Thunder. Power. Aggression. Big bastard bollocking noise. These are the words you usually associate with Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski, the frontman of Polish powerhouse Behemoth. Beloved by metal fans across the world, their intense blackened death metal and controversial live shows have gained them notoriety in and out of the underground. Playing their critically-acclaimed The Satanist album in full at Bloodstock last year, it was clear that the Behemoth wrecking train was on a non-stop service to worldwide domination. Well… until Nergal took a quick diversion.
Influenced by his love of Johnny Cash, Howling Wolf and Tom Waits, Nergal took a sharp turn away from the bludgeoning of his day job. Teaming up with renowned British-Polish rock musician John Porter, the pair formed Me And That Man – a bluesy, folk project with a lyrical passion for the occult – which isn’t Nergal’s first foray into non-metal territory, having recorded a blues demo under the guise of Wolverine over ten years ago. But as Behemoth’s reputation grew, he had to keep his focus on The Metal.
And now, with ten Behemoth albums under his belt, Nergal has unveiled Songs Of Love And Death. Not quite as evocative title as The Satanist, but still carrying certain connotations.
“Love and death are basically the main concepts of life in general,” laughs Nergal, speaking to us on the phone from his homeland of Poland, having just left a restaurant. “I know that death and love is a rock ‘n’ roll cliché, but it must have come from something, and that something is our life. Love is the most driving force for every sensitive and thinking human being and then death is part of that whole game. Love, sooner or later, will die and wither away, but death is the definition of anything we do. Life itself and pretty much anything we cope with, anything we thought, it just ends.”
The concept of death is something that echoes throughout the record, in both song titles and lyrics. Even in the album sleeve there’s a quote borrowed from New Model Army’s song Autumn that reads ‘Everything is beautiful because everything is dying’. “I couldn’t agree with that more,” says Nergal. “That’s what makes life so exciting and so worth living because things fucking die.”
But isn’t death a negative thing?
“I never thought of death negatively, that’s what Christianity forces,” says Nergal sternly. “There’s a concept of Christianity forced on a human being to keep them in control – you have to fear death. Then look at all the eastern beliefs like Buddhism, Hinduism and other philosophies that embrace death. They hardly ever mourn, they celebrate death. They may mourn after their loved ones, it’s a natural feeling when someone is close to your hearts, but it’s not a memento mori fucking taboo kind of thing. That’s a very Christian way of thinking, a Christian concept to make people fear death so they will bend to the one and only God. There’s nothing negative about death, it’s just part of the journey, let’s rejoice.”
This passion for choosing life and making the most of your insignificant time on this planet is something that has been gradually growing inside Nergal. Staring his forties in the face, Nergal admits he’s not the tearaway he used to be, and has found himself more in-tune with his body and a more spiritual entity.
“I didn’t wake up one day like ‘Okay, I think I’m more spiritual now!’ It’s been a process,” he says. “I’ll never know the ultimate answers because the answers mean you’re done and your trip is over, and I’d hate to see that. The ultimate truth and the most precious knowledge is driven by the question, one should be curious, ever-curious like a child.”
But you also need to find a balance between curiosity and thinking too much. Nergal recounts an album session with bandmate John Porter, where he said ‘If it takes too long, there ain’t no song,’ which is a mantra Nergal also lives by. Overthinking anything is detrimental to the end product. The best art occurs naturally, flowing out of its creator in a smooth motion until the masterpiece is complete. And this idea, Nergal believes, can be inserted into the way human beings live their lives.
“You meet a nice girl and you know how to read the organic signs from your body, you know immediately if you like her or not, but then the brain kicks in, and in most cases the brain ruins everything,” he laughs. “If people just listen to their bodies we’d be much happier human beings. There’s too much brain in today’s culture and not enough intuition and body language.”
So how can we change that as a people?
“You can meditate, you can try to be more present. Try not to distract yourself with social media, with TV, with stuff,” he says. “It’s good to be on your own. I have friends who cannot stand loneliness and I think that’s a huge problem for most people. When they’re alone they cannot stand themselves, because in most cases they’re terrified by what they hear deep within, so they put on TV, put on loud music, go on social media, because they are scared of what’s inside.
“Try to feel your body, talk to your liver, ask your heart how its doing today. Before falling to sleep, close your eyes, and just embrace your body and thank it for being healthy. I had a great workout today, so before I fall asleep I’ll thank my body for this great workout, just to be grateful with little things here and there. Try to keep the right balance with what is happening around but don’t forget who you are – listen to your inner voice, it will always give you the ultimate truth about how you feel and who you are. There’s a saying from Nietzsche: ‘There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy,’ and that’s everything.”
It’s humbling to hear someone such as Nergal speak so frankly about spirituality, serenity and living a healthy lifestyle. The man usually seen in a robes, barking about a ‘virgin’s cunt spawning forth a snake’, is as vulnerable as all of us, which is the real story of Me And That Man. Away from the iron will/hail and kill attitude of Behemoth is another man, made of flesh and bone, just as prone to weakness as the seven billion other people on this blue dot in space.
In fact, without the rest of Behemoth flanking him, and just an acoustic guitar in hand, he’s quite shy about performing live and using his ‘real’ voice. There’s no screaming here, it’s raw emotion using the voice he was born with, which he’s never delved into before. But watching his partner John Porter’s ability to simply lay it all on the line without giving it fuck, it inspired Nergal to embrace the more exposed side of his personality.
“Behemoth has been about sheer power, which was the part of my nature to keep on conquering the universe, Behemoth should be the first band to play on Mars. If we were born in ancient times we’d be warriors, we’d be joining Hannibal and conquering Asia and shit like that, because that’s part of our nature. But as strong and powerful as human beings are, there’s the other side of that, which is weakness. I’m 40 now, and when I was 30 or 25, I would just deny that. I’d be too embarrassed to admit my weaknesses but I’ve lived my life to the fullest, and I’ve collected so many experiences that have taught me if you want to live a balanced life, you must admit human nature is yin and yang, day and night, love and hate, you can’t reject it. It’s all about embracing it, and celebrating the fact that we are weak, and out of that emerges great power.
“That’s why I needed Me And That Man to get my life in balance, not only artistic but my personal life, admit that there are sides of me that are embarrassing but part of me. At the end of the day you’re your best friend and you should love yourself, accept yourself fully even if you’re far from being a good person, embrace yourself and celebrate that there are so many dimensions within.”
Songs Of Love And Death is available March 24, via Cooking Vinyl.
Behemoth are headlining Heavy Scotland on April 1.
What happened when Nergal went to India