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The much awaited successor to 2009’s Evangelion is finally upon us. The Satanist has been in the works for five years, and much has happened to Behemoth in that time. Worth the wait? Absolutely. The Satanist embodies Behemoth at its most progressive, diverse and refined form.
I believe The Satanist to be the beginning of the next stage in Behemoth’s natural evolution. Having seen them on tour in 2013, it was apparent through their setlist choice and stage presence that their emphasis has slightly shifted from the brutality of relentless shredding and blastbeats, to a more atmospheric and theatrical dynamic. In many ways this represents Behemoth’s biggest success; the ability to tastefully balance the old with the new. The Satanist contains the crucial essence of what we have come to expect from a Behemoth record, but leaves ample room for theatrical experimentation.
It is important to consider that this is Nergal’s first musical outing since his illness and, back stronger and more enlightened than ever, his mentality is reflected in the music. His express desire to no longer compete with other bands and themselves on grounds of technicality and brutality is evident. As he described prior to its release, The Satanist is more organic, more natural than any other Behemoth album since their black metal days. Consequently, the album has a thinner overall sound to it and an almost minimalistic approach. A stylistic continuation of Evangelion’s closing track, Lucifer, slow-to-mid pacing has prominence over much of the record, with several reappearances of eerie spoken word segments. Often categorized as ‘blackened death metal’ (although largely death metal for the past decade), The Satanist stands out as primarily black metal, where guitar and drum work comes across as more simplistic, atmospheric and hypnotic.
As one of many stylistic changes, the vocals are no longer thickly layered and distorted. Quite the opposite, Nergal is more easily understood and, at times, even melodic (see O Father O Satan O Sun). This in turn presents its own (small) problem, whereby clunky lyrics are more obvious as in the cases of Furor Divinis (“Pluck my eyes out, rip my tongue”) and Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer (“Great volcano ov excrement... Reconstellate the firmament”).
The guitars have reverted to a more black metal ‘fuzziness’ (particularly noticeable in Gabriel and Furor) when contrasted to the clarity of the Demigod-Evangelion era. My biggest gripe with The Satanist would undoubtedly be the solos. Let’s face it, Behemoth is no Necrophagist or Dream Theater; no one listens to Behemoth for the guitar solos (with perhaps the exception of Demigod’s Conquer All and XUL). However, I feel that within The Satanist, the solos are rather uncomplimentary to the prevalent atmosphere and come across as, dare I say, unimaginative (as evidenced in the title track, Messe Noire and Amen). While somewhat disappointing, it does not affect my perception of the overall quality of said songs.
A much welcomed change is the prominence of the bass. Orion’s towering charisma is essential to the band’s stage presence as an unstoppable and powerful force (a ‘behemoth’, for lack of a better word), and it is long overdue that his contribution to the record reflects that.
Perplexingly, the drums are less distinguished. Considering Inferno’s reputation as a percussive artillery piece, it’s unusual that, for example, the bass drums are harder to isolate (particularly amidst the colossal – and shiver-inducing - wall of noise at the song’s climax i.e. Gabriel). Further, the toms and the snare lack the impact of previous albums. And similarly to the guitars, Inferno opts for a more tribal, hypnotic and ‘organic’ rhythm to the songs... again echoing the overarching mantra of atmosphere over technicality/brutality. This is not to suggest that blastbeats have vanished; they are still a central component, just not utilised to excess.
The introduction of unconventional instrumentation is another welcome stylistic change. French horns, cellos, trombones, trumpets (and even a misplaced saxophone solo) make appearances, mostly to great effect. Taking heed of past successes (notably from Pazuzu and Shemhamforash), the chilling backup vocals/demonic choir further enhance the eerie, cold and depraved atmosphere.
Songs like Furor Divinis (which I would cautiously label a full blown black metal song), Amen and In the Absence Ov Light hark back to a more familiar structure focused on speed and intensity. Likewise, Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer is reminiscent of Satanica’s Chant for Eschaton 2000 and Zos Kia Cultus’s No Sympathy For Fools. More experimental song writing is shown on the remaining tracks; really hitting home on Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, the title track, and O Father O Satan O Sun, while not as effective on Messe Noire and Ben Sahar.
I would argue that The Satanist is Behemoth’s first concept album, with all songs coherently dealing with similar themes and morals (beyond the usual occultism and blasphemy). A key feature of which is the dichotomy of the Apollonian versus the Dionysian; despising and rebelling against the concept of perfection and embracing the Dionysian (raw instinct and emotion, flaws and failures, chaos and darkness). Furthermore, The Satanist promotes the destruction of social and religious constructs, and any inhibiting values that ultimately undermine our individuality. Behemoth have achieved this, both in the metaphorical sense, and on their own level, breaking free of and expanding their (and indeed our) notion of what a Behemoth song/album should contain.
Through the events of the past 5 years of life and death, sickness and health, Behemoth have evolved and matured. As musicians, as artists, as philosophers and as humans... and it shows through in the music. Transcending the constructs of genre and society as a whole, Behemoth uncompromisingly fulfils their artistic vision and, in the process, becomes the embodiment of Satanism as the title so boldly proclaims.
Highlights: Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, Furor Divinis, Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer, The Satanist, In The Absence Ov Light, O Father O Satan O Sun