If ever there was a band whose output should be approached with the same caution you might reserve for, say, amateur crocodile dentistry, Behemoth would sure as hell qualify for the title… but the skin-crawling fear they induce among even the most rugged of extreme-music fans (not to mention blasphemy-hating government officials on their home turf of Poland) hasn’t prevented them from securing a position as one of Europe’s most respected and popular metal acts. To give you some idea of what’s coming your way in the form of their ninth studio release Evangelion, take note that the video for first single Ov Fire and the Void was (not surprisingly) banned from YouTube within mere hours of its premiere. You can still see the semi-censored version, which should give you a pretty good sense of the epic heresy lying within these nine tracks (you can see the original, courtesy of Metal Blade Records, below the jump). Take that delightful little clip – and this review – as your first and only warning.
Still onboard? Then dive in for a review of Evangelion itself, and join me, like Vincent Price in Masque of the Red Death, in the glories of hell…
The crew of Nergal (vocals & guitar), Inferno (drums), Seth (guitars) and Orion (bass) has held onto a fairly consistent sound since they morphed from the musical conventions of black metal into so-called “blackened death,” which essentially takes on the stylistic form of death metal (itself a descendant of thrash/speed metal with the addition of low, guttural vocals) but retaining black metal’s satanic themes and visuals (corpse paint, spiky medieval-themed costuming and occult emblems). It’s a formula that, since their 1999 album Satanica, has ranked Behemoth (along with fellow countrymen Vader) as one of the best-known acts in the genre – so it’s understandable why they’re not planning on deviating from that particular model for the time being.
What they've done with Evangelion, however, is tune up that well-oiled death machine to an impossibly high level of performance. It’s faster and even more sadistic than ever – but still bears all the watermarks of a great Behemoth record in terms of memorable songwriting, layered yet distinct arrangements, exotic ambient touches (both musically and lyrically) and a vocal style that puts most of the cookie-monster wannabes to shame. Most importantly, this band sounds every bit as terrifying as they look, if not more so… so much, in fact, as to make them unapproachable to all but the bravest of extreme-music devotees. Hell, they even scared me away at first, when I saw them performing tracks from 2004’s Demigod, but I finally gathered my composure enough by follow-up album The Apostasy, and discovered there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on beneath the ferocity of Inferno’s impossible double-kicks and Nergal’s molten-lava-gargling demon grunts.
From the medieval woodcut-style cover art (depicting the Whore of Babylon) on down, you get the total Behemoth package here, presented front-and-center with horror-flick opener Daimonos, a cosmic blast of infernal energy that opens with the sound of screaming underworld hordes, led by Nergal at his all-time nastiest. The complex rhythms of Shemhamforash create peaks and valleys of intensity, topped by a fierce solo run; the dark tremolos & blastbeats of the aforementioned Ov Fire and the Void, despite a relatively reduced tempo compared to the rest, may still be one of the band's most merciless efforts to date – and is without a doubt one of the most epic-sounding cuts. Transmigrating Beyond Realms Ov Aventi dives into some of the hottest thrash and burnt-black riffs on the album, punctuated by Nergal's throaty, panting, almost voracious vocal delivery, while the moody He Who Breeds Pestilence is all brooding menace with frequent bursts of controlled fury.
The overlapping vocal patterns of The Seed Ov I give the song a breathless, urgent quality; Alas, Lord is Upon Me opens with one of the band's most crushing slow riffs ever and builds into a crescendo of supernatural intensity and barely managed (but still crystal-clear) chaos, while Defiling Morality Ov Black God is a veritable polyrhythmic death anthem. But the band definitely saved the best for last – at least as far as I'm concerned – in the form of mammoth 8-minute ground-pounding opus Lucifer, which sounds as humongous and doom-filled as its ambitious title implies.
While the technical skills of all members is top-notch, the clarity and intricacy of these tracks should be partially accredited to producer Colin Richardson, who has a solid rep for pumping up massive-sounding mixes without sonic mud or compression ear-fatigue (look to his work with Napalm Death for a sterling example of his technique). The guitars are layered three- and four-deep, spread wide across the left and right channels, and Inferno’s time-warping beats – recorded in discrete sessions by Daniel Bergstrand – sound so massive in the mix that you’ll picture a drum kit that no studio could physically contain. Nergal’s vocals are, as always, a bit hard to grasp at first, since they rip into your skull like a rusty pruning saw, but with a little help from the lyric sheets you’ll quickly sync up with his delivery; the lyrics are hardly subtle, but definitely profound.
As an extra incentive, the special edition CD includes a bonus DVD documenting the end-to-end process of writing, recording, mixing and promoting the album, offering a cool glimpse of the band in a more relaxed (but no less evil) frame of mind. It's not as lengthy as I'd hoped, and a lot of the same material has been available on the band's MySpace and YouTube channels, but it's still a keeper. Extras aside, Evangelion ranks high in Behemoth’s body of work, and represents a terrifying sonic journey into anarchy and liberation. Disturbing, sure, but if you’re a brave soul, it’s a trip worth taking.
Be sure to viddy the uncensored version of Ov Fire and the Void right here!