There is no way to dodge the issue, expectations for The Satanist are sky high. It’s easy to understand how that could be. Behemoth‘s most recent release was in 2009 but felt overwrought and flat; it had the form but little substance and the sound was loud but fatigued. Nearly 5 years later, Anno Domine 2014, Nergal has been through a bout with cancer and a fight with the Polish legal system. The narrative arising is simple. Indeed, it’s low hanging fruit: the best art arises from adversity. The long wait — 4.5 years between records is almost unheard of for a band on Behemoth‘s level — has set the stage for what has the makings of a rebirth of sorts for Poland’s best-known extreme metal act. The Satanist can set the stage for a new era in Behemoth‘s storied career and, as one would expect, the attention of the metal world is firmly fixed on it.
High expectations are a double-edged sword, of course. The Satanist also has ample opportunity to disappoint. Bands rarely have lightning strike twice for them, and in many ways Demigod was Behemoth‘s lightning strike. The record launched them into the public consciousness, put them on extensive world tours with top tier bands, and defined what their sound would be moving forward. So all of this begs the inevitable question: can Nergal and his gloomy band of black metal warriors redefine Behemoth‘s sound now in 2014? Can they produce a record that lives up to the expectations and gives something new? Does the hype leading up to The Satanist live up to the product?
I wasn’t convinced immediately. The Satanist starts slow, opening with a sluggish “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel,” which introduces the horn motif that permeates the whole record. This is quickly followed up by a better, but still largely generic “Furor Divinus,” before dropping back down to the sluggish, mid-paced death feel of “Messe Noire.” The slow start is deceptive, however, and after the third track The Satanist begins to pick up steam. “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” introduces classic trem picked riffing, a catchy chorus and an immense french horn bridge before merging smoothly into the Demigod-like brutality of “Amen.” Again, the song construction and the more classic black metal fare work well for Nergal and Co., there’s an energy to the writing and riffing and the frantic brutality of the track takes over.
The record’s true brilliance begins to shine through more fully starting with “The Satanist,” “Ben Sahar” and “In the Absence ov Light.” These tracks offer up a variety of different sounds—even wandering into Shining levels of tortured on “The Satanist”—but they continue building the slow build, knocking out catchy, simple riff after catchy, simple riff. The guitars play off each other, chanting countermelodies, and embodying an atmosphere that you’ve never heard on a Behemoth record before. Blasts are used for effect, as opposed to being the default, and the bass is more a real presence, with bassist Orion delivering an outstanding performance.
There are plenty of standout moments on The Satanist, with the guitar riffing and countermelodies between Nergal and Seth being particularly unique and engaging. Another point of differentiation is the Polish voice over section in “In the Absence ov Light” (
for which I have no translation translation in the footnote1), that sports a saxophone and evokes Ulver‘s Perdition City and leads into a brutal verse and one of the band’s best riffs of all time. The absolute pinnacle of the record, though, is the closing track, “O Father O Satan O Sun!” This epic features the first clean vocals I can remember hearing on a Behemoth album, and the composition swirls with dark atmosphere, subtle riff construction, and is the perfect epic to finish the record off.
The Satanist‘s construction—starting slow, building up a head of steam and then ending on a melancholy note—leaves a remarkable impression. The silence when the closing track comes to a quiet close is a forlorn silence and reflection that one would not expect from a Behemoth record. It gives credence to the sale of The Satanist as the band’s most mature work to date.
While in many ways this is a rebirth, one thing is consistent with time: Behemoth is still brickwalling their recordings hard. The whole record is very compressed, but starting with “In the Absence ov Light” and continuing on “O Father O Satan O Sun!” the peaking isn’t just audible via my monitors and DAC, but also with my onboard audio. This record is mastered to the teeth, and that takes away from the end result in meaningful ways. For example, the drum build—which should be enormous—in “In the Absence ov Light” actually distorts so bad at the end that it loses its sense of scale and power, reminiscent of a similar fail from Fleshgod Apocalypse‘s most recent work. By flattening the sound, it neuters the power that should reside at times in these tracks, where the horns of fallen angels blare, only to have their clarion call sound flat and condensed.
Still, even a DR6 brickwalling (which is better than the DR5 Demigod and nearly DR4 Satanica) has trouble holding back what is a truly inspiring, atmospheric blackened death metal record from one of the premiere bands in extreme metal today. The Satanist might be a slow burn, but it is a triumphant return and epic in scope and scale. The first truly great record I’ve heard in 2014.
Format Reviewed: ~275 (VBR) mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU/UK] | Metal Blade [US]
Website(s): behemoth.pl | facebook.com/behemoth
Release Dates: UK: 2014.02.03 | US: 02.04.2014 | EU: 2014.02.07
- Nergal says “I reject every order, all ideals. I don’t trust any abstractions or doctrines. I don’t believe in God nor reason. Enough with all the gods. Give me a man. Let him be like me. Confused and immature. Dark and unclear. That I could dance with him. Play with him. Fight with him. Pretend before him. Simper before him. Rape him, love him. Create myself anew. Grow, and by growing get married in a church of man.” – Quote from Witold Gombrowicz play “The Wedding” ↩