Keeping It Real
CoC chats with Nergal of Behemoth
by: Jackie Smit
There's times when it can be a truly surreal thing being a music journalist. Take the following scenario example: I'm sitting in the famous World's End pub in London's Camden Town, sharing a beer with Nergal of Poland's current heavyweight death metal champs, Behemoth. In just a few short minutes following our interview, he will reappear on the downstairs Underworld stage, evoking all manner of hellish malarkey, but for now he is simply Nergal -- absolute gentleman and avid music fan -- and he is about to investigate a certain extreme music magazine's review of his band's latest effort, _Demigod_. The verdict, as it turns out, is somewhat disappointing -- but this particular publication's lack of enthusiasm is quite possibly the only strain of negativity currently headed in the direction the rising juggernaut, who since releasing their latest album have tasted everything from overwhelmingly positive press, to mammoth industry buzz and sold-out performances, to a sojourn in their country's domestic top 20. A supremely confident Nergal is nonplussed however:

Nergal: Well, I see Behemoth as one of the most hard-working bands on the planet, that's for sure. And it's good to see the new album doing well. What can I say? We did our best, you know? We didn't let any bullshit through this time -- it's just the most brutal riffing, the best lyrics I could write... We did our best, and I think that people really appreciate it when they see a band that pays so much attention to every single detail of their work.

CoC: Attention to detail is something that definitely stands out on this album for me as well. Something I mentioned in my review as well; _Demigod_ for me, was the album where Behemoth was either going to be promoted to the ranks of Morbid Angel and Nile or stay in the second tier of death metal, and as far as I'm concerned I feel like you have definitely succeeded in doing so. What is your opinion on that?

N: <laughs> Give me a few months and I'll be able to answer that question. This tour that we're on right now is going to be the first test, and we're going to see how it goes. I'm an optimistic guy and I like to think it's going to be that way, and all the signs point to it happening. But I can't really say; I can't foresee the future. Many people have told us that this album is going to see us get much bigger and that the critics are really into it, and of course that makes me happy. But I'm really here to make good music, and I'm beyond all the competition. My thoughts are in the future -- the next album, maybe. I already have some titles in my mind, how we should sound in the future; things like that. For the media and the support so far, I'm thankful, but let's wait and see.

CoC: What did you want to achieve when you set out to write and record _Demigod_?

N: Well, with _Zos Kia Cultus_ and _Thelema.6_, I had huge expectations. I was thinking that we were going to top ourselves and that we were going to blow everyone away. And by contrast this album was so simple. I came back from the Six Feet Under tour -- a two month tour -- and I found myself in a really, really shitty situation. I don't want to go into any details, but I was just so pissed and so angry and it was like "Fuck it, I am just going to concentrate on making music." The band is my family. This music is my life. This is the reason I live and breathe, so I am going to give it everything and just do the best songs that I can do. And that's what I did -- I wrote songs. I wanted to have melodies, I wanted to have nice solos, and the most fucking extreme music I could come up with -- fucking blasting, yet really technical. And I just did it -- nothing else. I was pissed. This album for me has a very "fuck you" attitude to it. It's very arrogant. It's very strong. Just go through the lyrics for this album and you'll know what I've been through, and you'll know what I'm about. This band has never been as strong as it is nowadays, because we have nothing left to lose.

CoC: It does strike me as a case of bringing out the big guns, so to speak, in your decision to hire Daniel Bergstrand to mix and produce the album for you. What was the thinking behind that?

