Summon The Antichrist – An Interview with Nergal of Behemoth


behemoth Adam “Nergal” Darski is certainly an outspoken and often controversial figure, yet one thing that goes unnoticed about the front man of Poland’s most extreme band is his humanity and courage. Following the success of the band’s 2009 opus Evangelion Darski was diagnosed with Leukemia, yet following a successful bone marrow transplant and a few months of recovery Nergal was back on the road. Yet, his struggles where far from over, dogged by the ongoing court case concerning charges of “causing religious offence” it seems there were many distractions which delayed work on Behemoth’s tenth album The Satanist. Senior Editor Ross Baker Ghost Cult caught up with Darski to discuss his health, celebrity status in his homeland, court cases and the band’s bold new album.

On the phone from his home town of Gdansk where he has been undergoing his routine check up and blood tests to ensure his cancer doesn’t attempt a comeback it seemed pertinent to inquire as to Darski’s health at this time. “I’ve just been for some routine checks and test at the hospital and I am happy to announce I am very much alive and well! The fact that I am healthy and I have the deadliest weapon that Behemoth has ever created in my hands makes my life complete. I definitely feel life has more meaning that it did before. I don’t spend my time over analysing things the way I used to. Life seems to be more joyful these days and I know it sounds like a cliché from a James Bond movie but tomorrow is a question mark and we need to embrace today.”

 

It is this “never give up” spirit which has driven Nergal throughout his professional life. Unafraid to embrace new challenges it is little wonder the thirty-six year old is already the subject of an autobiography. “The English translation started a month ago and I will see them by February, but it won’t arrive till the fall of 2014. All I ask is that people stay patient because it will be worth the wait.”

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The Satanist is indeed a bold statement, which retains all the hallmarks of the Behemoth sound while introducing some bold new elements. In particular, the track ‘The Absence Ov Light’ features a saxophone and acoustic guitar. “The middle section was written spontaneously. The other parts are very radical and extreme and I wanted to add something different to make it epic. I added this quotation from Witold Gombrowicz, one of Poland’s greatest writers, who was persecuted for criticising Polish society during his life, but never compromised for anyone. It is a very personal song to me, which is hard to describe. It is about my interaction with the universe.”

 

The quote from Gombrowicz play “Ślub” (The Marriage in English) is certainly very powerful. What begins as a critique of religion soon becomes a plea for companionship “Give me a man, let him be like me… Confused and immature, dark and unclear…That I could dance with him, play with him, fight with him,” Nergal’s narration in his native tongue becomes even more powerful when he explains the meaning behind it. “The quotation refers to a human being who is very lonely and fed up of God and religion and just craves the comfort of other human beings. It sounds very desperate and emotional and I love this work. I have to confess I listened to this song a few days ago and I had tears in my eyes. It is a very moving quote and it cuts me to my core.”

It is this raw emotion and very human nature that makes The Satanist a bold foray into new territory for Nergal and co. “Extreme art should be shocking and provoke a reaction. I really hope we are viewed as more than just a Black Metal band. We are an extreme band that can communicate our ideas on so many levels. Extreme Metal music these days is often only extreme by definition. It is a never-ending process of striving for perfection. Too many bands are chasing this and the scene is becoming like the X-Factor for Black Metal. There is no danger and unpredictability anymore. The majority of Death Metal bands from the U.S.A are so generic, they all sound perfect. It is fast and technical but there is no substance. Bands forget about emotion when they strive for perfection. You should be driven by your intuition and not just be concerned with shredding on your guitar. Perfection is boring and uninspiring. When people listen to The Satanist, it will stimulate them in many different ways. I saw Cabaret at the theatre recently and it was extremely moving. Extreme art must make people uncomfortable whether it is music, art or films. It has to be thought provoking. It takes a lot of energy for me to do this. I remember after my transplant when we started playing shows again. There was a time I thought I was going to pass out on-stage because it was so taxing playing the show and I did not have as much energy as before but now I am ready. I know I can give my all to this.”

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Ross Baker

Read the full interview in Issue #15 of Ghost Cult, coming this week!

 


Behemoth – The Satanist


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When Adam Darski aka Nergal, founding member of Polish Blackened Death Metal big hitters Behemoth was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2010, the metal world understandably feared the worst. Coming off the back of the critically acclaimed Evangelion (Nuclear Blast) which topped the charts in their native land, and a hugely successful world tour, it seemed that the quartet’s rapid and deserved rise to the top was to be cruelly dashed by fate. Nergal it seemed, had other ideas.

Refusing to go quietly into that good night, Nergal confronted his illness head on with a fire and passion that left no one in any doubt that he was determined to triumph over it and return to what he does best; shredding like a demon, penning top-notch Death Metal anthems and taking extreme metal to a higher level than ever before. Well the wait is at last over. 2014 sees Behemoth’s glorious, triumphant return with The Satanist (Nuclear Blast/Metal Blade), their tenth album and undoubtedly their best yet.

