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That's probably no news for extreme metal fans that Behemoth started off as a black metal act and then evolved into a blackened death metal band, which they are mostly known for. But since their blackened death metal sound made them famous, it may be surprising how their debut actually sounds, especially for the relatively new fans, including myself.
In fact Behemoth's later stuff doesn't sound anything like their early years. At the first listen, one may think that the band who put out "The Satanist" can't be the same which wrote "Sventevith". This one is nowhere near death metal's sound and it also has an incredibly soft, atmospheric touch throughout most tracks, as well as the melancholic mood. This proved to be the biggest surprise for me. Behemoth was really keen on the acoustic tunes, which can be heard on most of the tracks. Generally all the tracks are raw in nature, but there are really lots of melodic parts. Some of them are executed on the electric guitar as well. Traditional tremolo picking guides the listener through the majority of this album and the guitarists occasionally throw some really fearsome old school black metal riffs in there. Drumming is decent, but nothing outstanding.
As different as "Sventevith" musically is from the later era of the band, it also differs a lot when it comes to the vocals and lyrics. Vocal difference shouldn't be much of a surprise though, since this clearly is nothing other than black metal. Nergal's vocals aren't bad, but neither are these anything unique - just typical black metal screeching. But they definitely fit in the picture. Lyrics feature pagan beliefs and also describe surrounding nature. These are probably more suitable for those not interested in the later satanic themes.
Production is not modern like Dimmu Borgir. It's raw and dirty, but it doesn't ruin the album. Still, at times, riffing could sound somewhat clearer and the vocals tend to be a little uneven, but this is probably expected by anyone who tries out some older black metal. However, it arguably helps to make the atmosphere even more magical and this is one of the main strong points of this release. The epic feel and melancholic atmosphere work is really tranquilizing. The album art helps to get the thoughts moving, alongside the music. Pictures of sailing on the dark sea, wandering around in the twilight or something similar are bound to come by. These thoughts peak at the penultimate, fully acoustic track "Hell Dwells in Ice", after which we are awakened by the last vicious track.
Behemoth's first full length release has its flaws and some of the Norwegian influence can be heard, but the incredible feel the band managed to create back then makes this one of the standout releases in their career. This could even have a wider audience than Behemoth's later material, but in fact it is very underrated. I don't know if an average black/death Behemoth fan would include this in their collection, but it is a must for anyone looking some interesting pagan themed, or simply (somewhat) atmospheric black metal. I would also put this one easily in front of the following "Grom" as well, which is an above average BM release but no where near the glory of "Sventevith" . If this review got you interested, then check this one out because this album deserves more recognition for sure.
Behemoth is a band that has suffered many missteps, throughout the years. Formed in 1991, this Polish musical entity was born out of the desire to join a scene rather than any real sense of creativity. While many of the early Norwegian bands were keeping alive the spirit of the first wave bands, they also infused their music with something unique and thus added something to black metal. Even in the same country, several different bands managed to create similar yet separate identities. In countries like Sweden, Finland and even Greece, the different scenes were able to develop their own sound, despite the noticeable influences from Norway. However, in many other countries, they failed to do anything special. Poland's black metal underground yielded nothing so special. Even early Graveland stands more as a tribute to Darken's musical tastes than as anything significant. In the case of Behemoth, there was even less reason for this band's existence. Nergal and his mates just wanted to mimic their favourite bands and to put out music for the sake of it, as opposed to being possessed by the black flame and being utterly compelled to do so.
Sventevith is the first L.P. from Behemoth, released by Pagan Records in April 1995. These guys were not only average imitators, but they were rather late to the party as well. By this point, tons of bands were springing up from all over and doing their best to release their own Norwegian black metal albums, regardless of where they were from. While some did better than others, Behemoth's first full-length could not even match up to their own previous releases. One of the main problems is the overall sound. While there is nothing wrong with having shoddy production, this is a bit inconsistent and unbalanced. Much like on And the Forests Dream Eternally, the guitar tone suits the music well and possesses a cold and rough edge to it. The issue is that the guitars seem too low in the mix while everything else is too high. The drumming is too loud, at times, which is a problem that the band never bothered to address. Much worse than this, the synth and acoustic guitars are way too high in the mix, when used. These elements do not add all that much to the atmosphere anyway, but if they were completely necessary they should have been mixed in a more natural way. As it stands, they seem totally out of place and do not blend in with the rest. For the guitars and vocals to take a back seat to everything else is a pretty grievous error and does a lot to give this album a weak feeling.
