You can disagree if you like, but since forming back in 1991, Behemoth have arguably become one of the biggest names in blackend death metal. Whether that’s because of ongoing and very public court battles, the sheer magnitude of their performances or their weighty discography of mostly good to great material, Behemoth have surely lived up to their name. At the forefront of this monolith, is Adam Michal Darski; the founder, lyricist, composer, manager, frontman, guitarist and so much more. It always struck me as curious, that Nergal didn’t branch out with any other such notable side-projects. 2016 came and went, and with it Nergal’s single-minded dedication to Behemoth. But in 2017, his Me and That Man project saw fit to release Songs of Love and Death.
Working alongside Polish native and British songwriter John Porter, Darski’s contributions on guitars and vocals are about as far removed from Behemoth as one could imagine. Me and That Man is at its core, an acoustic American folk project that draws some influence from African-American work songs originally developed during the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. It’s an odd combination, and one I didn’t expect would become such a firm favorite of mine.
Songs of Love and Death begins with “My Church is Black” a nihilistic but catchy track that once heard will run continually through your mind. Following in the footsteps of Tom Waits and or Nick Cave, this number is not too far removed from being that of a Bukowski poem set to music. It seems almost a waste that Porter’s gritty followup, “Nightride,” can’t be experienced in a grindhouse film setting, being released so long after Death Proof showed its ugly face. “Of Sirens, Vampires and Lovers,” “One Day” and “Lies” bring to mind the ways of American singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan (songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'”) and they do so quite successfully. And then there’s the subtle stylistic play on The Ventures “Hawaii Five-O” that permeates “Voodoo Queen.”
In addition to foot-stomping percussion and a variety of creative vocal contributions ranging from the call back effect in “On the Road,” the melancholic voice of “Cross My Heart and Hope to Die” and the Marilyn Manson grotesquery in “Magdalene,” Nergal goes on to make some interesting instrumental choices also. There’s the harmonica used on “Nightride,” the folk-style violin and gospel keyboard execution in “Better the Devil I Know” and the jangly/scritchy guitarwork on “Shaman Blues” and “Voodoo Queen.”
Across the duration of Songs of Love and Death, things start off energetic with the most catchy and immediate songs up front. The album largely becomes slower and more downcast as the it progresses, and there’s a small dip in appeal around mid section (“Love & Death” and “One Day”). As neither of these tracks are particularly long, neither play to the detriment of the album. That said, were “One Day” to have been left off the final product entirely, that may have worked to tighten up the end product. Is this actually metal? Probably not. That said, if you’re looking for something unusual with an unhurried vibe and loaded with authenticity to wrap up 2017, this is it.
Tracks to check out: “My Church is Black,” “Nightride” and “Cross My Heart and Hope to Die.”