Sunday, 23 February 2014

Behemoth's 'The Satanist' - Album Review

I should probably mention before starting this review that 'extreme metal' (for want of a better term) really is not my area of expertise and is not something that I listen to very often. Every so often I try and make more of an effort to understand and enjoy it but these adventures usually fall flat. That being said, there are a few bands in the 'extreme' category that I genuinely enjoy like Dimmu Borgir but Poland's Behemoth are now being added to that small list! I know little of the band's history and, before hearing their latest and tenth studio album The Satanist, had heard very little of their previous work but I shall now make more of an effort to explore the band's extensive back catalogue as I have been enjoying The Satanist a lot recently. There seems to be a lot of debate over whether Behemoth's music falls into the black or death metal categories. I would say that they seem to be a perfect marriage of both sub-genres of metal that takes the best bits from each and creates a powerful sound that is complex in places and brutally raw in others. Despite not knowing too much about the band's past, I did know about frontman Adam 'Nergal' Darski's battle with lukemia throughout 2010 and 2011 so I am glad that he has made a full recovery. I suspect that his experiences with the illness and his subsequent recovery have influenced this album and the sense of anguish that permeates through it. His deep, harsh vocals and almost-traditional metal guitar riffs are the driving force of the album but the tight and dextrous rhythm section comprised of bassist Tomasz 'Orion' Wróblewski and drummer Zbigniew 'Inferno' Promiński create a solid foundation for Nergal's riffing and often steal his limelight with their immense talents. The band's line-up is completed by long-time session rhythm guitarist Patryk 'Seth' Sztyber who beefs up the sound with his solid riffs. One of the reasons I do not listen to a lot of extreme metal is that the production qualities used are often not to my taste. The really raw garage sounds often grate on me and I find it physically hard to listen to, but this album gets it right as far as I am concerned. It sounds huge and polished enough to make it easy on the ear but retains enough of the rawness that is essential to the overall sound of extreme metal.

The album starts off with the leading single Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel that opens with a swaggeringly simple guitar riff and Nergal's bellowing vocals before Inferno's drums begin to build up and the song evolves into a pounding mid-paced rhomp. Towards the middle of the song, everything drops out leaving Orion's solitary bassline before morphing into a real black metal workout complete with blast beats, demonic choirs and some dissonant guitar work. This song is probably the best example of the marriage of two sub-genres that I mentioned above and is sure to appeal to anyone who likes either. Furor Divinus is a faster song right from outset and has a real black metal vibe with the tremolo-picked guitar lines and the subtle string arrangements that envelop the whole song. Nergal's vocals throughout however are very much at the death metal end of the spectrum. He does not really use the high-pitched screams that black metal bands tend to utilise, and instead focuses on the lower register of his vocals. It is a short song that is over as soon as it has begun but it packs a lot into a short running time. Messe Noire is probably the epitome of the sense of anguise that I described earlier. The verses seem to be a cry for help before the more oppressive chorus sections crush all hope of redemption with some lightning fast work from Inferno. This song also contains one of my favourite moments musically on the entire album. Nergal's guitar solo on this song is something of real beauty and is an injection of simple melody in an otherwise very atonal and dark song. Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer moves back towards more traditional black metal territory but with a much simpler riff and structure that brings to mind melodic death metal and the so-called 'Gothenburg Sound'. Short breaks of lead guitar help to to emphasise this comparison before an anthemic mid-section comes in backed by a simple 4/4 beat from Inferno and a driving bassline from Orion. The swagger of the album's opening song is back throughout this section before the pace picks up again to close out the song. Amen is another furiously fast song with slow dissonant guitar leads that create a strange atmosphere over the really fast drumming. It is a very angry song that, like Furor Divinus, does not let up throughout it's relatively short duration. There is a really crazy, off-key guitar solo too that sounds awesome in the song's context.

The album's title track is up next and it starts out with a very haunting intro built around some clean guitars and tribal-style drumming from Inferno. The clean guitars carry on into the verses where they are backed up by some fat bass guitar and some hammond organ courtesy of Michał Łapaj (Riverside). The addition of the organ to this song gives it a slightly retro feel in places and the structure of the song is once again quite simple, giving the instruments and vocals space to shine. It also features another very good guitar solo from Nergal that, albeit short, is very moving. Ben Sahar follows on from The Satanist perfectly and carries on some of the themes established in that song. The clean guitars return in places but the pace is overall much faster as Inferno's simple double-kick drumming drives most of the song. The song occasionally slows down to more bass-lead sections that are rather atmospheric and this is continued with Nergal's guitar solo, as it is backed up by some nice strings. In The Absence ov Light marks the return of the blast beats heard on previous songs and sounds like a real black metal classic. However, it is not long before it reduces to a spoken word section backed by only acoustic guitars and some strained saxphone lines played by Marcin Janek. It is quite unexpected after the furious start to the song, but it is a welcome change of pace and it is not long before it returns to it's metal roots. It is probably the most varied and dynamic song on the whole album, and it has a distinctive progressive vibe throughout. The album's final, and longest, song O Father O Satan O Son! is also one of the most interesting and is a perfect way to round out the album. Orion's bassline at the beginning is full of melody before the song takes on an epic arrangement that Dimmu Borgir would be proud of! The strings are very prominent here and give the song a grandeur that is fitting for a closing number. The main guitar riffs and drumming is very simple though, which works well, as it lets the strings create the main melodies and atmosphere. The progressive vibe continues throughout this song and it moves through many distintive sections before coming a final, big close. Another spoken word section towards the end builds up to a dramatic climax and is a satisfying end to a powerful album. Overall, The Satanist is an excellent album that I am sure, come the end of the year, will be topping many people's album of the year lists - especially those who are more into extreme metal. While it probably will not be doing that for me, it has helped me to open a door on a genre of music that I have never really connected with and will persude me to try much harder with in future!

The album was released on 3rd February 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel.

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