This is compounded by the fact that the songwriting is so unfocused. Rather than just attempting to go for a straightforward black metal approach, Behemoth was already trying to experiment with additional elements and failed at making them in any way relevant to the rest of the composition. From the moment "Chant of the Eastern Lands" bursts forth from the speakers, the cold and grim gitar sound is undermined by the useless inclusion of acoustics and the keyboards that soon join in. Unlike bands such as Immortal or even Satyricon, Behemoth hardly knew what they were doing and utilized these additional bits to the detriment of the album, as a whole. The few instrumental tracks only clutter up the L.P. further. They would have been better off opting for a more simplistic approach. Even without the synth and so on, the songs are rather weak. At times, they meander along with no real direction. The band was at least trying to do something more with themselves, but were quite incapable. It is clear that these guys were still infatuated with the Norwegian sound, particularly that of Emperor. From the guitar riffs to the drumming patterns and even the vocal placement, it is clear that Nergal took a lot of notes when listening to In the Nightside Eclipse. Unfortunately, many of these notes also included the increased use of keyboards, which serve as a crutch much of the time. The problem with this is twofold, as the synth is worthless and the supporting riffs are equally as ineffective. Whereas the material on the previous E.P. showed the beginnings of Behemoth's ability to create a bit of a cold and dark atmosphere, this is almost completely lacking on Sventevith. Other than the occasional decent tremolo melody, the most enjoyable aspect of this record is the vocal work, which is very reminiscent of what Nattefrost did on the Carpathian Forest track "Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern", released the same year. Nergal uses somewhat of a tortured shriek that really would have benefited from music of a more sombre and epic nature. Instead, his horrible screams are wasted as a result of the boring songwriting. The band struggled so hard to come up with ideas for a full album that, apart from the pointless instrumentals, they also included a song from the E.P. Rather than at least re-recording it, they took the exact same version from the previous release and tacked it onto the end.
In the end, Behemoth's first record is a huge disappointment. That is, it would be if you bothered coming into it with any sort of expectations. This is lower-tier Norse-worship, at best, and poorly executed. This doesn't even match up to lesser Norwegian bands such as Dødheimsgard, to be honest. Sventevith is generic and uneventful, lacking any real point of interest. The only half-decent song on here is "Wolves Guard My Coffin", and this even sounds as something that has been heard a hundred times before and loses steam before it concludes. If you are really curious about this band's black metal past, seek out the previous releases as this one will most likely put you to sleep. Avoid this and anything else that Behemoth ever went on to record.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Admittedly, I do enjoy some of the death metal output that this band has done more recently, but Sventevith is an album by the once little Behemoth that could-and did-is far superior and preferable to what they play now. The interesting thing is, I don't even think Sventevith is Behemoth's best. The better album by them is actually an EP: And The Forests Dream Eternally. It was rawer and had more of an old school sound to it that I found even more appealing. This LP is no slouch though. It has a harried pace of hateful aggression while having the know how to stop and take in some melodic inspiration. Despite having a surprisingly polished sound, it's still successful in sounding old and musky the way a lot of black metal should.
The best thing going for this album is its scope and energy conjuring up great black metal influences but still being unique of Polish metal. This all sounds adventurous with a two tone color of sound being in black and white. The guitar tone is consistent with the very best representation of how it should be done in black metal. The drumming while nothing special is full and hostility and it nicely cohabits in distortion with Nergal’s guitar and on Wolves Guard My Coffin they give the song all it’s power. Much of this album reminds me of old Carpathian Forest but there are other exaltations too such as early Satyricon. Some of the sweetest sounding black metal is anything that can sound like Immortal which is why I found Forgotten Cult of Aladaron to be one of the best songs on here. Go listen to that transition at 2:09 to see what I mean. The biting iciness of the blasts that go along with those riffs will stifle you like a brain freeze from Blashyrkh. From the Pagan Vastlands also has some qualities that touch on that great Immortal sound.
