Published Feb 05, 2014This short decade has been difficult for Polish blackened metal warriors Behemoth. On the heels of the tour following their acclaimed ninth album Evangelion (2009), band leader, vocalist and guitarist Nergal Darski was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent bone marrow transplant surgery; meanwhile, Darski was continuously fighting his legal battle over ripping a bible onstage in his homeland in 2007. After recovering from surgery and eventually meeting his marrow donor, it appeared normalcy was returning. Hardship was not yet over. Drummer Zbigniew "Inferno" Promiński was hospitalized and underwent appendix surgery; the band was forced to cancel several shows.
In short, the fuel for their newest towering inferno The Satanist is substantial. Life is unkind to all, yet the culminated effect of these tribulations had a positive effect: it resulted in a wrecking ball of an album that channels the ugliness of experience with the ethos of a misunderstood and maligned belief system into a battering, howling whirlwind. Juxtaposing dark with light, the album plays with a varied sonic palate, summoning schizophrenic goth rock, pummelling passages, and acoustic guitar segments. While fitting seamlessly into their substantial body of work, The Satanist scales back the grandiose arrangements and goes for the gut. Exclaim! had the opportunity to wax poetic with Nergal Darski, founder, lead vocalist, guitarist, and principle songwriter for Behemoth.
Hello Nergal, how are you doing?
I'm actually very good, thank you so much. I'm talking to all the press today.
I'm sure that's not your favourite part of the job, but a necessary part!
To be honest, you know, I haven't talked to press for years now. It was such an intense promotional campaign; at that point in time five years ago, so we took a long gap, and it really made us much hungrier for the press. It's not like a mock thing to do for us, obviously we do it, but it's a thing we love doing again. We have a passion for sharing with journalists and fans about the record and the emotion. It's truly exciting.
Speaking of the promotional campaign for this record, Behemoth has already been featured on the cover of numerous magazines, as both musically and conceptually, there is a ton to unpack within The Satanist. Both with the album and what's happened to the band in the past five years. I was reading about your public life yesterday, and I think it's really interesting to juxtapose how intense Behemoth is sonically and visually is with your public life in Poland, particularly given your continuing legal battle over ripping a bible on stage, yet you were a vocal coach on The Voice of Poland, and dated a pop star, and seem to be well known. It's an odd juxtaposition.
I can assure you I don't spend my time analyzing or over thinking my life. I mean, I just instinctively, and intuitionally go through life and just pick up situations that I find inspirational in some way, and that way I end up doing projects that are outside of the band that for some people may seem to be quite controversial, but to me, no. It's none. I just do it because I feel like doing something, so what? There are so many different things happening in my life, what can I say? It's been an exciting trip, and we are back again with a record that is probably the strongest Behemoth album out yet. So if people are bitching about me doing this or that, they should really take some time and listen, and if they have any problems or whatever, they will definitely, they probably need to revisit their youth or opinions. And make up their minds and you know, see things from a different perspective. But if they don't, I don't give a fuck. It's my life; I live it the way I want.
It reminds me of Alice Cooper. He separated stage life from his private life. He was known as a rock and roll boogeyman, but plays golf, occasionally acts, and does normal people things. Behemoth, and more specifically you, seem to have a similar thing going.
Well, there are people who throw raw meat, and they are wrong. Occasionally I throw raw meat, you know, but I'm reluctant to have a persona. It really allows me to, I mean, to live my life the way I want it.
In the first trailer for The Satanist, it is stated that the album is a manifesto in which Behemoth "metaphorically constructs your resentment for the order imposed by the cultural and social conditioning." Is that the social and cultural conditioning of Poland? How does that materialize on The Satanist?
To me, it definitely connects with the true nature of the human being. It deals with a credence, a different way of achieving it, and some of the ways we seem to be better off, but because we are using the archetypes, that is quite easy to demonize. They are, you know, present in our culture… it's both imminent and transcendental. It works out great for us, you know. You may interpret things in a very literal way and just see the middle finger to all conservative parties and dogmas, and that is fine. Then on the other hand, it can be very humanistic and multi-layered and multi-dimensional title as well.
Many people associate Satanism with anti-humanism, with a destructive force that is cruel and uncaring. However, you are associating humanism with Satanism. Can you define what it means to be a Satanist?
Satan is one of the faces that stand for freedom. It's one of the ways of achieving freedom, in a very literal way. It's the nature of the art, it's extreme. It's very much connected with the core of who we are, and human agency. At least, according to my life code.
The arrangements on The Satanist seems somewhat scaled back in comparison to its predecessor, Evangelion, and for that matter, Demigod and the Apotasy.
