Lords of the Left Hand
CoC chats with Nergal of Behemoth
by: Jackie Smit
If there's one striking trait to Adam Darski, a.k.a. Nergal, it's an extraordinary self-awareness that very quickly becomes apparent whenever you spend any time in his presence. There's no conceit behind it, nor is the founding father of one of Poland's most prolific death metal acts content to bask in any sort of adulation. Instead, Nergal -– despite Behemoth already riding a wave of growing popularity that shows no signs of petering out at any point in the near future -– is fiercely motivated by a continued hunger to improve, to refine and hone his craft with every successive release: to be the best at what he does.

It's hardly surprising then that our discussion has hardly gotten underway when he starts quizzing me as to my thoughts on his band's latest opus, _The Apostasy_. "I'm hoping that this is going to be the kind of record that stays with people for longer than anything we did previously", he enthuses. It certainly doesn't look like he's daydreaming, either. Along with a stint on Ozzfest tag-teaming with fellow death metal juggernauts Nile, and a deluge of glowing reviews for their new record, Dame Fortune seems content to hold Behemoth to her bosom. But with such a mannered attitude to his music and his band, does the continued acclaim surprise him?

Nergal: <pauses> I'd hate to go out with the attitude that people are going to love this album or anything else we've done regardless, if you know what I mean. I never think about what I do in that way, and I like to be surprised. Every Behemoth record thus far has always caused some fairly big reactions, and overwhelmingly so far it's been very positive, to the point where at the moment a lot of good things are happening for the band. But like a lot of bands, we struggled at the start as well, and we come from a place where for a while we struggled to get a license deal, because nobody liked us. This is our eighth record, and for me, hearing what people think and what they've made of the music is still exciting -– whether that be our fans, magazines or websites. I still feel like there's so much for us to achieve as a band anyway. I mean, it was even exciting for me when we played a show before the album came out and hearing the crowd's reaction to some of the new material. The album had already leaked on the Internet a month before, but a lot of people there already knew most of the lyrics to the new songs, which was amazing to me.

CoC: Since you mention it, what are your thoughts on the downloading debate?

N: It's complex. I don't like the fact that my album is out before the release date, because it takes away a lot of the magic. I was talking to Tom [Araya] from Slayer a couple of weeks ago and I asked him about that as well, and he agreed that a lot of that has disappeared from the scene. Me being a kid back in Poland, I still remember the feeling of getting a new album, and I remember how much effort you had to put in sometimes to get hold of any sort of music, especially in the Eighties when I was getting into metal. Tape trading, writing letters to bands -– it was exciting. These days, things are different. I don't know if things are worse or better, but they're definitely different. So I try and make the best of the situation, and I've actually downloaded a few things myself, but then if I like what I hear, I'm first in line to buy the record when it comes out. And that's all that I expect and that I hope for -– that fans will buy the album if they like it. If someone got _The Apostasy_ online and they say to me: "Hey man, it sucks", then by all means don't spend any money on it. But if you like it, then pick up a proper copy when it comes out.

CoC: To their credit, one of the things that a lot of bands and labels in the metal scene have done to encourage that is to include things like DVDs or to put a lot of care into the packaging, and that's certainly something that Behemoth have done with everything you've released since particularly _Thelema.6_.

N: Definitely, and sometimes we go through hell to make those things happen. We spend a lot of money and a lot of energy and effort to make those things happen. Whenever I look at the booklet for _The Apostasy_, I think it's outstanding. All the props on the photo were hand-made specifically for us, and the layout and everything is just great. For me, the whole experience just suffers if you don't have that aspect as well; and that's not just the case with Behemoth, but for a lot of bands. You need the booklet, you need to read all the lyrics, read the statements, and if there's a DVD, you need to watch the DVD to get a full picture of what the music and the band is all about. That stuff all plays a big part in the experience.

CoC: When we last spoke, it was on the eve of _Demigod_'s release, and of course when that happened things absolutely exploded for Behemoth in terms of popularity and profile in the metal scene. Being an insider, how did you experience that surge in recognition and all the additional pressures that come along with it?

N: You know what? When _Demigod_ came out, we were more determined than ever. I was going to make sure that Behemoth toured the whole fucking world, and that we made sure that everyone on the planet who wanted one, could have a copy of the album. I just really felt so confident in that album, and I knew that we had the support of Regain Records and Century Media, so it made it that much easier for us. So we went on tour for eighteen months, which for us was fucking huge, and that momentum really powered us along the way when we started writing _The Apostasy_. I remember playing a one minute demo of a song to one of the guys from the label, and he was just blown away. So we knew that for _The Apostasy_, we'd already proven ourselves as a band -– that we worked our asses off to get where we are and that there's no bullshit here -– and that the challenge for us was to make sure that the record didn't disappoint anyone. Of course, there are some people who might not enjoy it as much as something we did in the past, but the one thing that you can be sure of is that when you buy a Behemoth album, you're getting the best album we could possibly write with the most state of the art sound that we could afford, the best booklet we could do -– everything has to be the best. People's perceptions are their own business, but I need to make sure that everything we do as a band is the best that we possibly can do at the time. Everything with this band was done the old fashioned way. We didn't use MySpace or anything like that. We just toured our asses off, and persevered through some pretty tough conditions, and I'm definitely not complaining, but that's how it is.