Hidden in a Fog is a standout track though the version found in the subsequent EP puts it to shame. Great lyrics and it almost has a sing along quality to it. It’s about pagan vampires. Behemoth still uses that type acoustical guitar underlay in some of their songs of today. Here, it is found at the beginning giving it a rustic and archaic decoration of folk. Nergal’s vocals are the same in this song as they are in most of the others but they don’t really fit into this arrangement very well. It came off is a bit forced to me. And don’t you hate it when a really good song kills its own momentum at the end? I think that is also what plagues Hidden. It just winds down with a languid and rambling piano dominated dirge. The song does put excellent use to synth choral chants and organ backing. Along with the other songs, Nergal impresses here with tremolo picked guitars below the richness. The good thing about the ending is the long bass tone that fades down gradually to make way for the ambient following track.
Ancient is very similar to Burzum’s Han Som Reiste from Det Som Engang Var but actually superior to that song. It’s a solemn little melodic interlude that shouldn’t be overlooked. Every time I hear it, there is a proscenium visual of an old condemned church in the middle of the Silesian woods where specters of an ancient coronation for a Justinian tyrant haunt. A dark storybook feel to the black metal is never a bad thing. Hell Dwells on Ice is the other melodic song but it’s at the end of the album and has beautifully apocalyptic lyrics. Yes this soft enchanting piece is sung in English but you wouldn’t know it unless you looked at a lyric sheet because of the pronunciations. Hell Dwells On Ice sounds like an early Katatonia song.
Sventeveth is a very good and rock solid album from Behemoth. It’s always had just the sound of black metal that I crave and it finds the right moments to establish black metal scenery other than derived repetition. Lyrics are a strength and so is the overall riff design. Behemoth decided to move forward into death metal with an interest in Sumerian gods and demons. The genre has changed but you can spot the fascination in war and evil here too and the ambition is very apparent. But personally, I prefer being bludgeoned by Baltic hailstones than Babylonian firestorms.
Quick notes – At the time of writing this review, a statement on this album page exclaims that “Tracks 1-9 originally recorded 1993 for the “Sventevith” demo.”
…you must be kidding me…
Yeah, those demos were quite something, but here’s where we really see Behemoth in their black metal glory. Sure, there later materials have a real kick to them, but you can’t replace the atmosphere and allure of these early albums. This particularly one sounds the most occult and I’ve often associated a kind of supernatural tone with this album and also with their sophomore, Grom.There are lots of choir and synth effects in the background of most songs on here, but the biggest difference compared to their last demo is the fact that the production is… get this… worse. It’s not utterly destroyed, but you’ll notice this scrape of white noise also in the very back of every song – it’s like a never-ending fuzz and it really is annoying at first. No doubt by the third track that frequency of noise will be so embedded in your head it’ll just blend in.
The rest of the instruments are colder and thinner than …From The Pagan Vastlands, but think Gorgoroth’s Pentagram at a slightly lower volume and we’re on the same level of understanding. Guitars are more folk / thrash inspired this time around, but not so hateful as you’d expect. They have a melodic touch that isn’t so obvious, yet they’re more energetic and frantic than before. Bass is harder since the production literally drowns it under so much noise, but I highly doubt it’d do anything more than just follow the rhythm. Even on the last track (which doesn’t have the production qualities of the previous nine) it is near impossible to hear any bass.
I’d kill to be the drummer on this album, since whoever Ravenlock had complete liberty to mess up the drum kit as he saw fit. This guy has a thrash style of drumming that’s like an unstoppable charge – can’t stop once he starts. Blast beats are more prominent than before, but the double bass isn’t so noticeable. Even the toms, snares, and cymbals sound like they’re far away – oddly enough, this fits the production scheme well though and sounds as if they were out in the chilly open. The songs themselves are beginning to become more memorable, so Behemoth looks to be focusing on all fronts this time around.
I’d now like to give a special mention to the ninth track, “Hell Dwells In Ice,” for being the track that no one ever mentions, even Behemoth (not even half the reviewers for this bring it up). Out of all their obscure black metal recordings and the brutality of their death metal material, would you ever guess the band attempted a gothic/atmospheric rock track? No joke, the somber atmosphere on this song is amazing behind the clean guitar passage and the nostalgically depressing keyboard tune. Nergal speaks in a baroque tone, which is a complete departure from the tormented shrieks he pulls off on the rest of the album. Those vocals are so icy and hateful, but on this one song its so enchanting, magical, and somewhat out of place that it literally is the best part of the album.
