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The Apostasy was the first Behemoth record I bought, about when it came out. The beguiling idolatry and symbolism in the cover art and lyrics, just as with Nile a couple years before, connected with my existing interests in ancient civilizations and mythology. Whether consciously or unconsciously the modern death metal released in the last seven years have been subjected to far greater scrutiny than they might have otherwise been as a result of that trip to whatever now-defunct record store in Hereford it was. I really dug the mix of brutality and canny songwriting - stuff like 'Be Without Fear', unforgettable. Having subsequently devoured the band's discography, what The Apostasy still had over Demigod was its greater level of conceptual wholeness, as did Evangelion over The Apostasy, and this third in the trilogy of what I believe to be Behemoth's best albums takes that a triumphant step further - even if it is less consistent and I find it tougher to proclaim it a giant leap for mankind. Not that it needs to be.
Behemoth draw moods and styles from across their history and across music for this opus. The Satanist is a fitting entrant in the band's recent catalogue, and has a few surprises - although nothing too scandalous, I personally feel. I feel like the unexpected ton-weight, doom-inflected slow-burner 'Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel' is a superb way to open this record. Really cool stuff - I can't get enough of that booming central riff, and those horns. And it all makes the inevitable eruption into sound barrier defiling mayhem all the more satisfying. I enjoy the elegant way Behemoth have contextualised the things that have made them "famous", and if there's a bit of a groovy break here and there, bit of atmosphere splashed on, I'm still not missing out on the blazing wrath of 'Amen'. Yup, 'Amen' is full-on blasting blasphemous death metal and it sounds killer (along with its mid-paced, bass-led break, neat). Along with the opener, this is definitely one I can listen to on repeat.
Elsewhere established tropes are put to fresh stones and ground into something new, something potent. 'Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer' has a bit of a The Apostasy/ Evangelion feel to its ranting sermons and throaty bass rhythms, but with a feral feel to it brilliantly accented by the memorable chorus which, fair enough, just rips off the Lord's prayer. The title track has a more atmospheric, rocking vibe to it - contrasted with the pin-sharp patterns and continued heaviness of the drums. But it sounds at parts like a more dangerous Swallow the Sun or Barren Earth thang, with like this driving Moonspell-esque chorus section.
Their mixing and matching is rarely covert or in any way abashed. There is a whiff of Deathspell Omega on the aptly French-titled 'Messe Noire', which also has a lot of that sort of "ritualistic" feel a lot of bands are going for right now. Some nail it, some pooch it - Behemoth work it in pretty well. But that dissonant, whirring thing they've got going on in this song and 'In The Absence Ov Light' is a bit too deliberately DsO/ Ulcerate for me not to notice it. Like I said it is nothing too scandalous, and the good thing about any record with Inferno is that I can always just tune out of what Nergal is doing and listen to what the percussionist Polish mastermind is up to. There is definitely an overt black metal feel to 'Furor Divinus' as well, at least in the mold of blasting Swedish and German bands, and I do feel like that might be as a result of black metal's resurgence in magazine popularity at the moment. To be cynical, Behemoth are in a good position being able to sway to one side or the other depending on what's popular. Still, I enjoy it for what it is. And to be fair to 'em, they did used to be a fucking black metal band straight up. The broth they are stirring these ingredients into is very much their own, and is in that respect as fresh as I need it to be. I also like how they recorded a cover of Led Zep's 'Kashmir' to finish on. Otherwise brilliantly titled as 'O Father! O Satan! O Sun!' I joke but honestly once you realize the similiarity you won't be able to un-realize it. It's upbeat, anthemic, it makes me grin, but it is highly emotional and is a decent closer. It, amazingly, feels like Behemoth. Kind of a theme here.
The riffs unleashed, alongside the increasingly important melodies, are honestly infectious, but I'm pleased to note Orion's increased role in informing the direction and feel of the songs. I'm a sucker for a good bass performance, and like many a record The Satanist is only improved by the loud, proud presence of some articulate playing. Inferno's drumming is really interesting to listen to - his blasts are as immaculate as ever, but I enjoyed that the album begins with slower beats from him to establish his role as a rounded percussionist and personality within the band. Throughout he does some interesting things, different rhythms, bringing a good deal of character to the songs. His most varied and scintillating performance remains Blasphemer's Maledictions by Azarath, but this is a great showing.
One outright complaint is that 'In The Absence Ov Light' has a bunch of spoken word stuff over the (otherwise pretty nice) sax section... that I can do without as I generally can't be fucked with spoken word on albums unless it is Vincent Price or similiar. And maybe that 'Ben Sahar' has the whole atmospheric thing going on too, just with an assertive main riff and more drum-rolling, but out of everything here it speaks to me the least. Sometimes it unlocks its secrets to me, but a lot of the time it rolls by on the way to the next song. So as I mentioned right off the bat, the record doesn't have quite the magic mix of consistency and envelope-pushing Evangelion had, at least not on absolutely every song. On the songs not mentioned in this paragraph, yeah, pretty much.
I guess that sums up the record. I know what Nergal's going for, I know where his ideas have come from, but I don't mind. It's all played with enough inspiration and energy that it just come across fuckin' right. I've never prioritised originality in what I spend my days listening to; only that ineffable and hard to pinpoint feeling I get when I feel like the musicians I'm listening to really know what they're doing and are pulling it off with aplomb. If'n ye arsk me, Behemoth remain relevant and powerful in 2014 with this thunderous and efficacious album. Evangelion remains my overall favourite, though several songs here are among my favourites ever recorded by the band.