N: We wanted to have a name. I was tired of doing everything myself. I've always had the last word in production and stuff like that; I just felt that we needed somebody else from the outside to get involved in things, and to help us get to where we needed to be. Mixing is essential, you know? You can put together a pretty good album from some shitty rehearsal tapes with good mixing. We spent two and a half months just tracking everything for this album, so it was a really solid recording, but we had no idea what we needed to do in order to avoid repeating ourselves. That was something that I was really afraid of. Of course, we also didn't really have much money, but we just though "Fuck that -- we'll sell our houses and our cars to make the album that we want to make." Luckily we didn't have to do that, because the label eventually gave us the money that we needed to make the album, but that was the commitment. I was willing to do that. I just wanted to achieve my goal and get a new sound for Behemoth. _Thelema.6_ was different, _Zos Kia Cultus_ was different, and I just did not want this album to sound too equal to those two. I wanted _Demigod_ to be much better -- to be the next step up, you know? Daniel did a great job. I'm happy and we'll work with him again in the future. This album is just so attacking -- it's like a blow to the head. For me _Zos Kia Cultus_ was almost a little laid back; a little mellow -- it had a lazy sound. I like it, but with this album we wanted something fast and aggressive.

CoC: One of the things that you're relatively well-known for is the tremendous amount of research and preparation that you go into while you're writing the lyrics for the album. Talk to me about the background to _Demigod_.

N: Well, there's an Old Testament touch to this album, because we deal with themes like the nephilim mythos for example. That kind of thing hasn't ever really been explored by a lot of metal bands. And that's the way I've always tried to do this -- I mean, we have a fairly consistent theme running through all our music, but at the same time I don't want to re-explore the same theories and the same ideas again and again. On this album we set out to find new things that we felt would be good for us to sing about. And I like the imagery of the Old Testament. With all our albums we have very specific imagery. _Zos Kia Cultus_ has this kind of iconic figure that introduced you to the record on the cover. This album just naturally turned out the way it did -- there's a lot of ancient Christian references and images that are used on the record, and us being anti-Christian, still have a connection to that stuff. So we took that on board and decided to take it a step further. We brought in the Aramaic writing on the front cover and further explored the connections between ancient Christianity and other pagan cultures in our lyrics. It's all about contrast for me, you know what I mean? I'm pretty sure that we'll always have anti-religious themes running through our music, but I think that we do it in a really intelligent way. We approach our lyrics and our themes in a very philosophic way and I think that makes us a really multi-dimensional band. I also think that we are very real and true in the way that we come across and that we bring our point across.

CoC: In what way do you see yourself as being a contradiction toward a lot of the pretenders in the scene at the moment?

N: Well, it would be arrogant to compare Behemoth to specific bands. I think that I'm very real in my feelings and I can take the anger that I feel and I can look at my own work and know that I may not be the best at this or that, but when you put it all together, and you put us on stage, there's a lot of energy and we're a good quality band. On the other hand, there are a million bands out there who just fucking shred -- they're just so tight and they have an awesome sound and... So what? So fucking what? I don't want to compare Behemoth to Venom, because Venom couldn't play at all -- they couldn't handle their instruments -- but I love them. They're one of the most important bands on this planet, because they were real. And that's how I see Behemoth. Whatever a band does has to be sincere and it has to be real, or you'll just know it. No matter how well you play and how nice you are on stage and how great your sound is, that band is still gonna suck. These days I judge it by experience. I can listen to an album and it takes me one minute and I'll be like "No, fuck it." I don't need to spend hours and hours analysing stuff.

CoC: What forms the basis for your criteria when you're judging a band in that sense?

N: I don't know -- it's instinct. When I see a girl that I might want to do something with, I just know it. I don't even have to talk to her. Then on the other side of the street there's another girl walking who is maybe even more beautiful, but she just doesn't do it for me: she's completely unattractive to me. I don't really know how to say it other than to say that things like that just happen. We have so many people coming to us at shows who say: "I never really liked you on the album, but I've just seen the show and you look so real and so serious on stage." And I truly think that we convince people by our live shows and what we put out when we're on stage is just real -- there's no bullshit.

CoC: So what do you think is most important then -- Behemoth on CD or on stage?

