9) BEHEMOTH - THE SATANIST (2014)
Behemoth’s The Satanist not only marked Nergal’s return from the brink, it served as extreme metal’s crowning achievement of the century
Released in 2009, Evangelion had already blown Behemoth out of the underground, transforming the Polish blackened death metallers from cult heroes to one of the leading extreme metal bands on the planet. But in its aftermath came news of frontman Nergal’s battle with leukemia, as well as brushes with religious authorities back home in Poland following an incident where he tore up a Bible onstage, and five years would pass before a follow-up surfaced. The wait was worth it: The Satanist was not only voraciously received by fans and critics, but would prove iconic, demonstrating a more organic, honest and personal side to Behemoth – perhaps no surprise, given its origins.
“It was very much rooted in the healing process,” Nergal explains today. “I don’t want to say that the album was a reaction to my leukemia, but it was definitely a reaction to my whole life, and I definitely had a need to redefine myself as a human being. That’s why The Satanist resonates on so many levels and so many dimensions. It was very much rooted in where I came from. It was like a rebirth of an artist, of a human being – there was this fire deep within that should be unleashed, and it was manifested in the form of this record.”
Recorded after touring with Watain, In Solitude and The Devil’s Blood, The Satanist took some of the former’s transformative energy as well as overtly occult themes that weren’t drawn from history so much as a personal call to enlightenment. Not just a response to the events of his own life, it was also a reaction to the more militaristically precise and calculating approach of its predecessor, and it stands in marked contrast to that record thanks to its broader, more cathartic emotional palette.
“I really had an inner need to make something new, especially after Evangelion,” says Nergal. “I really needed to liberate myself and to liberate the fans, so to speak – do a record that was going to be more emotionally driven, more real in every sense, more organic, more natural, not pushed, not stressed, just going with the flow with everything that is leaving your system. I really wanted to cut down the ‘intellectual’ factor; obviously, you need your brain to put things together, but I really wanted my heart and emotions to play the number one role when making the record, and you can hear that. It was really time to break new ground, and I felt this was maybe my only chance to do it.”
Though Nergal makes clear that he feels the album works asa complete whole, he will admit that there are still certain numbers that have a particularly profound effect on him today.
“When we play Ora Pro Nobis, Lucifer or O Father O Satan O Sun!, I feel the shivers running down my spine,” he concludes with a grin. “I always analyse things, but what I value the most is my own body’s reaction to something, and when I perform certain songs, I’m like, ‘Shit, this is real.’”
BAND PICK: “That album is fucking great. It made them bigger, but there’s a reason: it had better songs! I love their older stuff, it’s killer, but for The Satanist they really paid attention to songwriting. The first time you hear it all, it’s a shock, but as you listen to it, it keeps getting better and better and better. I really, really love it.” - MAX CAVALERA
What we said: “By this album’s closing moments, you’ll be tempted to sign up for Lucifer’s side. Behemoth have thrown down the gauntlet for extreme music.”
8) MASTODON - CRACK THE SKYE (2009)
BAND PICK: “I think it’s their best one. It’s got all the things that makes them great: brilliant musicianship, great arrangements, incredibly complex time signatures that stop and start, and a tornado of drums. It’s probably the most sustained sonic assault that they’ve come up with. I’ma big fan of all of their albums, but this is the one that speaks to the prog fan the most. You have to listen to it in its entirety. You have a band that are unconstrained by the pressure to come up with a single, so it’s better to listen to it in one sitting. A real album.
“On a musical level, you have to be impressed by the technicality, the virtuosity and the total unwillingness to conform to the trappings of the genre. It’s just untrammelled musical power and virtuosity and extreme twiddly-ness!” - BILL BAILEY, COMEDIAN LAD
What we said: “This is an involving, intricate and intelligent record that fulfils all the band’s promises of prog rock evolution. Prepare to be blown away.”
7) KILLSWITCH ENGAGE - THE END OF HEARTACHE (2004)
BAND PICK: “It’s the greatest metalcore album of all time – every single track could have been a single. When Killswitch lost Jesse [Leach], a lot of people didn’t think that they were going to be able to replace him or make the impact on the scene that they’d already had, but what Howard did was bring an extra sense of melody and theatricality to the band. Also, as a metalcore fan, you know when a breakdown should be coming, because it feels right, and I think The End Of Heartache set a real precedent for that.There isn’t another metalcore album that opened up the genre like it did, and I honestly think Warped Tour, Mayhem Festival – even America would not be the same if that album had never been made. I think that’s so important, and I think that Adam D, as a producer, had his fingers in so many pies in that era of metalcore after this album. They could have released any song off that album and it would have done just as well,and it would have got them where they are today.” - DAVYD WINTER-BATES, BURY TOMORROW
What we said: “This is a compelling and convincing synthesis of all that is good about contemporary heavy metal. A minor modern masterpiece.”
6) AVENGED SEVENFOLD - WAKING THE FALLEN (2003)
Though City Of Evil was the album that would see Avenged expand their sound, transcend their scene and begin the relentless upwards journey that has taken them into arenas and to the top of charts and festival bills, for pure, unadulterated song power, Waking The Fallen remains utterly untouchable. The album that put them on the map may have been a far more straight-up metalcore affair, but there were already enough sprinklings of overblown rock‘n’roll theatrics – see nine-minute monster I Won’t See You Tonight Part 1 – to mark them above their peers. And then there’s the songs. Unholy Confessions. Chapter Four. Remenissions. Second Heartbeat. It felt like a greatest hits set, and with barely any songs clocking in under the five-minute mark, Avenged already looked like a band ready for big things. Even we, however, didn’t realise just how big.
What we said: “OK then, who’s ready for goth-metal emo? The second album from this Orange County quintet gives the band a mature, coherent voice.”