years or so, children have actually outdistanced monsters, serial killers, and demons in the race to being crowned creepiest. There is just something oddly sinister about little ones with arcane knowledge and vile purpose. Nergal and company have successfully tapped into this, for the new album starts with children shouting blasphemies. After the shock factor, the band gradually make their appearance.
The intensity is increased with the second track, “Wolves ov Siberia”. At just under three minutes, it offers a concisely framed snapshot of the Behemoth signature sound as it blends blast beats, tremolo picking, and monster riffs. The following track, “God = Dog,” begins with a sort of bass solo part as Orion plays up on the fretboard over Nergals’ minor chords. Then an alteration is begun between a blasting part and a return to the beginning. In the interlude, the band unites on a beautifully-played chord before returning to Black Metal intensity. What makes this work so well is that on the faster parts, the band utilizes an emphasis on the bare bones chords to amplify the intent, while in the slower parts, the chordal structure becomes much richer and more complex.
Essentially, what the band succeeds at is gripping established ways of doing things and turning them on their heads. The standards of other bands are firmly taken and molded into what is needed for the specific part. The betterment of the song is the firm priority here. After listening to this album four or five times, the realization was made finally that Behemoth have set themselves apart from the Extreme Metal scene that formed their initial surroundings. The band are on the cutting edge of premier Heavy Metal.
All of the above is made clearer as the album continues on. “Bartzabel,” the fifth track, features a slower tempo, acoustic guitar, and a super catchy chorus sung by a male choir. That isn’t to say the band is starting to sound like either Opeth or Dimmu Borgir. Nergals’ vocals are still guttural, but the words do not become lost in the delivery. The latter part of the song features a very David Gilmour-like solo where a melody is ingrained by the lead guitar into one’s mind. The album has started to gain a clear and carefully laid out curve. In riff creation, song structure, and album layout, peaks and valleys create an easier listen. Another more Rock-like part would be the latter half of seventh track, “Angelvs XIII” where tempo is adjusted, and acoustic and lead guitars are added.
As a guitar player, I found myself heavily envying Nergal’s tone. It’s a toss-up between him and Ihsahn over who has refined Extreme Metal with the best tone, but my money is on Nergal. Though he may not be as technical of a player, his sound is much more massive. Blending high gain and reverb is where Death and Black Metal have become joined in the guitar sound. The chunk is there along with the airy, dreamier, more soulful side.
As a bass player, I found myself envying Orion’s role. Most Blackened Death Metal bands don’t have such a pronounced role for the low end. His long tenure in the band has earned him the right to explore a nasty tone that has the presence of a player like Billy Gould of Faith No More with distortion added for girth. Along the way, he blazes a new melodic spotlight for bass in Extreme Metal.
By the time the last few songs hit, one has become fully immersed. Had I not been, this article would have been long ago finished. It seems that Behemoth have reached their definitive moment, at least the penultimate point of their career. The final parts of the album feel as if one has been at the movies engrossed in a film. The band seems to have quite a deep well of creativity. Whether one is a fan of this band or not, it cannot be disputed that the genre has never sounded so good.