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Good, but not great. - 78%

duncang, May 16th, 2008

Behemoth is one of the biggest death metal bands in the world right now. They’ve got over 60,000 listeners on music tracking site Last.FM, which is more than Morbid Angel, Nile, Obituary and many other huge death metal bands. They started as a black metal band, with pagan lyrical themes and maximum atmosphere. Since 1998’s ‘Pandemonic Incantations’, they have started changing styles, from black metal to blackened death metal. Since their last album ‘Demigod’, they have been a straight-up technical death metal band (though there are still some black metal elements), often compared to Nile due to their brutality, technicality and Middle Eastern influence (though I would say that Nile have more of all three). ‘Demigod’ was easily their most popular album, and introduced (along with the rather famous parody of ‘Slaves Shall Serve’, involving waffles) many people to their rather impressive back catalogue. They return in 2007 with ‘The Apostasy’.

Even when they were an incredibly unknown little black metal band, Behemoth’s guitar work has been very professional. The only consistent guitar player has been founder Nergal, but, as with ‘Demigod’, session guitarist Seth has contributed guitar parts to the tracks in both rhythm and lead departments. The pinch-laden riffs are hard hitting but do not really contribute to the song in any way aside from give the music a thick layer of brutality (there’s very few moments on the album where I think “Damn, that’s a good riff”, though ‘Inner Sanctum’ is a very notable exception).

However, the leads are a different story. Shared almost equally between Seth and Nergal, the leads and solos during instrumental sections blow me away. From simply harmonising with the riffs to diminished sweeping licks, these guys can play. They’re always performed and produced with the right amount of emphasis (not all the leads are conventional ‘solos’ where the rest of the music repeats so the guitar can shine), and are played with taste and technicality, something which a lot of tech death bands find difficult. They’ve improved massively upon the sloppiness of some of the leads on ‘Satanica’ (I mean, if you don’t have the chops to play something, don’t put it in your song!) and their compatibility with the riffs really impresses me. There’s no moment when the guitarists let me down, because, despite the fact that the riffs can be rather generic at times (there’s a riff in the middle of ‘Libertheme’ which reminds me greatly of Zyklon’s ‘Ways Of The World’), there will always be other things in Behemoth songs to listen to.

The bass player ‘Orion’ must feel a little cheated. Behemoth bassists of old were given great room to do what they wanted, and could be clearly heard, particularly on their debut ‘Sventevith (Storming The Baltic)’. Since Orion joined, their production has taken another turn which essentially removes him from any kind of audibility. Perhaps if I could see these songs performed live I would know what Orion’s performance is like, but alas, I haven’t and so all I can say is that he is simply backing up the riffs, and that Nergal has cocked up the production when it comes to bass.

I feel that the one area where Behemoth’s comparison to American titans Nile is justified is in the drumming department. Nile’s drummer George Kollias is one of the best death metal drummers I’ve ever heard, and Inferno doesn’t exactly pale in comparison. He can blast with the best of them (250+BPM blasting is no mean feat) and his fills are ridiculously technical. In fact, that’s another reason I want to see Behemoth live, because this guy’s hands must be a blur. I’m not a drummer myself so I can’t go into too much depth, but honestly Inferno is instrumentally the best member of Behemoth. Listen to any album featuring him (that’s ‘Pandemonic Incantations’ onwards) and you’ll see what I mean. Brutal death metal is a very demanding genre to play in for a drummer, and it’s played by such legends as Flo Mounier and Mike Smith, but Inferno definitely holds his own, once again.

Onto the one sound of Behemoth which rather annoys me: the vocals. Nergal’s low vocals are fantastic, and there’s no doubting it. He’s got a very gruff shout which sounds like a late-80’s Glen Benton, but he’s been layering his vocals, normally with two or three tracks, one with those brutal lows, and another one or two with high pitched, almost black metal screeches. Both of these sound good when separate from each other but when stacked on top of each other it really grates your nerves. Thankfully, Nergal has toned it down a little for ‘The Apostasy’ after the layered abomination that was Demigod, and I’m glad because this time around his vocals do sound a fair amount better even when they are layered. He has a great sense of rhythm and timing and his delivery is near perfect. The unfortunate part is what he’s actually saying…

‘The Apostasy’ is a good album. It definitely beats ‘Demigod’, but I’m not sure if it’s their best death metal album, since it’s beaten pretty comfortably by Zos Kia Cultus. I know that they’ll never make a better album than Storming The Baltic, at least with their current style, though. It’s a solid effort, and musically there are no major faults, but this is the first time that the lyrics have affected my enjoyment of an album in a negative way. They’re, in a word, crap. Nergal thinks they’re very clever and profound but honestly he just sounds like a little child who just found a dictionary of ancient words and decided he doesn’t like Christianity. Despite being a good (music) writer, good guitarist and good vocalist, whilst I read the booklets of Behemoth albums I grow a rather strong dislike for Nergal. He’s written some classic tunes (and there’s a few on here, too, like ‘Inner Sanctum’ and ‘Be Without Fear’) but his lyrics are just ridiculous. Overall this album is a decent effort and definitely worth a purchase if you’re into brutal death metal, though for Behemoth there are better places to start.