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A lot has happened for Polish blackened death metal masters Behemoth since the release of their last album, 2009’s Evangelion. In 2010, frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski was held on trial in his native, conservatively Catholic Poland for tearing up a bible onstage. Bizarrely, Nergal became a judge on the Polish version of The Voice in 2011 and went on to have one of his contestants win the series, but in a strange twist was then replaced, allegedly due to public outcry at having a Satanist on the program. Most importantly, Nergal was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, but defeated it after having a bone marrow transplant. This means that Evangelion’s follow-up is an album that nearly didn’t happen, and as such it is one of the most hugely anticipated extreme metal albums of the year. At long last however The Satanist, the tenth album of one of extreme metal’s best and most important bands, has arrived, and it is absolutely incredible.
This is an album best suited to darkness. This is the most nefarious and demonic thing Behemoth have released to date, and as a creative statement it is phenomenal. Opener Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel is hardly the archetypal vicious blast of a death metal opener, instead being a slow death crawl of a song, its simple but ungodly main riff marching onward as the rest of the songs develops around it, with symphonics and huge brass sections being brought in to help convey the songs dark message. In this sense it does its job of opening the album perfectly, as this is no simple aggressive death metal release, not that Behemoth have ever been prone to creating those before. Complete with a deceptively simple title and traditionally painted cover art containing some of Nergal‘s own blood within the paint, The Satanist is a devilish manifesto of blackened creativity, a statement of intent from an artist who has literally faced death in the face and now has something new to say.
Apparently during rehearsals, drummer Inferno told Nergal that he could actually hear the leukemia living within the riffs on some of these songs. With any other album it’d be all too easy to dismiss that as pretentious drivel, but here it is startlingly apparent; these songs do have a sense of underlying morbidity and malevolence, from a band who were already one of the most evil-sounding on the planet. The dissonant shades of Messe Noire and claustrophobic stomp of Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel are some of the darkest and most sinister things Behemoth have recorded. Songs like Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer, an unabashedly majestic ode to the glory of Satan, bring forth the blistering ferocity that Behemoth have long perfected, and then there are the more intriguingly different songs. The title track is absolutely beautiful in its lugubrious magnificence, complete with emotion-soaked guitar solo and texture-enhancing Hammond organ. O Father O Satan O Sun! is another longer and tantalizingly unique track, closing off the record with a spellbinding spoken word section over the powerful riffing and enormous symphonic parts.
Inferno is renowned as one of the most intensely brilliant drummers in extreme metal, and things are no different this time around. His blastbeats remain tremendous, and the more ritualistic approach to a lot of these songs means that he has the chance to show off some slower, more soulful playing. Nergal himself is on top form both in terms of his stunning guitar-work and his instantly recognizable and bestial vocals. The production here meanwhile is sublime. Far from the ice-thin and brittle black metal tone they’ve sometimes employed, the guitar tone here is rich and thick. Orion’s bass playing is high in the mix and has a wonderfully clear yet heavy tone, helping make this album one that is sonically crushing, overpowering the listener into submission.
The Satanist is a breath-taking album. Nergal’s brush with death seems to have been channeled into a newfound conviction in what Behemoth does, and the end result is monstrous and frightening, yet touchingly organic and human. Pure and complete, Behemoth have delivered a triumphantly spectacular album which will resonate for a long while yet.
Originally written for http://soundandmotionmag.com/