CoC: We spoke earlier about how the metal scene has changed, and apart from downloading, the sheer volume of music that's being released is probably three or four times as much as it was a decade ago. How does a band like Behemoth deal with that challenge?

N: Well, I actually never even realised quite how much music was coming out until I started speaking to people about it, and took a few steps back and looked at what was happening. Honestly, the only thing you can do is to focus purely on what you're doing. All I've concentrated on for the last six months is making _The Apostasy_, and that has and will continue to apply to everything else we do, whether it's our live shows or our CD booklets. The reason that maybe Behemoth stands out a little bit more than a lot of the other bands? I'll give you an example. The other day Rob Flynn [Machine Head] came up to me and he'd been watching us from the side of the stage and he told me: "Dude, when you play, you look like you want to kill somebody." <laughs> So that got me thinking that maybe when people see us, they see something a little different and more sincere. I had never even thought about it until Rob mentioned it to me, but I think it boils down to how we approach what we do, and I can honestly say that whether we're in the studio or on stage, we treat everything like our lives depend on it. People can say we're overdoing it, but that's who we are, and if it's worked for us thus far, then I don't plan on changing it.

CoC: You've always played a very active role in the actual recording process for every Behemoth record, and with _The Apostasy_ you have a producer's credit as well.

N: Yeah, I've always acted as the producer for our albums, although I think it sometimes gets a little lost in translation as to who did the mixing and the engineering and the production, you know? As far as my role as producer, there's no one who really knows what Behemoth's music should sound like as well as I do. But then, you know, producing shouldn't mean that you sit there and push a bunch of buttons or something like that. The producer is someone who gives things the green light and says that things should a certain direction. Now for our music, I've never met anyone who could do that as well as I could, but that might change someday. I'm not sitting on a throne ordering everyone around. I'm fortunate enough to have great guys in the band who are very experienced and who are very good at what they do. They also have something to contribute and something valuable to add. Then we also have a sound engineer based out of Malta who's been with us for the last three or four records, and of course we've also been lucky enough to be able to use Daniel Bergstrand the last couple of times, and he's just amazing. He's just such a pro, and he's so good at what he does. I don't know anyone who can do drums like this guy can. When you listen to the drums on the new record, it sounds like it's being played right there next to you; like someone just did it in your garage. The drums on this album are just out of control. It's not as compressed as the sound we had on _Demigod_, which wasn't bad, but it sounded a little distant to me.

CoC: Not that you've ever been afraid to experiment before, but some would say that bringing someone like Warrel Dane from Nevermore on board to do guest vocals would be going out on a limb -– especially for a death metal band. How did that come about?

N: I wanted to have one my favourite death metal singers on that song actually, but because of label things and managerial things, we couldn't agree on who that would be. But then I started thinking about it and I said to myself: "What's the point of having a death metal singer doing it? It's going to be way more interesting to have someone from a different genre." I mean, Warrel is one of my favourite singers anyway. People might say that Nevermore are a power metal band, but that's bullshit. They're closer to being death metal, and Warrel's voice doesn't sound like someone from Hammerfall or Edguy or whatever. He has very dramatic and very disturbing vocals, which I find very stimulating. So I remembered talking to Warrel and discussing the _Demigod_ record with him, and him telling me that he was a fan, which at the time was just amazing to me. That got me thinking about the song "Sanctum" on the new record, and I realised that he'd be perfect for it. I mean, originally I was planning to even include that song on the record, purely because it was so personal to me. Then I went through this phase where I didn't want to my own vocals on it and that's how I got on to the idea of using Warrel, and it worked out fantastically well. Every time I hear it now, I just have shivers. The thing is that this band makes music that we would want to listen to ourselves. A lot of people will come up to me and ask me questions like: "You're a death metal band, so why do you use a lot of heavy metal leads?" What they need to understand is that every influence on every album –- whether it's black metal or death metal or classic rock or whatever; I love all that stuff. I'm a huge fan of all of that, and I don't care about what "fits" in and what doesn't. Diversity is what makes music intriguing for me. You know, if a band puts out a record that's forty minutes worth of blasting, then after two songs it's going to start slow, if you see what I mean. One of the biggest things I've learned about making music is that it's cool to play around and use all the tools that you have at your disposal. We use choirs and trumpets and pianos, and it doesn't sound like Therion or Hammerfall. It still sounds dangerous and disturbing, and that's exactly what I want. If people think that we're selling out because of that, then they're wrong.

