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Behemoth - "The Satanist" (CD)

Behemoth - "The Satanist" CD cover image

"The Satanist" track listing:

1. Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel
2. Furor Divinus
3. Messe Noire
4. Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer
5. Amen
6. The Satanist
7. Ben Sahar
8. In The Absence Ov Light
9. O Father O Satan O Sun!

Reviewed by on February 3, 2014

"Few bands in the death and black metal genres take such a creative, entertaining, and successful approach as Behemoth."

“The Satanist” may as well have been titled “The Dramatist,” because the past several Behemoth releases have increasingly resembled musical works of Grand Guignol Theater, in which frontman and songwriter Adam “Nergal” Darski has cast himself as the star. What’s more, Nergal’s recording interlude since 2009’s acclaimed “Evangelion” has been quite the melodrama, to say the least. First a highly publicized free-speech battle with the Polish Supreme Court over a Bible-desecration stunt in concert, then a grave struggle with leukemia, helped transform the outspoken showman into an international tabloid persona as famous offstage as on.

Thus, the themes and tone of “The Satanist” are no surprise, and play like a stupendous roar of triumph over personal adversity – in the form of a monumental middle finger. The Behemoth fanbase is ripe and ready for it, and expects nothing less.

Musically, you’re in for a towering monolith of epic death metal devastation, as first pre-release single “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” suggested. “Gabriel” works best within the confines of the full tracklist, for as the album opener it sets a slow, ominous, terrifying pace; the soundtrack to a bloody tyrant’s entrance processional. One can imagine Emperor Nergal, barking unholy commands, being carried on an ancient Roman litter. The pace plunges forward, blastbeats, backing trumpets, evil choirs and all, into a tsunami of extreme brutality – then breaks into textured melody for a rather touching finish.

It’s these progressions, breaks, and deft melodic flourishes that help distinguish “The Satanist.” “Gabriel” sets a dynamic example that the rest of the compact nine-track release follows, whether it’s the more straightforward, thrashier middle (“Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer,” “Amen”), the lengthy and tuneful closer (“O Father O Satan O Sun!”), or the artfully restrained mid-paced title track. There’s always a nice surprise waiting around the next corner – an eerie, hushed passage, a charge at full blast, a nifty percussion experiment, a shredding solo – in a place you may not expect to find it. Few bands in the death and black metal genres take such a creative, entertaining, and successful approach to songwriting as Behemoth.

What really sells the drama, however, is the savage voice of Nergal himself. This is his most commanding vocal performance to date, owing probably as much to his relentless personal determination as to the balanced mix that favors his bloodcurdling howls.

This is where I struggle to fully appreciate the emotional impact of “The Satanist,” for while I highly respect Nergal The Musician, and do not personally know Nergal The Man to judge him either way, I have made some critical past statements of Nergal The Public Provocateur. Such criticisms stem from my belief that one should not necessarily be rewarded or praised for stirring up controversy for its own sake, nor defended unequivocally when the expected criticism boomerangs back around (notwithstanding the wrongness of censorship). At the end of the day, some people are simply begging for negative attention.

Therefore, “The Satanist” fails to completely resonate with me on such a level nearly as much as it may with some fans. I’ve always preferred to view Behemoth’s lyrical and thematic shtick the way I do Manowar’s: with tongue in cheek, as something that’s intrinsically theirs to be taken or left. That view certainly allows for a crushing listen nonetheless, though it somewhat limits one’s ability to let the whole package hit home as hard as possible. That is “The Satanist’s” singular major flaw: due to Nergal’s overwhelming personality, in order to experience the fullness of the album, one must identify with him, which I can’t really say I do.

On the other hand, you just may, and whether or not you do, this is still a monster of an album that reminds us of Behemoth’s genuine musical merit behind the satanic tabloid antics.

Highs: The writing, performances, and production are creative, tight, and thrilling throughout. Behemoth has rarely sounded this fresh.

Lows: Lyricist Nergal's blatant satanic themes are distracting and verge on the ham-fisted. We get it, guy: you're a rebel.

Bottom line: A beastly and pummeling comeback, filled with twists and turns aplenty - though the themes of triumphant rebellion are very overstated.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)