He’s the founder of Polish extreme metallers Behemoth, a university accredited historian and he recently recovered from leukemia. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…
The guitars on the new record, The Satanist, sound massive and incredible! Has your gear changed since [2009’s] Evangelion?
Every time we record, we approach everything differently. Some bands come back with a new record and they sound the same. It’s never been like that with Behemoth. Every record stands out production-wise, and guitar-wise too. This attitude results in different sounds and riffs. We definitely used a new set of instruments, amps, pedals, cabinets and guitars on this record. I usually use my custom ESP six- and seven-strings, but this time we wanted to achieve a vintage vibe and I wanted to use passive pickups. So I used a Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty for rhythms and leads, and [session/touring guitarist] Patryk [Sztyber] tracked his leads with his ESP Explorer.
Death is a near ubiquitous theme in extreme metal, and many people seem to write about it superficially. In 2010, you were diagnosed with advanced leukemia. Has your experience dealing with an often-terminal disease changed your outlook on the concept of death and its expression in extreme metal?
Yes and no. I’m a vital person—I appreciate and value life—but this experience made me accept the fact that death is an integral part of the life cycle. One day I’m going to die. I cannot guess when it’s going to happen. But I’m at peace with the life-and-death cycle that we’re all entangled in. I have no fear of it. Simple as that. Once I survived and came out alive and was ready to start the music that would become The Satanist, I realized that this could be Behemoth’s last record. The future is not certain. So when it comes to metal, and my relation to art and music in general, I decided from now on that I’m never ever going to compromise artistically. Because of this approach and attitude, The Satanist is the most genuine and sincere record Behemoth ever released.
When I was getting treated for cancer a couple years ago, your music, particularly the song “Be Without Fear,” helped me keep strong. Were there any bands or things that helped you keep your spirits up when you were battling leukemia?
I was definitely inspired by things. But to be honest, I wasn’t listening to a lot of music while I was in the hospital. I got into books more than ever. I was reading a book every few days. I would read everything from Cormac McCarthy to Are You Morbid? by [Celtic Frost/Triptykon frontman] Tom G. Fischer. I just kept working, as well. It was an intense period, because we were about to release [2010’s] Evangelia Heretika DVD, which was a very time-consuming project. Even though I was into chemotherapy and shit, every time I had a good moment and was physically able, I would work on it. That would keep me going. Even though I wasn’t sure what the future would bring, I would do my best and work my ass off because of the band. I would stick to that and it would give me motivation to go on and continue.
I remember receiving a B.C. Rich Warlock when I was 13 and practicing Slayer songs for eight hours a day. It changed my life. What was the first guitar you owned and the first band you were obsessed with playing?
My first guitar was a beaten-up acoustic that I got when I was seven. It was really shitty. It was broken and fixed by someone who just glued it together, but I started learning on it. I don’t even remember the brand: it was a no-name shitty guitar from nowhere. [laughs] I do remember one of the very first heavy metal songs I learned to play was a Polish song from the band TSA.
When I saw you guys in concert, you mentioned one of your favorite things about the U.S. is that you can say whatever you want onstage. What’s your least favorite thing about touring the States?
I don’t see any downsides of touring the U.S. The U.S. is all about long drives, but even if it’s a super-long drive, I can still enjoy it with books or movies. Maybe the least enjoyable thing is when you end up in a place where you’re doomed to eat junk food because there’s nothing around. Sometimes the only place that’s open is Jack in the Box or some shitty pizza, and either you eat it or die. I’m kind of a health freak, and I really watch what I eat. I try and keep a meal routine where I put quality food in my stomach. But other than that, the U.S. is a vast country with a lot of dynamics. In one country you get so much.