Nergal (Behemoth): 'Extreme music is very demanding, it can have melodies and hooks but overall it's an aggressive piece of art'
- Henry Northmore
- 7 February 2019
Challenging, intelligent, aggressive music from the Polish metal band
'It's extreme metal, it's radical, I also hope it's very sincere,' explains Nergal. As the frontman of Behemoth he has been behind some of the darkest most intense music in the genre. Since their inception in 1991 they helped establish the Polish underground metal scene. Their music has become more captivating and multidimensional as their career has progressed, moving from death metal to questioning societal norms, religion and mainstream culture.
'I always want to challenge the listener. I didn't become a musician to make your life easy. I became an artist to make your life more difficult. Extreme music is very demanding, it can have melodies and hooks but overall it's an aggressive piece of art.'
Speaking to Nergal you instantly get the impression he's fiercely intelligent. He makes music that makes a statement, not just sonically but lyrically. New album I Loved You At Your Darkest is a challenging but surprisingly accessible record. Dense guitars, thundering blast beats and Nergal's growling guttural vocal style build to symphonic peaks as Gregorian chants and child choirs add layers of almost operatic spectral maleficence. 'I'm happy that it confused a lot of people, so that's a success to me,' he says. 'Anyone who has been with us from day one, or for the last five or six records, know that we never try to repeat ourselves, we always try to redefine ourselves and deliver something fresh and I truly believe this record sounds very refreshed.'
A recurring theme throughout Behemoth's work has been religion and the Christian church. As emphasised on tracks like 'God = Dog', 'If Crucifixion Was Not Enough' or 2014's album The Satanist. But this isn't just blasphemy for shock value. 'On a daily basis we are dealing with a modern way of slavery. Any basic religion is a weapon in the hands of people who just want to control others in a spiritual way. They create ideals, dogmas and decalogues that put limitations on people's brains. I grew up in that tradition but had my own enlightenment and felt obliged to speak up and share with the world my observations.'
In 2010 Nergal was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of leukemia and this experience has informed his approach to music and life. 'I just don't want to take prisoners any more, I don't want to compromise, I just want to be myself. The main thing that came out of this near death experience was that this is the only life I have, I'm not wasting my time being who I'm not, I want to use it well and make a statement.'
Perhaps unsurprisingly a band like Behemoth have attracted controversy throughout their career. Negral even went on trial in Poland for tearing up a bible on stage in 2007. A recent comment 'I bet there's Adolf Hitler in each one of you' made for a worrying soundbite repeated across the internet. However, as with so many quotes, it made more sense in context with Nergal (perhaps inelegantly) trying to make a point about how light and shade exists within every one of us. 'That is what this world is all about, we don't go deep and investigate, we just take a piece [of an interview] and throw it in your face with a label: racist, fascist, misogynist, homophobe. Go and dig deeper, because if you know me or have followed the band, you'll know I'm a super liberal person, I'm far more left-wing than right. I have no skeletons in my closet.'
Behemoth with support from Wolves in The Throne Room and At The Gates, QMU, Glasgow, Mon 11 Feb.