What’s always interested me on the outside was the spine-chilling cover art. I can’t help but feel as if I was stranded along the Polish coastline, wandered into some wooded area, and had to bear witness to this bizarre ritual above some whirlpool / quarry. It unnerves me to look at it considering how cryptic it must seem, but the music therein does enough justice.
Do you want to check out early Behemoth now? Has this review sparked your interest enough to venture away from the death metal area for a little stroll in the black metal sector? If so, then my job ends and your journey begins – go forth!
Who would’ve thought it, the band that nowadays produces flat sounding Nile worship (AKA The Apostasy) made an album of black metal perfection at the start of their careers. Okay, so it’s pretty common knowledge that Behemoth changed styles (some say sold out, I maintain that they “sold out” on The Apostasy) from black metal to their current death metal stylings, but it doesn’t make this album any less amazingly different to their current material.
In all honesty, “Sventevith (Storming near the Baltic)” was one of the very first black metal albums I ever heard, courtesy of Metal Mind’s excellent “Historica” box set. It’d be stupid to say it didn’t profoundly affect my taste in black metal, indeed, hearing this album opened up many, many more albums to me through its raw production and beautiful melodies. It may come as a surprise then when I say that I don’t particularly like the demos that preceded this album, despite the fact that they share a couple of similar songs. That’s less to do with the demos and more to do with this album’s amazing use of keyboards and acoustic guitars, not just in interludes, these elements are intertwined throughout every song on the album to amazing effect and make up much of this album’s uniqueness and character.
Far from Nergal’s current Steve Tucker love roars (listen to Morbid Angel’s Gateways to Annihilation and you’ll see what I mean), the vocals on this album consist of shrill shrieks, equally as thin as the production. Perhaps it’s less Behemoth’s change in style that’s shocking, but Nergal’s vocal changes because if you didn’t know that it was Nergal at the microphone of both eras of Behemoth, you wouldn’t think for one second that it was the same Pole there. The vocals however are fantastic here, they complement the rest of the album (as I said, the vocals equal the album’s thin, raw sound) perfectly, never once getting in the way of the instrumental beauty on display yet maintaining a sense of purpose throughout the album, the vocals are just as important as any instrument here, but never higher in the “Sventevith” Sound Hierarchy.
Perhaps the greatest thing about “Sventevith” aside from the keyboards and acoustic guitars is the way the electric guitar(s) sound. At times there’s a significant degree of difficulty in determining what the guitars are actually playing due to the extremely thin sound and accompanying “noise,” similar to the guitar noise on Emperor’s “In the Nightside Eclipse.” This is one of those things though that, uniquely in black metal, creates a stronger atmosphere than any amount of keyboards could ever do and just like “In the Nightside Eclipse,” the combination of keyboards, production, acoustic guitars and of course excellent song writing lend “Sventevith” the most amount of atmosphere I’ve ever heard in not just a black metal album, but any album of all time. The atmosphere by the way is one of gnarled trees in a misty forest, perhaps the quintessential black metal aesthetic.
Songs like “From the Pagan Vastlands” and “Hidden in the Fog” sound better than their previous demo versions and much, much better than the currently abortion worthy death metal charade versions currently played by the band, testament to the excellence and atmosphere of this album. These songs, and the rest of the album for that matter, were truly written for this album, to appear in these exact forms of black metal perfection. Every single second of every single song sounds amazing to the point where this album is sacred to me. I don’t want to hear other versions of these songs because they’ll never rival that which appears on this album. In my mind, every other Behemoth recording of the “Sventevith” songs, no matter how good they are (and to be fair, there are some excellent versions of these songs out there, namely the version of “Hidden in the Fog” on the “Bewitching the Pomerania” EP), they will never hold a torch to this album, it’s simply that damn good.
