Sunday Old School: Black Metal History Month Part 1. Behemoth
Band Photo: Behemoth (?)
Back in 2011 and 2012, MetalUnderground.com decided to devote all our Sunday Old School columns in February to some of the most important, influential and most popular bands in the history of black metal, which we appropriately named, "Black Metal History Month." This year, we’ve decided to bring back the feature and, with their new album, "The Satanist" out tomorrow in Europe, who better to kick things off than Poland’s own, Behemoth?
Behemoth was formed in 1991 in the city of Gdansk, the fourth largest metro area of Poland by vocalist/guitarist, Adam "Nergal" Darski, Czech born drummer, Adam "Baal" Muraszko and a second guitarist known as, "Desecrator." The trio recorded three demos in their early days, "Endless Damnation," "The Return of the Northern Moon" and most significantly, "From the Pagan Vastlands," which featured a cover of the Mayhem song, "Deathcrush" and was released two months after it was recorded by Polish label, Pagan Records before it saw a release in the United States via Wild Rags. By 1995, Desecrator had left the group, leaving Behemoth as a duo, though the two were nevertheless ready to record a full length studio album for Pagan Records, which was released that year under the title, "Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic)." It was given mediocre reviews by the critics, though they soon won them over with their second album, "Grom," which hit the shelves in January of 1996. This sophomore album saw the band bringing in a much wider range of influences and sounds, including the use of female vocals and earning them the respect of many members of the metal press in the process.
It was on their next album, 1998s "Pandemonic Incantations" that the band began to develop the blackened death metal sound which they are known for today. They toured for two solid years in support of the record but due to a lack of promotion from then label, Solistitium, the album did not fare well commercially. Behemoth decided that a change was needed and signed a new record deal with the Italian label, Avantgarde Music, through which they released their fourth album, "Satanica" in 1999. The label seemed very willing to promote the Polish outfit and booked them tours supporting American death metal legends, Deicide, as well as Norwegian black metal outfit, Satyricon. They were soon forced to make lineup changes however, which saw the recruitment of bassist Marcin "Novy" Nowak and guitarist, Havok.
Despite the help that Avantegarde Music had given Behemoth, the group decided to sign with a different label after the release of "Satanica" and settled for Mystic Production, which was based in their homeland. They soon recorded and released their fifth album, "Thelema 6," which came out just over a year after "Satanica." The label saw that they had a very high quality album on their hands and promoted it as best they could, releasing the record worldwide, including countries that had not stocked Behemoth albums before such as Brazil and Russia and booking the band to play such high profile festivals as Wacken Open Air and With Full Force, after which Behemoth had built up enough of a following to embark on their first headlining tour, where they were joined by Carpathian Forest, before they toured Poland with their countrymen, Vader and Brazilian death metal act, Krisiun. They followed this with headlining shows across Russia, Ukraine and Belarus prior to recording their sixth album, "Zos Kia Cultus (Here and Beyond)," which was released in 2002 and continued to rake in good reviews for the band. Although the front cover art was very Satanic in design, the sound of the album itself moved towards more straight forward death metal than their previous records.
In addition to receiving very strong reviews, "Zos Kia Cultus" helped the band bring their live shows to new areas including Norway and the United States, where they toured at least three times while promoting the record, performing with such acts as Deicide, Six Feet Under, Danzig and Opeth amongst many others. Although they were experiencing commercial success, difficulties arose with the Behemoth ranks leading to Novy and Havok to quit the band, with their places being taken by Tomasz "Orion" Wroblewski and Patryk "Seth" Sztyber respectively. This new lineup recorded and released "Demigod" in 2004, which spawned music videos for the tracks, "Slaves Shall Serve" and "Conquer All," as well as boasting a guest appearance from Nile frontman, Karl Sanders on the song, "XUL." Once more, their release was critically acclaimed and was able to break into the top twenty in Poland, as well as taking them to Canada with Necronomicon.
After teaming up with British grindcore icons, Napalm Death for a 2007 tour which also featured Moonspell and Dew Scented, the band released their next album, "The Apostasy," which increased their profile to the point that they were able to headline the second stage of the Ozzfest tour that year, one of only four non-American bands to perform at the festival that year. They then embarked on their first headlining run of North America along with Job For A Cowboy, Gojira and Beneath the Massacre, before heading back to Europe that Autumn for a headlining tour, bringing with them Canadian death metal outfit, Kataklysm and the Belgian group, Aborted. Although they weren’t to know it at the time, this tour was soon to bring about a very serious problem for the band when Nergal ripped a Bible apart on stage in Poland. They continued to tour throughout 2008, which resulted in the live album, "At the Arena ov Aion – Live Apostasy."
A new studio album, "Evangelion" was released in 2009 and the band continued to tour heavily as usual, performing on the Rockstar Mayhem festival with such names as Slayer, Marilyn Manson and Cannibal Corpse. They kept on touring into the next year, performing at a number of open air festivals and going everywhere from Turkey to Scandinavia. However, in August of that year, Nergal was rushed to hospital where he was diagnosed with leukemia, which needed immediate attention, causing Behemoth to cancel all planned concerts and search for a bone marrow donor, which in the process led to a dramatic increase in people donating their marrow. In the months just prior to all this, Nergal’s previous literal attack on the Bible had landed him in court on charges of blasphemy, a crime which could have seen him face two years in prison. He defended himself on the basis of artistic integrity of freedom of speech. The charges were dropped in June 2010 but the Polish Supreme Court then ruled against him and the case has since been ongoing, albeit on a much lesser scale.
Some good news did surface in 2010 however, as a match was finally found, meaning Nergal could have the bone marrow transplant he desperately needed and was discharged from the hospital he had been staying in on 16th January 2011. He spent months recovering in his flat before deciding that he was well enough to take to the stage once again, although a planned slot on the 2013 Mayhem festival was cancelled after drummer, Inferno was taken ill and had to have his appendix removed. This week however, the band will finally be releasing, "The Satanist," their first studio album in five years. Those years must have seemed like the hardest they, or indeed many other people in the Western World has ever faced, with serious illness and the threat of prison looming large, many wondered if Nergal, let alone Behemoth, would still be around today. Thankfully they are and they’re just as furious as ever.
Behemoth - "From the Pagan Vastlands"
Behemoth - "Decade Ov Therion"
Behemoth - "Christians to the Lions"
Behemoth - "As Above So Below"
Behemoth - "Slaves Shall Serve"
Behemoth - "Inner Sanctum"
Behemoth - "Alas, Lord is Upon Me"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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