Behemoth’s most divisive album is upon us and I keep hearing two things: It’s either their best or their worst album. I will say that thanks to this album I’ve been listening to a lot of Behemoth this week. However, most of that has been their older albums. For reference, Behemoth is not one of my top bands, but I love some of their albums. My favorites are The Apostasy, The Satanist, and Demigod, respectively. Now you can measure this review by that.
One of (if not the) largest Polish blackened death metal bands, Behemoth has been around since 1991 and has 11 studio albums under their belt. Their early sound was mostly black metal, but they evolved through the 2000’s; thickening their sound, improving production, adding more bass, until we were left with the blackened death metal sound of every album up until I Loved You at Your Darkest. This album is more of the same, but also something different. It’s a warm soundscape of death metal that mellows thanks to some rock and roll influence.
Lyrically, Behemoth is all about the hypocrisy of Christianity and the grip it has on Polish life/culture. It’s been like this since the beginning and here we are, crucifying Jesus again on I loved You at Your Darkest. Many Polish metal bands, like Batushka, draw from the same inspirational well; dressing up in like clergical demons. You can almost feel the oppressive, judgemental weight of the Polish church throughout most of this work.
There are a few standout songs and a few classic hammer blast Behemoth moments, and those moments are when fans of the old sound will perk up. They are able to revisit the old sound while still moving forward, though at a slower pace than on their previous album. Most of I Loved You at Your Darkest is a churn that doesn’t feel like it has anywhere to go. Yet, maybe there is something to learn from a stream that barely flows. The riffs and guitar lines sometimes hearken back to their older black metal roots, carrying the listening along at a faster pace for a moment only to return to the churn. At first, I wondered if they hired Ghost to help write some of the songs. There are clean guitar lines, chants, moody symphonic elements, more chants- at least there are Nergal’s growling shout to remind you who you are still listening to.
Bartzabel is likely to be a standout for many. The vocals are the most harsh element here, and I’m not talking about the repeating haunted chant of , “come unto me Bartzabel.” Despite lacking dynamics, it paints a hollow and bleak landscape. One warning: do not listen to this while sleepy. I found myself nodding off a lot (during this whole album).
My favorites are “God = Dog,” “Wolves Ov Siberia,” and “Havohej Pantocrator,” These tracks do a good job of recalling the traditional soundscape that is Behemoth, while moving it into a new mood entirely. God = Dog manages to incorporate the epic chants, mellow and melodic guitar lines, but it still has the classic blasting energy from the past. “Havohej Pantocrator” is death metal with haunting clean guitars and a children’s choir filling out the sound. Clean/lightly distorted guitars sound good in death metal? Wait- God Dethroned has been doing this for years…
The underlying aggression is there, but beneath the surface; if you are merely listening to this album as background you’ll miss the nuance. Hopefully you will also miss the contrived, “spooky,” children’s choir that keeps showing up. Some love it, but to me it’s a failed attempt to inject a darker vibe into this album.
The main question I have is this: Is it worth getting lost in the nuance of this album? It’s thick and layered. There are some beautiful/haunting elements, but the energy and intensity isn’t there like it used to be (for my taste). Bands mature and new fans may discover and love this. For me, there are some amazing moments that wake me from the nap I’m taking during the rest. I didn’t love this album, but I did like them at their darkest hour.
What did you think? Rate it below.
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