The writing was pretty much similar to the other records. I just fuck around with my guitar, I come up with ideas for the songs, I bring them to the table, we write together. So, the basic formula was pretty much the same. And the ideas we had for the record were pretty different. We just wanted to make a record that was way more organic and radical in many ways. On a musical level, it's not much different than anything we've done before, but I wouldn't really say it's a heavy album. For sure, it starts with heavier songs before, but it's just, yeah. It's a very natural record, that's all I can say. We just let things leave our systems, and we just corrected and put it into written songs and tried to do things in a more natural way. Back in the day, we used to project ourselves so much, to the level of it being stiff, and limiting too, because we would limit ourselves, okay, to this and that. And we were way more flexible this time, which is why this record is very much rooted in a rock tradition. On one hand, it's very, very sinister and evil sounding record… at the same time, it converges the most with different genres, with traditional genres.
It does seem like there is influences or sounds from goth rock bands like Fields of The Nephilim or Christian Mistress.
First of all, the reason why we tried to go with an artistic path, I don't want to go to the same place, you know? Being safe, being comfortable in life, means to stagnate. To stagnate means to die. I'd rather go to places that are the unknown, and to explore territories that are fresh and new to me. You may risk losing fans or whatever, or special money you are going to make on the record. I understand that. Most artists around have fabricated albums just to have a reason to tour and to cash. They keep the same fans and eventually grow to something. We risk. I mean it'd be so much easier to fabricate records that sound good. Evangelion part two, I can do it within a week. But how exciting would that be for us, as artists and human beings? I mean, I got two years in my home, and I really like to look at my reflection, and what I like about looking at my reflection is that I don't have to be ashamed. So the bottom line is we must be as sincere as we can be, we must be as honest as we can be. That's the why we recorded this album, that's why we've recorded every other album.
Your experience with leukemia has been well documented, and that's a tough thing to be honest about in the public sphere. Has that experience changed your perspective on creating art?
Well, totally. It changed pretty much everything I do in my daily life. When you take, for example, a big project like doing a record… I went through some rough shit in life, so it made me appreciate today more than before. And I also tend to not live too much in the past, and not look too much into the future because the future is cloudy, but really today that makes the future. It is really today that makes sense. There are moments that matter, and tomorrow may never come. I know how, it sounds very much cliché, but this is something that I've started myself, literally. I'm like, 'okay, it's here and now, there is nothing else…' That's something that makes life so free, the fact that we may not be around tomorrow, you know what I mean. It's the biggest, best thing I've learned from all this ruckus.
Has it changed your thoughts or your approach to the legal process of your bible-ripping incident? What is the status of that case?
Well, ahhh, it's still going. The good thing is that it's going to end. We are wrapping things up in February. Potentially, when I'll be touring, the final court case will occur in my hometown and this will be the final decision of the court. I mean, well, honestly you know, I have my fingers crossed and I really hope it's going to end up well for myself. It's all about freedom, and it's all about the fundamental democratic rule that is being violated in the name of Christian values. I understand how paradoxical it is for some of these people, you know that claim to be Christian and claim to be democrats; well, apparently one excludes the other. It feels off, you know? Anything that brings confusion upon these people is socially very much enjoyable to watch. In the worse case, it's a fine I am facing, 2000 euro or whatever… crossed fingers, really. I know it's a very strong doubt falling down, it something I'm not really worried about in my life. I am not going to go bankrupt, it is just a matter of, it has symbolic value meaning.
The symbolism in Behemoth is very rich: it is difficult to think of something more symbolic than using your own blood for source material in album artwork, particularly given that you suffered from blood cancer! Was that intended as a statement of triumph?
The label uses it for public relations, promotion purposes. It's a selling point, and people are really screaming about it. I know for a fact it's nothing original, artists use their blood to purge themselves on paper, or whatever. But, I kind of have always been involved in this band at an emotional record. Like this record, it could very well be the end of the band, and it really feels like that. It's a very full feeling, we are still hungry, but we are very much content. In a very symbolic sense, it underlines the fact of my emotional bond with fans and my own art.
This is one of the very few metal albums that have yet to be leaked, and you've only released one single from the record. It seems as if this is a huge unveiling for you guys, and things are being tightly kept under wraps. Why?
I'm actually buying more records than ever. I download albums, but when it comes to my favourite artists, I always want to get the record, LP, and just put it on my LP player and just enjoy it, look at the paper, read the lyrics. And, I mean, I'm old school in that sense. But at the same time, mp3, sure, I've got plenty of stuff on my iPhone and I do make use of it. But on the other hand, I am very traditional too and I collect albums myself and I spend a lot of money on that. There is something I suggest, is to connect with the album with your own eyes. Obviously I'm not going to rage out of control if it leaks, you maintain some poise, that is what it is; it's a sign of times.
That's how things work and artists shouldn't really get that pissed off when things like that happen because it's a kind of honour. You can't really help that, that's how it goes. But, they just decided they are going to have a warning, they are going to specifically protect this record. They had their own ways, I don't know what that is, but they've really limited the amount of promo leaks, and you know, there is two weeks till the album release and I really hope it doesn't get online. It's a waiting period, and now that's happening, it's a wild time, and what's happening is I can feel all this tension, and building up, and I love that. I want people to really be surprised and I want them to get the record and be surprised. I don't want the whole world and Facebook and people talking about the album before we release it. I mean it's not that it's bad, after all, but where is the fucking mystery?