by Ana Krunic
Setting yourself apart in the world of extreme metal is an arduous task nowadays. To achieve success on a mainstream level, you have to deal with the fact that, to the conventional crowd, all metal sounds mostly the same. To the uninitiated, it may as well be all the same dudes growling about Satan over double kicks and down-tuned guitars. Few bands have achieved visibility in that realm, and while they have been criticized for it in recent years, Poland’s Behemoth has brought themselves to unparalleled levels of commercial success in the extreme music world.
Adam Darski, otherwise known as Nergal, is the main reason that Behemoth’s work has a wider conceptual lens. As their main songwriter and frontman, he’s brought focus to the visual side of Behemoth, which has become a huge part of their brand. Their imagery and music has always been iconoclastic and stems from Nergal’s personal philosophies as a man who was raised Catholic but is now a strong proponent for modern Satanism. I Loved You at Your Darkest, their new release, is not an exception, but strays from their usually relentless blackened death metal. It explores orchestral and choral elements, augmenting the sacrilegious motifs their work usually follows.
“When I started writing the lyrics, I wasn’t really ready for it,” says Nergal. “I had a lot of ideas in my notebook but I was missing a main thought. I was struggling. When the title finally appeared to me, it immediately opened the doors and made it obvious that the album was going to have a very strong sacral approach. From there I took it further with the photography and gave myself the green light to go biblical on this record, full on. I mean, the bible has always been one of our main references, but I think this is the pinnacle.”
Despite legal troubles such as nearly being charged with blasphemy in Poland for tearing up a bible onstage, and his battle with and victory over leukemia, Behemoth has stayed fairly consistent in releasing music and touring. They also maintain their brand with products like jewelry and coffee.
“I wouldn’t say there is a strict formula to how Nergal works or does things,” he says. “I really like my artistic anarchy and I really worship it because it gives me so much freedom. If you ask me ‘How do you write songs,’ I don’t really know. I just open my eyes, spread my arms, and ask the cosmos to grant me amazing ideas.”
Their foray into becoming more of a brand has been met with some backlash, seen as too commercial for a band with roots such as theirs. They recently released a video on YouTube titled “God = Dog Food” (a play on one of their newest singles, “God = Dog”) depicting a dog eating their newly released dog treats in the shape of little black crosses. It’s pretty on the nose, but it’s an effective and lighthearted fuck you to their religious detractors in Poland, who have been hounding Behemoth for years.
“We were just brainstorming with our management and I brought up the idea. I’m just thinking about how my local Polish adversaries are going to take it,” he laughs. “Because they obviously would love to see me crucified or stoned, and they can’t physically drag me in the street and do it like they did 2000 years ago. These days they need to bring me to court. So I’m just waiting patiently, or impatiently, to see what their arguments are going to be. I love how they can’t fucking handle it.”
Despite the negative feedback from people who would probably rather see Behemoth go back to their black metal roots, whatever they’re doing is evidently working for them. At the end of the day, Nergal says he’s still using his art as a personal conduit.
“I’ve always seen Behemoth as a kind of artistic entity. An artistic being that can explore its vision in more ways than just sonically. I always underline that the music is our priority – we live the music, we breathe the music, we shit the music. But why should we limit ourselves as artists? Just to play guitar, get drunk and get laid. That’s such a stereotype. There’s nothing wrong with getting laid and getting wasted, I’m a hedonist. But there’s so many different channels that can be adopted to express our vision, and I’m eager to see what else is out there because I don’t know. Let’s take it from here. Let’s take it further, let’s try to elevate ourselves as much as we can.”
Behemoth plays Vancouver at the Commodore Ballroom on November 19.