CoC: You're very well known for expressing your views and opinions on a number of topics in your lyrics, and while _The Apostasy_ isn't necessarily a concept album, what does that title mean to you personally?

N: It's a statement. I was looking for a name that would be similar to _Demigod_, but different as well. _Demigod_ to me –- that title was a statement, and I feel the same way about _The Apostasy_. When you Google it, it will tell you that the phrase refers to someone who is rejecting a religious or political cause, and that has a really strong rebellious connotation, which in my opinion summarises what this band is about and what we've always been about. If it wasn't for rebellion, or rejection, or opposing viewpoints, there wouldn't be any evolution or any progress. I realised that when I was a kid and I was rebelling against religion, and now it applies to a number of other areas in my life, and I hope I never grow out of that. You know, I hope that in ten years from now I'll still be a pissed off guy, and be angry and frustrated. I've just been to Serbia and Bosnia, and it was just so clear to me once again that some of the greatest cruelty and atrocities in the world came from people who were willing to kill for their religion. People will kill each other for different reasons, but the cruellest wars and the most fucked-up things have happened because of religion. Sometimes it's no fun talking about that sort of stuff either, but that's what inspires me and helps me put out records like _The Apostasy_. So getting back to your original question, it's a statement and it's also a very beautiful sounding word. It sounds epic, and it really captures what I want people to take away from the music on this record.

CoC: You've been on this year's Ozzfest with Nile, which considering the days when Korn and Disturbed used to headline the festival, would indicate that this is probably the heaviest line-up in the tour's history. Why do you think we're finally getting to a point where death metal is becoming more accepted and gaining a higher profile for what appears to be the right reasons?

N: I'm not sure, to be honest, but if I had to take a guess, I think that it has a lot to do with the state of the world around us. It's not becoming a better place, unfortunately, and anytime you switch on the television or you read the news, there's a lot of fucked-up shit happening all around us, and it's causing a lot of frustration. This music is just a perfect expression of that, and people will always want to identify with things like that. I know that from my own experience, and I know that if I can find a lyric or two on a song that I can relate to, then I'll love that song even more. So I think there's a link between those things and this music. People relate to this kind of music and it helps them vent their frustrations in a healthy way.

CoC: So, final question: we've talked about your love of music earlier, and it's something that when I've met you before really stands out as well. In light of that, what floats your boat in the metal scene or otherwise at the moment?

N: <laughs> I just got the new Marilyn Manson, actually, and I loved it. I got the new Tori Amos, and I thought that was great as well. As far as metal is concerned, the band I've been most impressed by in the last couple of months has been a Swedish band called Watain. Those guys have just made one of the best albums of the year with _Sworn to Black_, in my opinion, and I think that they are going to be massive one day. They're just so honest in what they do, and so serious about their craft -– I hope that they're going to get all the credit that they deserve. Then I also love the new Nile, the new Vital Remains, the new Immolation. This genre is doing really well at the moment, man.

(article submitted 9/9/2007)


CHATS
11/19/2004 J Smit Behemoth: Keeping It Real
4/9/1997 S Hoeltzel Behemoth: Bards of the Black Baltic
ALBUMS
3/2/2014 A El Naby 9 Behemoth - The Satanist
8/16/2009 J Smit 9.5 Behemoth - Evangelion
1/23/2009 J Smit 9 Behemoth - At the Arena ov Aion - Live Apostasy
11/19/2008 Y Zhu 8 Behemoth - Ezkaton
9/9/2007 J Smit 8.5 Behemoth - The Apostasy
10/19/2004 T DePalma 7.5 Behemoth - Crush.Fukk.Create
10/19/2004 J Smit 9 Behemoth - Demigod
11/6/2003 X Hoose Behemoth - Antichristian Phenomenon
4/11/2003 P Azevedo 9 Behemoth - Zos Kia Cultus - Here and Beyond
1/10/2001 P Azevedo 9 Behemoth - Thelema.6
10/12/1999 P Azevedo 9 Behemoth - Satanica
9/1/1998 A McKay 7.5 Behemoth - Pandemonic Incantations
10/16/1997 S Hoeltzel 9 Behemoth - Bewitching the Pomerania
1/2/1997 S Hoeltzel 10 Behemoth - Grom
GIGS
10/31/2004 J Smit Krisiun / Behemoth / Incantation / Ragnarok A Beauteous Riot
1/10/2001 D Rocher Morbid Angel / Enslaved / The Crown / Dying Fetus / Behemoth / Hypnos Belated Tales of the Unexpected
3/5/2000 M Noll Satyricon / Behemoth / Hecate Enthroned Untied Bronze Chains
3/14/1999 P Schwarz Deicide / Rotting Christ / Aeternus / Ancient Rites / Behemoth Dead by Dawn
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