Late last year, we teased you with a review of the EP Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel – a sweetly sinister first taste of The Satanist, the long-awaited tenth studio album from Poland's premier blackened death metal unit Behemoth. The highlight of that piece for me was the shocking music video for the EP's title track, which followed in the band's tradition of pushing the envelope with their visuals (be sure to check it out if you missed it, but bear in mind it's NSFW for nudity and graphic violence), and landed a sweet spot on our Best Horror Music Videos of 2013 list.
Today The Satanist is finally unleashed in its entirety upon North America's shores via Metal Blade Records, and it feels like Behemoth frontman Nergal and his colleagues (including guitarist Seth, bassist Orion and drummer Inferno) not only picked up right where they left off five years ago with their epic studio album Evangelion, but they've somehow managed to up their musical game a few notches to create a completely new beast. Given Nergal's recent brush with mortality (he's now fully rehabilitated after a long battle with leukemia that sidelined him back in 2010), this success is a testament to the band's steadfast musical might... and indeed, the transformative force of music in general.
"The Satanist is magic. It's dangerous, it's adventurous, and it's organic," says Nergal. “You may hear the title and think it's very primitive and one-dimensional. But when you look beyond that, it's as primitive as it is complex... and that applies to everything about the record. There's no compromise or bullshit or gimmicks. It just speaks for itself.” That it does, and it often speaks with a voice that can split the sky open, marking it as one of the band's most consistently strong releases in their 23-year lifespan.
The record opens with "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel," which I've reviewed in detail previously, but it's worth mentioning again for its sheer scale and power, opening up the playing field on the scale of grand opera, with all the blood and thunder that represents. It's followed by the burning chords and hurricane beats of "Furor Divinus," which recalls the band's earlier, more chaotic sound, but with less mid-range murk and a sharper focus on unforgettable riffs. Nergal's vocals are also in top form, roaring like a lion above the opening strains of the terrifying "Messe Noire," punctuated by dissonant horror-movie stabs that culminate in an inferno of screams and growls. Another standout (and the album's second single) is "Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer," a blistering, ultra-dark piece driven by a relentless double-kick beneath the burnished tremolo chords, proudly led by Nergal's Satanic liturgy (some of it in Latin) as it shifts into an ominous mid-tempo bridge.
More hellish orchestral chords back the furious opening strains of “Amen,” a hyperspeed cut sporting some devastating drum work from Inferno. The title track is one of the flagship cuts on The Satanist, proving that the band can integrate extreme metal elements with a solid melodic current, edging dangerously close to the mainstream (as close as they'll ever get, I'm sure) without compromising their core sound in the slightest; the epically twisted riff that opens this track is, for my money, among the band's best work (the guitar solo in the break is pretty damn awesome too).
"Ben Sahar" is cut from the same cloth, balancing the sonic terrors of the opening bars with a smooth melodic progression at the midpoint that flows from the same ominous theme. The sprawling "In the Absence ov Light" runs the full emotional range from moody, quiet introspection to screaming hell fury, with some of Nergal's most inventive and chilling vocal work (including a haunting spoken passage in Polish, backed by acoustic guitar), and closing with a colossal, monolithic death-march beat. The album closes on its biggest and most horror-fueled track, the nightmarish "O Father O Satan O Sun!" which features eerie banshee wails, soaring symphonic accompaniment and a goosebump-raising multi-tracked vocal chorus, filling the sonic environment with a wall of demonic sound in the climax, as Nergal closes the proceedings with a regal epilogue.
Photo: Aline Miladinovich
With The Satanist, Behemoth have accomplished an improbable feat – taking the extreme and unpredictable energies and diabolical themes that have defined their early career and applying them to melodically refined song structures, creating music that is both wildly chaotic and incredibly catchy. If this record were indeed the band's swan song, as Nergal himself has considered, it would be the perfect capstone to their career, sending them out with a literal bang.
“I have no problems with finishing my career after this record,” Nergal admits. “Just say the title itself: The Satanist. How the fuck am I gonna beat that title? It sounds like the ultimate definition of our art." On that we're in complete agreement; this record stands tall among Behemoth's finest work, and it's a must-own for any extreme music fan.