Released: 2015, Jawbone Press
In my mind I relate the career trajectories of Cradle Of Filth, Dimmu Borgir and Behemoth in a similar arc. All started as pure Black Metal in the 90's all got signed to bigger labels, all added gothic, symphonic and orchestral elements, all shot big budget videos, all have toured extensively around the world, and eventually, again in my mind, they form a triarchy that comprise the most successful Black Metal bands that crossed over into a larger audience. One last element, they have a singular, iconic lead figure and in the case of Behemoth that is Nergal. Oddly enough of the three aforementioned bands, Behemoth is the one I know least about and follow the least. It struck me as strange that in early 2015 there were not one but two books released about Behemoth, but it really is a testament as to how popular they are. I have reviewed both books this month CONFESSION OF A HERETIC and DEVIL’S CONQUISTADORES, so please feel free to enjoy both reviews as these books compliment each other very nicely.
Metal music is the universal language but on a rare occasion an artist (or author) decide to publish material in a language that is not English. I know there is an Yngwie book and a Stratovarius book (and a few others) out there that are not yet available in English. It is always disappointing to me when there is no English version! Nergal's book was originally called SPOWIEDZ HERETYKA and published in Poland in late 2012. I knew it existed and I was hoping this would get translated into English one day. That day is now and the timing could not be better. This version has an introduction by the translator, Mark Eglinton and Randy Blythe (an odd choice) writes the Foreword. There are about three dozen black and white photos from Nergal’s private collection scattered about the book. The standard paperback is nicely designed and doesn’t have any extra ‘bonus’ features.
CONFESSIONS OF A HERETIC is essentially Nergal’s autobiography. The book is a series of interviews that were conducted by Kryzsztof Azarewicz and Piotr Weltrowski over the period of six months and the book runs in an uncensored, straight Question and Answer form. I have not read many biographies of this style, so it was quite refreshing. I write most of my interviews in the Q&A style, because it leaves less room for misinterpretation by the interviewer, let the artists speak for themselves, they don’t need someone paraphrasing them and making mistakes!
The book, subtitled ‘The Sacred And The Profane: Behemoth And Beyond’, doesn’t rigorously follow a set format or chronology, the chapters jump back and forth between his personal life and music material. The authors ask some very straight-forward questions about his personal life, 99% of which Netgals answers willingly. Some of the questions are blunt such as ‘Did you vomit during chemotherapy?’ or ‘Have you ever slept with a prostitute?” , ‘Why did you dump your girlfriend?” and other such personal questions. Nergal to his credit answers bravely but even on occasion challenges the interviewers, saying that is a stupid question and saying his fans don’t care about these things. I felt at times the interviewers slipped into tabloid style questions. They topics include his youth, his band, his relationship with his band mates, ex-girlfriends, his family and of course his well publicized fight (and victory) with Leukemia.
One minor problem I experienced reading the book is that the book, originally intended for a Polish audience, has many references to Polish celebrities and/or people or places. As a Canadian I found that confusing as there was no context provided so a few times I had to go lookup names on the internet to get context. For example, the authors suddenly started talking about a girl named Dorota. I vaguely knew that Nergal had dated some hot chick but some quick on-line research reveled he had hung out with (and eventually engaged) a super-model named Dorota ‘Doda’ Rabczewska an incredibly rich, famous, popular, powerful and influential woman in Poland. That would be like Dani Filth suddenly married Pamela Anderson in Hollywood. That relationship took Nergal out from the dim caverns of Metal into the glaring, unblinking spotlight of mainstream media and it consumed much of his life (for better and worse) for almost two years.
To understand and appreciate this book, you need to comprehend the scale of popularity in Behemoth in Poland. One of the nations most famous bands and one that has escaped their own insular star-system, to become ‘famous’ outside of their nation. It is very common for American artists to be well-known around the world, and even to a lesser extent Canadian artists like Celine Dion (Canada) and Rowan Atkinson (UK) but for an obscure Polish Black Metal band to get that kind of global recognition is quite unique. Nergal still gets chased by paparazzi and his face in tabloids, but outside of Poland is largely known only to Black Metal fans. The scenario is even all the more difficult for the religious and political establishment of Poland because here you have this famous but heretical and blasphemous artist who is incredibly popular. He has been in trouble with the law but the governing powers can’t strike him down for fear he becomes a martyr. He is big fish in a little pond but in reality he is a shark and that what makes him such an appealing and interesting character. CONFESSIONS OF A HERETIC will give any fan of Nergal an intimate insight into his life and philosophy. Pair this fine book with DEVIL CONQUISTADORES and you have a complete picture of Nergal and Behemoth.