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Little has the extreme metal world not known of the difficulties in the build-up to Behemoth's 10th album, the beautifully blunt, brutally brazen "The Satanist". Strong personalities like Nergal simply don't roll over to let life-threatening illnesses take hold. Instead every ounce of strength is mustered in overcoming the odds, meaning such a starkly titled release should be seen as nothing but a victorious proclamation on behalf of their fantastically captivating and confident mainman.
It takes a certain amount of balls to do anything different in the stymied extreme metal scene, and here, for the past few albums at least, Behemoth have taken that challenge to heart. Thematically the band look into the Thelema and Satanism in thought-provoking ways - part of the irony of such an album title than many are sure to read the wrong way - while leading your 'come-back' album with a track titled "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel" is definitely a means with which to turn heads. That song though is one of the most disappointing of the nine. The slow, pounding opening gives way to Nergal's spittle vocals with (sampled) brass sounds and "Hail!" chants effectively building tension as the song progresses, but the crescendo it reaches is messy and over-layered, with staccato riffing sitting uneasily with the angelic heavenly vocals and Inferno's merciless pounding behind the skins. It sounds like Behemoth simply trying too hard to be extreme at these points, while I imagine this forced brutality and reliance on sampling will need a certain amount of artificial help to work well live.
"Furor Divinus" which follows is a big improvement. The early riffing reminding me of Weapon before the blasting speeds up into Belphegor-esque proportions, settling on a blastbeat-driven and decidedly frosty black metal lead rhythm. Such moments bring to mind their 2002 effort "Zos Kia Cultus", my bet for the all-round strongest effort from the Poles, so certainly no bad thing. Suddenly finishing and leading into Nergal proclaiming "I believe in Satan!" for the opening of "Messe Noire", this again displays signs of the band losing control of the reins at the crucial moment as the unsettling synth sounds struggle to adapt to the thumping riffs of Orion and Seth alongside it. The excellent, victorious solos in the latter stages do end the song on a high note before "Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer" rolls into action with perhaps the best riff of the album. It's classic Behemoth all over with Nergal espousing both diction and lead riffing like they're going out of fashion and a much better flow thanks to the removal of much of the synth which cluttered the earlier songs, positively guaranteeing the inclusion of this one in upcoming setlists.
"Amen" is the kind of punchy, vicious assault on the senses that would make Marduk proud, although the clarity of their force gets a little lost in amongst Inferno's battery. The song slows to a bass-led interlude closing in the same destructive in which it begun, leading into the nuanced opening of the slower title track. It's melodic lead guitar lines somewhat drown out the backing synth harmonies as the song somewhat plods along devoid of the purpose that is apparent elsewhere, while "Ben Sahar" commences in a similarly progressive manner til the breakout of an archetype Behemoth neck-snapping tempo leads the song towards "In the Absence Ov Light". The deathly apocalypse that is it's rambunctious blastbeat-infested opening marks the first of three distinct sections, making way for a brass-backed spoken word interjection from Nergal - in Polish, natch - before viciously breaking for destructive waters again. The contrast of heavy to soft in the song perhaps sounds odd on paper but oh boy does it work well. Closer "O Father O Satan O Sun!" is the most thoughtful in construction of the lot, bookending the album in two slower tracks and in turn revealing Nergal's disposition to unearthly forces with an interesting dialogue through the progression of the song that only ends when the fading sounds of amplification and brass herald their final call.
Regardless of the result of their efforts I have never failed to be impressed with the honesty and tenacity of Nergal, through a time in which he has reached celebrity status in his homeland and conquered serious illness. No thoughts of softening their stance, "The Satanist" marks a return of epic proportions and, even if such a sheer force of will has sent a few of the tracks past the periphery of effectiveness, one is hard-pressed to not feel thankful for what this unbowed foursome bring to the world of extreme metal.
Originall written for www.Rockfreaks.net