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I have to yet to find a place in my heart for live albums following what seems a generational shift from the 60s/70s/80s when they were a far more valued composition than they seem to be today. Ok I am shamelessly in love with Iced Earth's "Alive In Athens" triple-disc compendium, the live album that will still be my favourite of all time 20 years from now, but such works, especially by extreme metallers like Polish titans Behemoth, usually sound overly muddy and never, ever like seeing them in the flesh. There is also the sense of atmosphere lacking on a lot of more extreme metal live albums against those of the likes of Maiden, Motörhead, Saxon et al when they were playing to big audiences who you sensed didn't have the same gig overload that is offered to the wearisome youth of today. All in all I was a little apprehensive when pressing play to "At The Arena Ov Aion - Live Apostasy"
All this is a pity because Behemoth were one of the first truly extreme bands I got into and "Zos Kia Cultus" to this day remains in my top 10 extreme metal albums of all time. Also having seen the band on 3 occasions (all in 2005 - I should really catch up with them) I know full well the brutal neck assault that is a Behemoth gig; so could sitting listening to them at home in my slippers drinking water rather over-priced beer provoke the same sorts of feelings? In a nutshell, no. While "At The Arena..." is over-laden with so many brutally brilliant tunes it's hard to know where to start ("Christians To The Lions", "Slaves Shall Serve", "Antichristian Phenomenon", "As Above So Below", "Chant For Ezkaton 2000" anyone?) and the sound is brilliantly audible with just the right level of audience participation to make it acceptable, the fallibilities of a live album are revealed at the moments when Nergal is clearly holding up something (that 'something' being a Bible) and 'in-between' moments when one almost feels embarrassed for using the time to have a stretch, or pausing to go to the toilet. It just ain't the same as the beer, sweat and corpsepaint of a hyperactive Behemoth gig.
As everyone knows about Behemoth these days, musicianship is of the absolute highest level - solos like the exemplars in "Sculpting The Throne Ov Seth" ring loud and true and Inferno is still a pillaging monster behind the skins even if he does sound too triggered during the brief solo in the album's center. The setlist is spread nicely over a large segment of Behemoth's discography right back to "Satanica" with two of the BM oldies sneaking in, giving a lovely balance for fans old and new with the consummate frontman in Nergal, unwaveringly confident in his band and material and dedication to self-capitulation of the throat. Concluding with a mark is difficult so follow this simple guideline - if you like extreme metal AND live albums you will absolutely love this; if either float your boat still take the time to investigate "At The Arena..."; if you dislike extreme metal and live albums why the fuck are you still reading?!
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net