Review Summary: O Father, O Satan, O Sun / Let the children come to thee…
It was only a matter of time before Behemoth roped in a children’s choir to further subvert the idea of religious innocence; that they do it in a song entitled “God = Dog” is just icing on the cake.
They have always been a consistent band, and they could have decided to tread water for their whole career. Instead, after a five-year absence during which Nergal beat a grim leukemia diagnosis, they returned with The Satanist
, a bonafide classic that quickly became one of my favorite metal albums of all time. What has always impressed me most about Behemoth is how damn fun
they are to listen to, even as they write some of the most serious-minded music in metal. A lot of elements of their sound and aesthetic may seem campy at first, but I’m convinced that the “true” Behemoth experience can only be reached by taking them completely seriously. I’ve read Nergal’s liner notes, and he seems to take an almost scholarly approach to writing lyrics, and I’ll take him at his word when he says that the band’s music is “filled with overwhelming spirit of Dionysus; god of ecstatic chaos, source of pure joy which reaches far beyond false boundaries between good and evil, life and death, love and hate.”
I would also say that Behemoth have traditionally taken great pains to not be perceived as cheesy. I mean, they wrote a song called “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” and then ended it with trumpets
, yet nothing about it seemed artificial, predictable, or cheesy. I Loved You at Your Darkest
is the same way. The child choir on “God = Dog” may take some getting used to, but even if it sounds off-putting at first, the effect is still unsettling before it is corny. I’m not entirely sold on opener “Solve”, which focuses entirely on the choir, but as a creepy call-and-response tool, they are quite effective.
And “Solve” is over quickly enough before the album really gets started with “Wolves ov Siberia”, an effectively short blast of a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Satanist
. The same can be said of most of the songs on I Loved You at Your Darkest
, but that is a much higher compliment than it might seem. I’ve always liked Behemoth, but they could be a little too one-note for my taste on previous albums. Now, they are among the most dynamic bands working right now. And it’s not just that some songs have horns and others have strings. It is a general slowing of the pace, a tendency to give the music room to breathe, expanding and contracting as needed. “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica” breaks for an acoustic refrain prior to a cacophonous horn crescendo that brings the song crashing to its end. “Bartzabel”, at first, sounded like it needed something more to make it truly great, but the more I listened to it, the more I was sucked in by the song’s sinister gloom, by Nergal’s go-for-broke vocal performance and Inferno’s pounding drums.
Inferno, in particular, serves a difficult role in this new iteration of Behemoth. Always an impressive drummer, he now must slow himself down to accompany some of the musical wandering that occurs on Behemoth’s latest albums. But these moments are some of the most exciting to listen to, and “Bartzabel” is full of them, including the entire last half of the song. “If Crucifixion Was Not Enough…” requires Inferno to play like he’s in a punk band for the verses, but that makes it sound all the heavier when he lets loose during the guitar solos. I loved the solos on The Satanist
, and Darkest
contains even more of them. Sometimes they are thrashy; other times, you could splice them into classic rock songs without too much trouble. Like everything this band does, they always fit the songs like the last tiles in a mosaic, completing the picture. “Angelvs XIII” has one of my absolute favorite Behemoth solos, but it’s not just the guitar that shines. Inferno’s martial beat and Orion’s oscillating bass are indispensable parts of the solo’s power. The song shows Behemoth at the peak of their creative prowess.
I take umbrage with those who say that Behemoth are try-hards, or that they force an aesthetic just to offend people. The latter might be a welcome consequence
of their music, but I don’t think it is the sole reason they make music in the first place. If anything, Behemoth should be commended for their ability make the stereotypical metal themes of Satan and Jesus-bashing sound so fresh and exhilarating. That is partly because of Nergal. His lyrics are well-written and poetic enough to avoid cheesiness and unintentional comedy (I will always contend that “I’m most complete, yet so undone” is the best metal lyric ever), and his vocals, while actually some of the most accessible in metal, are intense enough to sell the themes and concepts at hand. But the contributions of Behemoth’s other three members are just as important. “Havohej Pantocrator”, with its doomy, string-laden climax, feels like the album’s big finale, and the songs that follow it are a well-earned victory lap for a band that pulled itself back from the brink of oblivion to sound stronger than ever. A source of pure joy, indeed.