Released: 2014, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Following up something as note-perfect as Behemoth’s 2009 masterwork Evangelion is no easy task as it is. Add such personal and professional distractions as mainman Adam “Nergal” Darski’s ultimately victorious battle with leukemia that sidelined the band for about a year and an ongoing court saga in their native Poland over a 2007 bible-ripping incident that could still land him in jail, as well as his recent TV, film and autobiographical dabblings, and the job becomes that much more difficult.
The first taste of new Behemoth wasn't exactly overwhelming. The initial single, “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel,” arrived in December, but with its coiled serpent delivery that starts slow then strikes with alarming speed midway through, “Gabriel” seemed a bit like a rehash of Evangelion's “Alas, Lord Is Upon Me” - though with the cool addition of some actual trumpets. Still, nothing especially, well, special.
But now that The Satanist has revealed itself in full, it is indeed a much different, more calculating beast than Evangelion, and something of a departure for Behemoth - though no less magnificent or triumphant. Where Evangelion was a full-on, full-frontal assault, The Satanist offers more depth and guile, and even a hint of subtlety – at least when it comes to the musical presentation, Darski's vocals and lyrics are more hateful, blasphemous and vehement than ever. More on that later.
A less brash or polished mix actually gives The Satanist a grander feel that is almost Wagnerian during the occasional brass accompaniment, allowing the music to envelop instead of overwhelm, and bringing more “black” to the band's blackened death metal by giving the more frequent tremolo guitaring space to weave its dark magic. This is especially true over the first half of the album that roils with black metal fury throughout the galloping “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” and “Furor Divinus“ and in fits and starts in “Messe Noire” and “Amen,” which mix in sparse, almost serene sections for atmosphere and contrast.
Things take one dramatic turn after another, though, starting with the title track. An epic death march, “The Satanist” rides Tomasz “Orion” Wroblewski pulsing bassline and Darski's strangled, evocative vocals to surprisingly rousing choruses, only to end in a hail of blast beats, lead tradeoffs and battle horns right out of “Die Walküre.” “Ben Sahar” follows suit with surges of propulsive drumming from the always impressive Zbigniew “Inferno” Prominski and thundering hooks that again are more epic than incendiary.
The blast-beat fueled, pick-sweepy “In The Absence ov Light” completely breaks stride a minute in for a spoken word section, with Darski offering a contemplative recitation – though in Polish – over the strains of an acoustic guitar and a barely audible saxophone in something that seems like a scene from '60s beat movie. It ends in a clangor of industrial drums, screeching guitar and scratching heads.
The Satanist concludes with the monumental “O Father O Satan O Sun!,” which recalls Evangelion's finale “Lucifer.” At times brooding, at times bombastic and graced with horns, strings, chorale vocals and a gospel-like diatribe from Darski near the end, it's a bit campy and overblown. But it's an apt denouement and circles back to the opening moments of “Gabriel,” leaving you feeling like the journey is complete.
A life-threatening experience certainly has not chastened Darski. If anything, it has strengthened his resolve, hardened his heart and purified his disdain for all things holy and divine. “Viva blasphemia,” he declares on “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer,” and you can certainly take him for his word here.
Indeed, look no further than the album's first verse: “I saw the virgin's cunt spawning forth the snake. I witnessed tribes ov Judah reduced to ruin. I watched disciples twelve dissolved by flame. Looked down on son ov god snuffed in vain.” And there's certainly more where that came from.
At times, so impassioned is his delivery that Darski darn near chokes on the words, and ends up sounding a lot like Marduk's phlegmy frontman Mortuus. But the genuineness of Darski's screed makes it all the more effective – or frightening, depending on where one might stand on such matters.
Though it could be argued The Satanist is fitting for just about any of Behemoth's releases, it unquestionably fills the bill here. And while the title leaves little to the imagination, the album itself offers a broad palette with plenty to explore. It's a bold step in a new direction, but it also is smart enough to cover some familiar ground along the way.