When Behemoth frontman and founder Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski told Hammer’s Dom Lawson recently that “I know that we are one of the most important bands in extreme metal in the world right now,” it was less the type of self-aggrandising statement that’s commonplace in rock music these days, but pretty much an irrefutable fact. Over nine previous albums Behemoth have weathered many musical storms and passing trends to become one of the most important – and yes, best – bands to bridge the gap between black and death metal and then take it somewhere new.
In the case of 2009’s masterful Evangelion, that was to the top of the charts in their native Poland – a remarkable feat for an extreme, Satan-loving band in a staunchly Catholic country.
That this album exists and Nergal is even here is also close to miraculous. In 2010 he was diagnosed with leukaemia, believed to be so advanced that chemotherapy would not help him. It looked like the life of a man who, back in Poland, is widely-known as both a public denouncer of the Catholic church and a TV personality who dated mainstream, Britney-esque pop star Dorota ‘Doda’ Rabczewska, was coming to an end. Fortunately in 2011 he underwent a bone marrow transplant and survived.
Nergal is, quite literally, the death metal figurehead who has cheated death. He has squared up to it, laughed in its face and then returned with an album entitled The Satanist that distils the essence of everything that makes Behemoth such a powerful entity. In fact, it transcends genre boundaries to simply work as a well-realised, standalone piece of art. Taken in context then, right from the slow, syrup-thick and iceberg-heavy opener Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, The Satanist is a roaring fuck-you of a return. The likes of Ora Pro Nobis and Ben Sahar are the sound of the extreme metal bar being raised and should be spoken of in terms of apocalyptic-sounding heavyweights such as Wagner as much as Morbid Angel; Prokofiev and Penderecki instead of Death or Deicide.
Behemoth avoid the production pitfalls that often claim other blackened metal bands. Here the sound is near-perfect in illuminating the stabbing slabs of guitar, the muscular drumwork, Nergal’s impressively powerful death snarls and the foreboding keyboard groans that sound like the cries of burning souls rising up from the underworld.
And where lesser bands might begin to flag, Behemoth sustain the power and dark atmospherics and keep on marauding through their self-created sonic landscape. Such is the ferocity in intent and his uncompromising and unbending delivery, it is as if Nergal has had his marrow replaced by molten steel and come back stronger.
Listen to the title track or monumental, seven-minute closer O Father O Satan O Sun, complete with the frontman’s impassioned spoken-word passage declaring his dedication to Satan, and, whatever your beliefs, by its closing moments you’ll be tempted to sign up for Lucifer’s side. With The Satanist, Behemoth have thrown down the gauntlet for extreme music.