N: I've asked myself that question several times, and I think it depends on one's mood, you know? It's almost like two different bands, in a way. We are very technical and detailed on albums, but on stage we go for energy. We never try to play songs that we feel might be too complicated to play live -- we want to go all-out to get the crowd as energetic as possible. I don't really have any interest in seeing someone standing on stage, masturbating on their guitar. Fuck that. We make mistakes when we play -- sometimes I go for a long time without even playing! You just get so lost in the moment of being on stage. It's a moving experience. It's part of the show. It's part of the trance and that comes from the energy that moves between the stage and the audience.

CoC: Behemoth was part of the "Blackest of the Black" tour a few years ago, and obviously there you're playing a show where a band like Danzig is headlining and where you're presenting yourself to a much different audience than you'd normally do. How did your spot on the tour come about first of all?

N: Well, I met Glenn [Danzig] in Berlin for the first time, and I'm a huge Danzig fan, so I brought him a copy of _Zos Kia Cultus_ and a T- shirt. And I thought that the guy would be fucking big, so I brought him an XXL, only to find out that he wears medium. So he was like: "No problem, thank you very much", and I told him about my band and said to him that it was extreme music and that he had probably never heard of us. I mean, he is a fan of Roy Orbison! So, I didn't think that he'd like it, but I am very influenced by what he does, so I just wanted to give him a copy of the album and pay my respects. Then he was like: "You know what? If I like your album, I'm going to invite you to a festival I'm organizing called "Blackest of the Black"." And I just thought whatever, you know. So a few months later, we were in the US and our agent called us up and let us know that he had something big for us -- the "Blackest of the Black" tour! I just went: "Fuck yeah! Let's go for it." Before the tour started, actually, we played in LA and Glenn showed up came to check us out, and he was just listening to the music and checking us out. He came backstage afterwards and he was just fucking great, and really friendly. So we went to "Blackest of the Black" and the response was great. I mean, the whole experience still leaves me speechless.

CoC: So, since you've started Behemoth in the early '90s, what has been the highlight in your career so far?

N: Well, I think that the highlight of our existence is yet to come. I don't like analysing the past, you know -- I just look for more; I look ahead. I'll never go: "Oh look, we've done so much, we're so experienced." I always think about what else we could do and what's next for us and that we need to work harder. You know, we're touring with Krisiun right now, and when I see these guys every night I just think that on the next album, we'll have to double our efforts. We can never stop -- we always need to move ahead and just fucking keep conquering, and pushing the limits and just see how far we can take things.

CoC: What are your hopes for the new album?

N: We've already gained so much in the recording of this new album. It sounds good, you know, so from now on, we'll be doing things abroad and we'll only be using professional guys to produce the album. This is how I see it: _Demigod_ opened new artistic doors for us, because it made us realise what can be achieved. And I'll say this: if people like the new album, then they're going to like the next album as well. I just want to keep going in this direction -- just getting better and better; more technical, more brutal. It would be cool if we could raise our commercial profile, but the way it is right now is fine. We can make our living out of music and that's great. Let me tell you something: on this tour so far we've played four dates, and we've already sold like 250 shirts. It's never been that crazy for us. I don't know what else to say. We'll talk in two years when we've finished the next album and see what happens.

CoC: It's going to be hard to top _Demigod_ though...

N: <laughs> I've heard that since we did _Pandaemonic Incantations_. Then we did _Thelema.6_ and everyone said that we'd never be better. Then we did _Zos Kia Cultus_. Give me two years, and I'll bring out an album that's better than _Demigod_.

CoC: Nergal, I'd like to finish off this interview with one question: what is it that you love about metal?

N: Well, metal is energy, man. You'll see it on stage tonight. I fucking live for it. And I'm not a typical metalhead. When I'm in the street, I don't look like a typical metalhead. But it's an energy. I love to be on stage, and I love feeling that energy. Metal is life. It's all about life. Pop music is about fucking, right? Then hip-hop is about how bad the world is and how poor people are. Metal is about all of that and more. Find any other music genre that will give you so much stimulation... It's fucking excellent. It's freedom. Do I sound like Manowar? <laughs>

(article submitted 19/11/2004)

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8/16/2009 J Smit 9.5 Behemoth - Evangelion
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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
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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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