There was a time when it looked like we might not get another Behemoth album. Frontman Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski was diagnosed with leukaemia in August 2010, and an urgent bone marrow transplant was needed. The surgery was ultimately successful, but Nergal was re-admitted after developing an infection. Then when the band finally returned to the road, he found himself exhausted, pushed to the brink by the exertion and intensity required to play a Behemoth show. “I knew I was pretty much fucked and there was a battle to be won, and I had no fucking idea if it was going to take six months or twelve months or maybe four years, because with cancer you never know,” Nergal says. “I learned from being in the hospital that there are things in life that you can control and things that you can’t control. The sooner you realize which is which it’s going to make your life so much easier, and since then I started to focus on the right things. I could be determined, I could have discipline, I could have faith, but everything else is not under my control, and it really was a case of just crossing fingers for the best possible outcome.”
The band could be forgiven for taking time off after all this, or even calling it a day, in light of everything they’d been through. And yet Behemoth has bounced back with The Satanist, their most ferocious, vicious, and downright evil release yet. Make no mistake: this is not an album for those who like their metal to be safe. It’s a savage, intense work which …well, let’s just say that if you have any kind of religious leanings, particularly with regards to the Catholic church, this is not the album for you. If the title didn’t spell it out clearly enough, the lyrics certainly will. As Nergal explains, in a characteristically to-the-point way, “On one hand it’s a very black and white title: The Satanist is like a fucking nail through the hand of Jesus Christ, period. No more, no less. But then again, as with everything else you put a hundred people together and ask them what the name The Satanist means to them and you’re going to hear a hundred different opinions, which they can then discuss and fight over.”
The most overriding theme with The Satanist though – once you get past the lyrical shock – is honesty. Behemoth has never been beholden to trends, but on this album they’ve stayed truer to the human aspects of their musicality and creativity than ever before. If you let it, this album can become utterly hypnotic in its depth, emotion and overall sonic environment.
This record is being universally hailed by critics as the best of your career. How do you feel about it?
Well, seriously, we couldn’t be more proud about it. It’s a different record, it’s a different different moment in our career and our lives. I don’t know, I’m super-proud of it. It feels like a very mature record to us, and I really hope that it’s not just me as an artist saying that. That’s really what it is.
So you’ve said you wanted to make this a particularly sincere album. How did you accomplish that? Was there a lot of pushing out ideas that interrupted the flow?
Basically we let things go the way they naturally leave our systems. You know, back in the day there were several times where I should just create a picture or an image or a band or a sound or you name it that we would try to aim for later on, if you know what I’m saying. And in this case it was just a pure stream of emotions and energy, and we just tried to capture this energy and channel it through the songs. It’s very natural.
There are a lot of layers on this album, lots of little orchestrational things that you hear with headphones on maybe the third or fourth listen that you didn’t catch previously. At what point do those layers get introduced
They just happen, basically! They just happen. I mean, when I come up with an idea, whether it’s a riff or a melody or something, I just fuck around with it. I bring it to the table and we bring it to the band, and they just happen. I can’t really say ‘when is this all happening?’ It’s just all happening. We decided to make things more intuition-driven rather than trying to make them sound like this or that.
What guitars did you use on this album?
Well, Seth is partial to ESP. I believe it was one of the Explorers that he owns. I used a Gibson Les Paul. It’s not mine – I’ve got my Gibson, which is a Black Beauty Les Paul Custom Lite edition, which is okay. Pretty much most of the Gibson guitars have problems with tuning but this one was okay, really nice. So I used the Black Beauty for the lead and rhythm guitars.
And what do you use for amps?
What did we use? We used a combination of different amplifiers. To be honest I don’t remember any more what we used! We had a collection of different amps. I brought my Bognor Uberschall, and I brought my Diezel. We always fucked around with the amps and combined them, so at the end of the day I don’t remember what we used. But even then, even for the tones I do remember, we would send all the tracks to Matt Hyde who was mixing the record and I don’t even know but he would probably re-amp the guitars as well because they don’t really sound the way that they sounded in the studio. The sound is pretty modified.
So what is your relationship with the guitar like?
Well, the more I create, the more I write, I really think …this is a guitar magazine and some of the guys would maybe feel offended to hear me say this, but it’s just a tool for me. I’m about as far from being a guitar onanist as I can be, and this album is also proof of that. There’s not so much shredding there – there’s hardly any shredding there. There’s just riffs, and they seem to be very honest, from the bottom of our hearts. There’s obviously some really great leads, and a majority of the leads were played by the second guitarist, Seth. And when we’re talking about the leads we just say ‘Hey, we should go with what’s being played in our souls. And the guitar leads, a lot of the main riffs have a very rock-ish structure, and you can’t really say this is death or black metal. It all just comes from classic rock. It’s evil, it’s sinister and it’s a dangerous. It’s a very radical album but a lot of it flirts with classic rock, and it definitely can be heard in the guitar work on the record. Not so much with the vocals, but the guitar work for sure.
The bass is very prominent on this album too, which is not something you can often say about metal. In some cases it sounds like the bass is actually leading the entire composition.
Sure. This is the first time that we decided to go for a rock mix rather than a death metal mix. What is significant for a death metal mix is that there is a wall of guitar sound, where all of the other instruments – vocals, bass, drums, everything – is basically melded in, pressed in by this guitar sound. It’s all very compressed. That’s what a lot of records sound like these days. But at the same time, it hits you more in the face because it’s hyper-brutal. But we decided to go for something that is I guess pretty controversial these days. We decided not to make a guitar-driven record. I mean, the guitars are definitely present all the time but they are placed in the mix in a way where they give so much breadth for all the other instruments. That’s why the drums sound the way they sound like, that’s why the bass sounds the way it sounds like. There’s just so much more room for everything. The guitars are not overwhelming. Their tone and everything, they’re placed in a way that’s very different for a death metal band. They just don’t do it, they just don’t!
There’s also an ambient depth there too: a lot of modern metal productions sound like everything’s jammed right up in your ear, but you can hear the sound of the room here.
That’s true. One of the biggest priorities for us with this record sound-wise was to make it very dynamic, so we paid so much attention to that when we were mixing the record. We wanted to make sure that every song sounds somehow different. And every song demands a different character. We knew that it could be risky but it definitely paid off at the end of the day because the reception to the record has been amazing and pretty much everyone is underlining the fact that the sound is f***ing spectacular. Some of them don’t even know how to define it. They say ‘I love the sound of the record and I don’t know why.’ and I can tell you why! I remember that when I was doing the record I listened to a lot of New Model Army, especially their last record which is spectacular. It’s called Between Dog and Wolf and I would listen to this… and then I attended a show and what was real enlightening to me was the fact that the guitarist plays amazing stuff, a lot of great guitar playing, but the bass guitar is present all the time and it really drives the music. The bass and drums are f***ing spectacular. This is that rock kind of philosophy of mixing the record. When you listen to metal bands, some of them have some really good bass players but sometimes they make the bass so it sounds almost like a guitar. You can’t really hear what the bass is playing and it’s not really playing the bass role. You near to hear what it’s doing. It needs to fucking punish you. If the bass and drums are muffled and I cannot hear it in modern production. We wanted to do it the right way.
The Satanist is out now.