Attempting to improve on 2014’s The Satanist (review here) was always going to be a near impossible task but with I Loved You At Your Darkest (review here), Polish blackened death metal act Behemoth very nearly succeeded. A robust and forward-thinking follow-up held in high regard by many, the only thing which appeared to hold it back for some was the enormous shadow cast by its predecessor.
So, with expectations back to sitting at more realistic levels, Opvs Contra Natvram (Nuclear Blast/Believe), only goes and stupidly raises the bar again, doesn’t it? The signs that something special was around the corner were already there a couple of months ago with the release of ‘The Deathless Sun’. A stunning single, which required two separate promo videos, if anyone thought the affable nature of frontman Adam Darski (aka Nergal) meant the band might eventually tone down the sacrilege a little then the sight of a nobleman doing some rather unspeakable things to the severed head of Christ soon put paid to that.
Yes, returning with more song titles in which U’s are replaced with V’s, Behemoth unshackle themselves completely and continue, as the translation to the album title suggests, to go against the grain. That even includes the technical side of things this time with the band hiring producer Joe Barresi to mix the record. The sight of Daniel Bergstrand‘s name attached to the credits will come as no surprise to anyone, but employing an engineer more associated to the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Avenged Sevenfold, and Black Stone Cherry might result in a few raised eyebrows.
Those eyebrows will not be raised for long, however, as the ominously ritualistic, partly spoken introduction ‘Post-God Nirvana’ is followed by the abrasive and tumultuous ‘Malaria Vvlgata’. Released back in May, first single ‘Ov My Herculean Exile’ boasts a crushingly powerful grind and another suitably twisted video while with a cry of “I am Spartacus!”, ‘Neo Spartacvs’ finds Nergal not only sparking a flame of rebellion, but setting it ablaze.
‘Disinheritance’ surges and blasts with reckless abandon, bassist Orion and drummer Inferno being seriously put through their paces as the song heads toward a cacophonous climax. Horns herald the battlefield battery of ‘Off To War!’ while ‘Once Upon A Pale Horse’ boasts a staccato groove just as irresistible as the colossal middle section of the bruising ‘Thy Becoming Eternal’, but it’s ‘Versvs Christvs’ which is likely to receive the most attention. Assisted by piano and choral backing, the six and a half minute closer lives up to the album title by featuring clean vocals from Nergal, Darksi’s deeply whispered tones crooned conspiratorially into your ears before that familiar, formidable roar is unleashed once again.
Arguably their most mature album to date, Opvs Contra Natvram is exciting, vibrant and, of course, downright fucking evil. Always unafraid to push boundaries going forward, the band also harkens back to their earlier years in places, echoes of their more primitive brand of black metal seeping into the powerful modern production.
So, if perhaps you felt ILYAYD to be a little anticlimactic after the triumphant high of The Satanist, then take a deep breath at the edge of the abyss and prepare to be dragged into hell once more.
Buy the album here: https://behemoth.bfan.link/opvs-contra-natvram
9 / 10