Never once does the album let up musically, nor lyrically (and for that matter, visually as well, the cover is great). The lyrics on “Sventevith” set the standard for all “pagan black metal” albums to follow with the mysterious, haunting and ultimately excellent lyrics. Even the occasional spurt of Engrish doesn’t detract from lyrics that do nothing but add to the already brilliant atmosphere. Take “The Chant of the Eastern Lands” as an example:
“This battle is a rebellion, rebirth of old traditions
Mythical hell is the paradise to the true warriors
There they attain eternity and sit high on the thrones
Pagan nations became united
Mighty bards received their long awaited silence
Slavs returned to their villages and woods
Pagan frights of heavenly hell dispelled”
All the talk of Pagan lands, Slavs, villages and woods fits so perfectly with the music on the album I could almost cry, and that is the trend of all the elements on “Sventevith,” one of musical unity and atmospheric wonder. Perhaps newer fans of the band might shun this album because of it’s raw sound and “wimpy” acoustics, because as we all know, the current crop of metal fans appreciate nothing but mindless brutality and only accept “acoustic shit” when it’s randomly placed next to shitty “brutal/heavy/shit” riffs, because then it’s PROGRESSION. Progression my arse, this album is progression, the subtle incorporation of new elements into a pre-existing mold is what makes Sventevith come together and is why this album is better than the demos that came before it. This album set the precedent for pagan black metal, particularly that which comes from Eastern Europe, it progressed black metal however subtly and the genre is now better for it. This album my friends, is black metal at its peak.
On a side note: I consider Transylvanian Forest as not part of this album and as more of a bonus track in the way that Manowar’s “Die for Metal” is on the “Gods of War” album. It’s an excellent song in its own right, one of Behemoth’s hands down best in fact, but as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t make up this album. Besides, the version on the (excellent) “And the Forests Dream Eternally” is better anyway.
It can be hard to believe that Behemoth, one of the most prolific black/death metal bands around today sprung from such humble necropounding black metal beginnings.
In essence, this sounds like a pretty typical second wave black metal album, complete with Norwegian influences and acoustic and folk attributes. While this may sound positive, which it is, the album also suffers from several weak spots. After a pretty good opening in "Chant of the Eastern Lands" (it wasn’t great, wasn’t terrible), the album introduces The Touch of Nya, a rather mediocre and forgettable acoustic segment. The album resumes black metal on the tracks From the Pagan Wastelands and Hidden in the Fog, but again falls into a rut of mediocre and out of place acoustic segments- this time called Ancient. My only guess would be is Behemoth is making some attempt at establishing atmosphere, but fails at doing so. However, the acoustic track Hell Dwells in Ice resurrects the band's attempt at furthering their atmosphere. The track is very moody with Nergal speaking in the background, and is overall a satisfying song. Lastly comes Transylvanian Forest, probably my favorite song off the album, a song that is raw to the core, with punk sounding drums and catchy guitar.
It is very obvious that this is not the Behemoth of today, who have dropped nearly all attributes found on this album, but have nonetheless gone on to create very powerful albums. Not a necessary buy, but nice to listen to every now and then. If you're a strong black metal advocate, consider buying this.
..this would have gotten an even lower score. Why? Keep reading.
I really like nowadays Behemoth, as they are a quite original and strong force in Death Metal, but many latter-day fans seem to neglect their Black metal past. I knew a few songs of their old times before, but since my interest in Black metal has rapidly increased over the last two years, I decided to check out a complete full-length.
"Sventevith" is definitely a Black metal album. It has its fair share of Norwegian influences, but I don't see it as being "too unoriginal" (as Nergal recently said). Behemoth rely on their Norwegian counterparts, but they also managed to set themselves apart far enough (at least for me).
I don't want to defend this album, though. The songwriting is not up to par with later Behemoth (a problem that was common in their music 'till Pandemonic Incantations) and some of the songs simply plod along and the listener’s attention starts to fade.
We also have two "interludes" often described as "Ancient Polish Folk" but that's just an excuse for two bland (especially "The Touch of Nya" ) acoustic/synth tracks with lousy production and shoddy performance.
The release itself is just pretty mediocre, but "Hell Dwells in Ice" just somewhat saves the album. It is another folkish clean guitar song but this time with great spoken passages and simple, yet effective picking. Very moody, atmospheric and memorable. Wish they'd have more songs like that on here.
