Behemoth: Devil in the Details
Originally published in Guitar World, Holiday 2009
Behemoth's Nergal tells how the finer points of guitar technique and songwriting helped make Evangelion one hell of an extreme metal album.
Every band likes to think that its most recent work is also its best. In the case of Poland’s Behemoth and their new album, Evangelion, singer-guitarist Nergal is absolutely sure of it.
“This lineup of Behemoth has played more than 500 shows,” he says. The guitarist is checking in from Virginia Beach shortly before his blackened death metal band takes the stage at this year’s Mayhem Festival. “As a result, we know pretty well what’s working in the set and what’s not. And I can tell you that when we play songs that we’ve played 500 times before and then we play a song from Evangelion, like ‘Ov Fire and the Void,’ it just beats the total shit out of the other songs. The song is pretty simple, but there’s an intelligence to it. It basically plays itself.”
Nergal comes by his confidence honestly. Since forming nearly 20 years ago, Behemoth—which also includes bassist Orion and drummer Inferno—have become one of the most influential acts in the European extreme metal scene. Evangelion is the band’s ninth album of carefully controlled chaos. Though “evangelion” refers to spreading the word of Christ, Behemoth twist the meaning both in their songs and on the album’s cover, which depicts the Whore of Babylon riding a seven-headed beast, with the tablets bearing the 10 Commandments broken at her feet. The image is an apt reflection of Evangelion’s lyrics, which take inspiration from such diverse sources as German anarchist-philosopher Johann Kaspar Schmidt (“Ov Fire and the Void”) and Polish poet Tadeusz Micinski (the closing track “Lucifer”).
The album is the follow-up to 2007’s The Apostasy, a record that helped the band gain traction in the U.S. and earned them spots on that year’s Ozzfest and on a package tour with Job for a Cowboy and Gojira. Despite its role in Behemoth’s success, The Apostasy left Nergal feeling unsatisfied. “It’s like it was half done,” he says. “I desperately wanted to go back into the studio to remix it and redo things to make it sound better. But it was too late. We had a schedule and deadlines, and we had to hit the road.”
Once Behemoth completed touring for The Apostasy, Nergal began planning the band’s return to the studio “so that we could make it up to ourselves,” he says. The result is an accomplished effort that is brutal but melodic, precise yet pummeling. Nergal says, “You’ve gotta be deaf if you can’t hear the improvement in songwriting.”
GUITAR WORLD Talk about your experience on Mayhem this year, playing shows with Slayer, Marilyn Manson and Cannibal Corpse. Did you find yourselves playing to new audiences?
NERGAL I’m sure of it. This is probably our 15th visit to the U.S., but each time we’ve played on really diverse bills that have unusual combinations of bands. We’ve co-headlined with Job for a Cowboy and opened for King Diamond and for Danzig, plus we’ve played Sounds of the Underground and Ozzfest. I really hope we’re reaching out to new people. We don’t want to end up like so many extreme metal bands that play the same tours over and over again. Our philosophy is about challenging ourselves, and how can we challenge ourselves when we’re playing in front of the same people?