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I am wisdom and the perfection of the universe. - 85%

Diamhea, March 14th, 2014

Despite quality output early on, it only took Behemoth two albums to realize that traditional black metal wasn't the stylistic avenue they wanted to explore for good. The subsequent paradigm shift had begun in earnest with the Bewitching the Pomerania EP, but it wasn't until Pandemonic Incantations that the potential of such an atypical (for the time) stylistic cross-section featuring middle-eastern undercurrents became glaringly apparent. This is certainly the most obscure roster that has ever assembled under the banner of the dual serpents, featuring then-newcomer Inferno alongside bassist Mefisto (in his only appearance with the band) behind veteran and founder Nergal.

As per it's enviable location in Behemoth's timeline, Pandemonic Incantations unsurprisingly merges the group's primitive second-wave black metal ambiance with burgeoning death metal ferocity. This is the only Behemoth record of their obscure mid-period in which the band's earlier style still maintains the lion's share of the appeal, and a particularly vile combination of dissonance and crushing tremolo patterns remains after the initial smoke clears. The performance isn't as unhinged as Satanica, but more long-winded and grandiose sounding than Thelema.6 as well, allowing Pandemonic Incantations to slide into the procession nicely, despite being often overshadowed by the attention-hogging Satanica a mere year later.

The heavier keyboard presence helps add some quick atmosphere, and this practice instantly separates Pandemonic Incantations markedly from the remainder of the band's catalogue. Weltrowski's presence on the ivories is quite subdued on the whole, but peeks over the surface enough to gain an atmospheric foothold during "The Entrance to the Spheres of Mars" and the requisite instrumental opener "Diableria (The Great Introduction)". The synths emulate true orchestrations more often than not, and are composed with enough care as to not sound overtly cheap or laughable. Behemoth has always been a dead-serious band, and they have always been careful to avoid dragging themselves into the realms of self parody, since their material often straddles the line between the inane and the sublime.

That said, a particularly coherent animosity is gained during well-armed blackened grinders like "The Thousand Plagues I Witness" and "Satan's Sword (I Have Become)". Nergal's typical (up to this point) croaking begins to reconstruct itself under more guttural and exhaled guidelines, forming the basis of his now-famous sepulchral bellowing. The two aforementioned tracks fade into each other, forming an incendiary whole that comes full circle not unlike the Ouroboros/Daemon hybrid featured on the front cover. Despite being Inferno's debut with the group, Pandemonic Incantations hardly cranks the dial regarding speed or velocity, as the majority of the album is comfortable within it's upper-midpaced confines, occasionally hitting the brakes to take in the diabolic scenery as the keyboards and dissonant powerchords recharge their misanthropic batteries during obligatory lulls in the action like the more lurching vocal driven passages of "The Entrance to the Spheres of Mars" and the majority of the doomy "Driven by the Five-Winged Star".

While the bulk of the instrumental emphasis is still placed on Inquisition-esque atonal tremolos and wafting blastbeats, Behemoth hints at future greatness through the delivery of great antediluvian lyrics and subtle middle-eastern melodic undertones. It may come off as superficial by modern standards, but during a time when fucking Grom was the most recent and accomplished Behemoth full-length, the stylistic foundation of the band certainly found itself undergoing a major plate shift when Pandemonic Incantations hit the scene; with said album melting both eardrums and expectations with armor piercing rounds like "With Spell of Inferno" and "In Thy Pandemaeternum", both of which serve as seamless representations of the Thelema.6 style. Surprises lurk around nearly every corner, as even the longest song "The Past Is Like a Funeral" surprises near it's end as it delivers an array of Dissection-esque melodic licks. Some sporadically radiated cleaner tones round out the album's eccentricities.

The universal point is that you never know what to expect, and it comes off as a result of compositional elegance as opposed to desperation in Pandemonic Incantations' high and mighty case. Despite a reliance on some pointless noise passages like the Mortal Kombat-sounding "Chwała mordercom Wojciecha (997-1997 dziesięć wieków hańby)", this is breathtaking material from beginning to end. The mere fact that it serves as a historical snapshot of Behemoth's rise to death metal super stardom comes second-fiddle to the isolated appeal of Nergal's absolute mastery of atonal black metal riffing. For a band that continues to up the ante regarding their death metal inclinations, Pandemonic Incantations remains the farthest that Behemoth has ever pushed their equally-potent blackened disposition. Will it hold that trophy forever?