"Transylvanian Forest" closes the album, a track supposedly written quite some time after the others, but has a rather punkish attitude (drumming) with an early Graveland-esque two-step beat mixed in for good measure. It has few good riffs, but somehow doesn't fit too well to the rest. Well, at least it also stands out.
In conclusion, "Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic) is a rather lacklustre Black metal release, with a few moments showing a band that is capable of so much more.
I recommend it if you enjoy Black metal, but this is far from essential.
Production value is acceptable, with all instruments at equal levels for a balanced feel, but not overproduced in any way, keeping the now famous "black metal atmosphere" present throughout the recordings.
The album's first track starts out with a melody that is similar to, but not copying, Emperor's opening track on 'In the Nightside Eclipse". Herein lies the beauty of this album; a keen appreciation and understanding of the aesthetic in early 90's Norwegian black metal, and being able to create an artistic piece that uses that influence without being a rip off copy. Negral is under the belief these days that this strong Norwegian influence on Behemoth's early works is, in fact, too present; a contributing factor to the change in direction he later took to better express himself in an "original" way and not in the way of others.
There can be some truth to such statements, but Behemoth had an uncanny skill in creating something genuine that adds to the genre. The songs here are put together too well for there to not be a true understanding of the art form. The melodies, played with distorted riffs, burn brightly over the pounding hypnosis of drumming fury, all the while the bass clearly connects the two, playing the role of intermediary. Vocals screech in established black metal form, giving the listener a feeling of familiarity now expected within these kind of song structures.
Surprises include "Ancient", which is a piece that is what it claims to be; a nod to older, traditional, folk songs (of what origin I cannot say; Polish?).
A well done album, and recommended by this reviewer to all.
It is hard to imagine and believe, that one of the most prolific and well known DM band of this decade, started out as a necro black metal outfit...but sometimes along comes a band with such terrifying songwriting that its impossible to deny. Such is the case of this mighty Polonian band. This album represents the starts of what will become in my opinion the road towards becoming the owners of the throne of death/black (title that used to belong to Dissection). The humble begginings of Behemoth are nothing compared to what they are now. Here we have an almost mediocre album, if we dont take into account the folk influences that actually makes this album worth buying. I will say this sounds like all thoses demos from black metal bands from mid 90s. aside from the aforementioned folkish atmosphere. As far as the evolution process is concerned, no trace of this album can be found on what Behemoth is today. I am just glad they still embrace songs from this album ("From the Pagan Vastlands"). Simply putted this album is worth looking, if you are after all a fan of the band. Black metal fans, i think can actually skip this...as it shows nothing new to the scene, but bear in my mind, that the songwriting of Behemoth are still present here, so this is by no means a piece of shit. For Behemoth and curious fans only...
Behemoth have always been a great band, some people prefer the new Extreme Death Metal they play, others prefer the Black Metal band they were before. Honestly I prefer the Black Metal they did back then.
So stop the crap and write the review you may be thinking so here I go: Is it a good album? Hell yeah it is. The album was recorded in 1994 and honestly it's sounds like something really fresh even nowadays.
The first thing you'll notice is the use of a lot of acoustic guitars, I really like how they use them in the songs: they play fast and agressive black metal in the back but upfront you can hear some beautiful melodies played by acoustic guitars (The Chant from the Eastern Lands, Entering the Faustian Soul), something that's quite original honestly, also you can hear some nice keyboards that in the case of most songs they do more of an atmospheric arrangement than complicated keyboard runs and stuff although they carry the melody on some parts. As for the voice Nergal uses a kind of shriek that fits the music quite well. The drums in the record are OK ; nothing special there, not bad, not excellent, just some average drumming throughout the record, although I must say Baal Ravenlock does some nice fills and patterns in songs like The Chant from the Eastern Lands (which is one of my songs in the album).
The record is quite stable as all songs are OK and I don't feel there are any fillers on it, also it's worth mentioning that there are some tracks that are only interludes like The Touch of Nya which is two acoustic guitar piece that sounds really mystical, it has a kind ov Mediterranean feel that sounds really cool and also Ancient which is a synth piece that sounds really mystical too; this interludes are great because they help to keep the record varied and different.
All in all a very original and tight Black Metal album, if you like the new Behemoth don't expect the same band here, if you like Black Metal don't hesitate. Solid release from these guys ov Poland.