The riff that snakes through the murk of opening track ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’ is simplistic, stark and utterly menacing. The repetitive build up expertly raises the tension and levels of excitement to a fever pitch before a skittish blasting section hits you with the force of an avenging angel delivering summary justice. The rest of the track allows every instrument to show off as basslines snake, horns bray and drums race. Oh and Nergal’s vocals sound fantastic; hoarse yet legible, and dripping with presence.

Next track ‘Furor Divinus’ is among one of the deadliest numbers the band have ever recorded; a chaotic and desperate sounding whippersnapper that does more damage in three minutes than most bands manage in thirty while the sinister atmospherics of ‘Messe Noir’ recall sadly missed fellow Satanists Akercocke. However, nothing prepares for the grin-inducing riffage of ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ which writhes and grooves like a tortured soul on the Devil’s barbecue. The old adage about the horned one having the best tunes has never been more appropriate here.

The brick to the face that is ‘Amen’ harks back to the brutality of Zos Kia Cultos (Avantegarde) and Demigod (Regain) and features one of the best and shortest solos you’ll ever hear, before the pace slows for the emphatic march of the title track. We are then greeted with the classic sounding ‘Ben Sahar’ which exhibits an aura of demonic grandeur and achieves the trick of sounding unrestrained and coldly in control simultaneously. The rug is then firmly pulled from beneath our feet by ‘In the Absence of Light’ with its ferocious black metal tradeoffs with a mournful spoken word and acoustic passage before closing mini-epic ‘O Father O Satan O Sun!’ defiantly closes proceedings in magisterial style, replete with another baddass solo.

While it would be crass and unfair to say that Behemoth have benefited from the time off, it’s clear that a whole lot of thought and talent has gone into the crafting of The Satanist. The songwriting is clear and consistent, the band sound tight and utterly in control and the album feels like a glorious declaration of victory. Far from rehashing old ideas, Nergal and his cohorts have crafted a concoction of songs with a stunning level of variety, power and bite. This is their best album to date and an early contender for album of the year. Welcome back and fuck cancer!

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9.0/10

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James Conway


Native Son- Chuck Billy of Testament


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Testament is riding high at the current pinnacle of modern thrash metal. The secret of the band, since their resurgence in 2007 has really been to combine the ability to have their classic sound intact, upper echelon musical chops, while making new music that crushes with a modern sensibility. In this regard they may only be rivaled by fellow Bay Area Thrash kings Exodus. Armed with a brand new concert DVD/CD, The Dark Roots of Thrash (Nuclear Blast) and a prime spot on their last US tour for a while with the likes of Lamb Of God, Killswitch Engage, and Huntress, life is good in the Testament camp. Ghost Cult’s Keith (Keefy) Chachkes chatted with front man Chuck Billy to get caught up on the DVD, touring hard, and their next album.

 

 

Testament has a solid history of putting out good concert albums and DVD packages. They even used to put our their own pro-shot bootlegs, that were better quality than what the labels were doing at the time. Doing justice to their live act has always been important to the band. Waiting for the right opportunity came along last fall. Chuck expanded on why now a good time for Testament to put out a new concert DVD:

 

 

“Since the last DVD we shot, we’ve done Formation (of Damnation) and Dark Roots of Earth. And the last one before that was Live in London. And that was the reunion with the original guys. But they only wanted to do songs off of records they did, so we didn’t get to do any of The Gathering, Low or Demonic material. It’s been seven… eight years now since we put those out. We’ve put two good records out. And the last few years we have been playing a lot more songs from The Gathering or Low. Now is a really good time to capture where we are at, since you never know who comes or goes.

It was a good time to capture where we are at as a band too, since we are playing more current stuff, as well as classic material. It was our headline tour. It was a really good package that we had with Overkill. There is a lot of good stuff . Just where we are in our lives, there is a lot of cool stuff going on.”

 

 

One of the most important choices for band in recording a concert DVD is the venue. Not just taking into consideration the location and the potential crowd response, but actually that the venue is capable of supporting the production of the tour. Testament had an impressive set up for this run, with a massive catwalk leading up to a tall drum riser. I felt the choice of the Paramount venue was inspired, since the band has such a strong following on the east coast.

 

“We had never played there before. When we were first looking at where to do the DVD, we already did a live record at theFillmore. Also, we wanted to wait until we got into the tour a little bit to choose a place. You don’t want to do something like this in a smaller club. We had seventeen cameras. We didn’t want to take up all the space from the audience, so we needed a big enough venue for the crain. So we started looking at the dates and venues. We were looking for a place with decent size stage, and a wide open floor and a good enough sound system. We played New York City the night before, and everyone comes out and drinks a lot, and feels a little hung over the next day (laughs). But we had a great turn out and ended up being a really good night.”

