Behemoth‘s star has been rising for nearly 15 years. Following the release of 2004’s Demigod and 2007’s The Apostasy, these Poles toured frenetically in the USA and Europe, building a huge fanbase based on their dominant live presence and hooky blackened death sound. Their hard work paid dividends when they were picked up by Nuclear Blast, resulting in 2009’s Evangelion. But while neither The Apostasy nor Evangelion were a tour de force equal to Demigod, Behemoth delivered on 2014’s The Satanist, which showcased the darkest, most mature writing of Nergal’s career. But great records are tough to follow, and the rounds of snickering that ensued following the release of the title I Loved You at Your Darkest and the album’s first single—”God=Dog”—hinted at skepticism among fans. Maybe The Satanist was an exception, not the establishment of a new rule.
At its root, I Loved You at Your Darkest (ILYaYD for short) is a blackened death album. Nergal’s scratchy screams, declarative shouts, and trem-picked riffs are girded by Inferno’s torrent of blasts, and Orion’s roiling bass. These performances are the blackened backbone of I Loved You at Your Darkest‘s tone as openers “Wolves ov Siberia” and “God=Dog” demonstrate. These tracks both feature classic black metal wall of sound riffing and the warm, familiar embrace of the genre’s most iconic conventions. Behemoth‘s adherence to convention would be, well, conventional, if not offset by tracks like “Havohej Pantocrator” or “Sabbath Mater” where swells and blasts of intensity bolster the dark sound. ILYaYD is dynamic and intense as a result.
But while firmly rooted in blackened death metal, Behemoth eschews the bombastic influences of Nile and Melechesh. Rather, ILYaYD shows Behemoth willing to lean into an increasingly mature and dark sound. I Loved You at Your Darkest is more musically dynamic than anything they’ve produced previously—reminiscent of “O Father O Satan O Sun!”—but it also dials back the speed and brutality that marked Behemoth‘s rise to prominence. The number of mid-paced tracks has increased (like “Rom 5:8” or “Bartzabel”). So, too, more minimalist guitar work. Tracks like “Havohej Pantocrator” and “If Crucifixion Was Not Enough…” feature Nergal picking chords—even over blasts in the former, reminiscent of Akercocke‘s “Axiom.” The album’s more varied compositions are bolstered by subtle orchestrations and the use of choral chants. The chanting sets a clearly ecclesiastical tone, a choice likely influenced by the brilliant and mysterious Batushka.
The strength of I Loved You at Your Darkest is its flow and the ominous, ecclesiastical tone. Tracks like “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica,” “Bartzabel,” and “Havohej Pantocrator” make excellent use of the choral chants, but also explicitly embody a base, ritualistic feel that blast beats could never convey. Like The Satanist, ILYaYD also improves as the album progresses; each song adding another layer to the album’s blackened timbre. While the opening salvo is fast and aggressive, it’s the variations and developments in Behemoth‘s sound that define the record. The use of acoustics and blasts in “Havohej Pantocrator” or the triplet feel bridge in “We Are the Next 1000 Years” weigh heavily next to the 6/4 closing riff on “Angelvs XIII” and “Sabbath Mater’s” feel of ecstatic—orgiastic—joy. While some things don’t stick—like Nergal’s unmemorable guitar solos—the introduction of new elements into the Behemoth formula makes ILYaYD increasingly giving through repeated listens.
ILYaYD clearly demonstrates that Behemoth is a band operating at their peak. Only time will tell how I Loved You at Your Darkest will compare to its predecessor, but it’s certainly one of Behemoth‘s most dynamic and interesting albums to date. Clocking in at 46 minutes—and still featuring a bevy of blasts and a sound that can be no one but Nergal and company—I find that I have enjoyed I Loved You at Your Darkest more with every listen. The more time I give it, the more I appreciate the subtle compositional choices they made, the use of choral chants and dissonant orchestras. The album shows that 14 years (or 16, depending who you ask) after the band’s big breakthrough, they’re still finding new ways to express their hatred of Catholicism and love of anagrams. The only question that remains for me is if this is what Behemoth fans want.