Review Summary: "I believe in Satan"
The whole metal world was shocked and concerned in August 2010 when Behemoth frontman Adam "Nergal" Darski was diagnosed with stage three leukemia. Given how far along the disease was, it was entirely possible that Nergal wasn't going to survive. In early 2011, Nergal had a successful bone marrow transplant, and shortly after was in remission from the horrible illness. After kicking cancer's ass- it was going to be pretty simple to kick the listener's ass again- and Nergal and his brothers in Behemoth do just that on their phenomenal comeback record The Satanist.
Nergal's brush with death has reawakened Behemoth's black metal side of yesteryear. Not since 1999's Satanica, has Behemoth made a record that is as full of dread and pure evil as The Satanist is. The Satanist is based more on atmosphere than the pummeling fury of the death metal records they've produced over the last decade. The use of more subtle guitarwork, strings, wind instruments and spoken-word pieces create this aura that is every bit as intoxicating as it is haunting. The minute you press play on The Satanist; you're entering a menacing world of ominous darkness and gloom for 45 minutes.
Album opener and lead single "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel" made it immediately clear that this was a different Behemoth than we've grown accustomed to of late. Drummer Inferno's signature blast beats are still there, but the guitars are understated and Nergal's vocals have a bit more of an emotional edge than usual. Behemoth's change in sound is somewhat surprising, but it's refreshingly effective. While records like Demigod and Evangelion are crushing, excellent death metal records, they were all rooted in similar, unsurprising territory. The Satanist sees Behemoth taking their sounds in different directions while also not losing the edge and cohesion that made Demigod and Evangelion so special.
After taking a bit of detour back to their pure death metal sound in the middle of the record, Behemoth's more grandiose sound takes over and really hits its stride on the second half of the album. The title track and "Ben Sahar" achieve a level of sinister beauty that I didn't previously think was possible while "In the Absence Ov Light" and "O Father! O Satan! O Sun!" are sweeping epics that make the best use of the album's orchestral elements. This portion of the album is some of the most focused and epic material Behemoth has ever produced. The use of melody makes their typically straightforward furious sound more dynamic and unpredictable. Additionally, these tracks give Nergal an opportunity to write the most nuanced, interesting guitar solos of his career on the aforementioned title track and "O Father! O Satan! O Sun!. Nergal has always been a criminally underrated guitar player and I hope the solowork on this record will finally give him the respect he deserves.
The Satanist is a glorious return from hiatus for Behemoth. Nergal channels his victory over leukemia into crafting the most wide-spanning and moody record of Behemoth's career thus far. Well I've loved a vast majority of Behemoth's work; it was awesome to see them expand their influences and create an album that is more driven on melody and atmosphere than straight-up brutality. The Satanist appears to be starting the next chapter for Behemoth and with Nergal fortunately escaping death, I'm very thankful that this chapter gets the chance to be written.