 

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Testament has been going non-stop with almost no break since 2006 in a constant cycle of writing, recording and touring. Not too mention for a band that has been around over twenty-five years, yet they seem sharp as ever live. Of particular note on the headline tour, several band members from Testament and openers Overkill battled a serious flu outbreak. A few nights later Overkill would drop off the tour and the band battled through a few tough, but entertaining shows to finish out the run. Chuck waxed about feeling no pressure to hold up, health-wise for the recording, and what it takes to stay in shape vocally.

 

 

“That show especially, we decided we were gonna add in five or six classic songs in there too. So we knew it was going to be a long show. We were kind of fired up about doing it. We never really tripped on being sick that day, we just went for it. A lot of it is probably mental and physical. I used to take lessons. I’ve always had a tape and a routine before a show to warm up for about an hour. I do it religiously at this point. A lot of it is mental. Maybe if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t feel ready. It’s a lot of that. Maybe it’s also few shots of whiskey before you hit the stage (laughs). You get a little bit loose, but most of it is going out there and having fun, and doing what you love to do.”

 

 

 

As with any legacy act with a lengthy and beloved back catalog, it must be challenging to choose a set list for a tour. Let alone a performance for filming a DVD. You are always going to have fans complain they didn’t hear their favorite song or ones the band “used to play”. Chuck talks about not wanting to disappoint the fans…

 

 

“It gets really tough. You get used to playing the same songs for years and you get really comfortable. It almost never fails. We always set out to add some new songs to the set list, it sounds good when you pick em, but then you get in the rehearsal room and there are other songs that are better, sound better and go over better. We always change it around, but wind up keeping the songs that sound and feel better. It always makes it tough. When we do those shows when we decided to do two records back to back. It’s fun because we go in and learn them, usually a lot of songs we might rarely ever play. Those are really fun shows when you do it like that. This tour we are especially trying to play a lot of the current few records. The Gathering is one of Eric’s favorite ones. We did four songs from The Gathering for the DVD. Those ones always stand out. I still really enjoy singing those songs.”

 

I asked Chuck with Gene in the band, about the possibility of bringing back some songs from Demonic.

 

“Well, that is what’s next. And Gene, he’s like “We should play some Demonic!” But we just haven’t. I imagine in the near future, next year when we have a new record, that is gonna be one of those records, we’ll say, we haven’t played anything live from in a while. I’d love to say “Let’s pick out ‘John Doe’ or something like that”. Sometimes it’s hard when you are not headlining and don’t get as much time. Especially for this Lamb of God tour, we have a forty minute set time, so we can’t really talk. How do we pick out six songs out of a hundred? We need to just hit it hard, and go.”

 

 

With this album cycle winding down, the band has no intention of slowing down. Since they have continuity working for them with the lineup for now, they have already plotted a course for their next recording:

 

“We start January 1st. We’re gonna take the first three or four months off to write to start off the year, and then get the album out by summer. We’re on a pretty good wave right now, so let’s not slow down. So let’s put together a new record and put ten new songs out there. Let’s keep it going! When everybody gets off the road, everybody does there own thing, and does what they enjoy too. Then we all come back together to do Testament stuff, it makes it all that much more special. We’re like “alright, we’re all back together!” I’m really happy to have Gene around too. I have Dublin Death Patrol (DDP), which is a lot of fun for me. You know, everyone in the band is busy, and I wanted to be busy too! So I wanted to do a record. It started out as just a bunch of friends. Me and “Zet” (Steve “Zetro” Souza) have been friends for a long time. And the rest of the guys are just my friends and it was just for fun, but now we’ve gotten a two records out of it.”

 

 

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The finest track on Dark Roots of Earth, happened to be the single ‘Native Blood’. Not only is the song a catchy, melodic-thrash masterpiece, it is a battle cry of political activism for all indigenous Americans. Through the bands lyrics (‘Trail Of Tears’), and occasional stage shout outs, Chuck has always talked with pride about the role of his culture in his music and life. The ‘Native Blood’ video took 1st place at prestigious Native American Film Festival, and he reflected on the impact of the song/video:

 

“The message of the track totally came out exactly the way we wanted it. Up on the reservation where we shot it, it’s actually kind of funny when I go back. Last week I was back on the reservation. I was there for a festival and I went up there, helped out, and introduced the band, hung out. It was trippy because I used to go to the reservation all the time, and didn’t really have the acceptance. Now people are really recognizing me, and greeting me. People recognized me from the video, who would never really know about it from metal, like older people and grandmothers. It was cool! It was really rewarding for me that they got the message and dug the video. You didn’t have to be a metal fan to get the meaning of the video. That’s how I knew it worked.”

 

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Keith (Keefy) Chachkes