No longer as prolific a studio band as they once were, the release of a new Behemoth album is considered a big deal given its scarcity over the past decade. The band are never been far from the public eye though; frontman Nergal inadvertently carved out a cult of celebrity for himself in the years between ”Evangelion” (2009) and “The Satanist” (2014), persevering with a positive attitude through his battle against leukaemia. His appearances on mainstream shows such as “The Voice” further cemented wisdom that perhaps us devil-worshipping, baby-eating headbanging fruitcakes aren’t such bad people after all. The Polish Supreme Court didn’t get the memo though, and have contributed infamy by taking issue with aspects of Behemoths performances and merchandise.
Whilst recently embroiled in another round of legal battles with the overzealous Polish state, Behemoth have also been feverishly beavering away to find new and interesting ways to upset the clergy. The message probably doesn’t get more on-the-nose than a song title like “God=Dog”, but there’s plenty of more subtle digs on this album. “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica” is obviously disparaging of the Catholic faith, using old Greek word (“ecclesia”, not “diabolica”!) that was mistranslated in the King James Bible as “church”. “Sabbath Mater” is play on the Stabat Mater, the medieval Catholic hymn that portrays Marys suffering during the crucifixion of her son, whilst “Havohej Pantocrator” is a cheeky juxtaposition of the Byzantine idiom for Christ, the opening line mocking the Lords Prayer with “Our father, who art in hell, unhallowed be thy name”. For those of you not getting the general gist by now, Behemoth REALLY don’t like the Catholic Church, and are especially upset with the way that it is intertwined with matters of state in their home country.
Theatre and theology aside, Behemoths sound has undoubtedly evolved to epitomise the term “extreme music”, and the seamless transcendence of genre practised since “Thelema.6” (2000) is in full effect here. Savage black metal, brutal death metal, doomy riffs, progressive flourishes and even the odd flash of arena rock are blended with choral and orchestral passages in manner that make Behemoth sound more accessible than before, all without compromising integrity. Audiences will no doubt be familiar with the opening two tracks by now (“Wolves Ov Siberia” and “God=Dog”), and whilst Behemoth have always had hooks, there’s a marginal surge in “rocking-out” moments “catchiness” on this album that makes it a progression from “The Satanist”. I must confess to struggling with that album (was it really over four years ago? Jeez…). In some ways it was another step forward from previous albums, but it has a rather staccato aura about itself and doesn’t flow very well. I also found some parts of “The Satanist” a little too self-indulgent, and there’s only so many times that you can “unleash the blast” with fanfare before it becomes stale and formulaic.
Aside from on lead single “God=Dog”, the blast is never “unleashed” as such, but it does make its presence felt when absolutely necessary. Intro “Solve” opens proceedings with chanting choir of children that soon gives way to a familiar guitar sound and aforementioned tip-of-the-(hi)hat from the sticks of Inferno. This isn’t an album without self-indulgence, but it’s the kind of self-indulgence that knows when to wind its neck in and let the songs breathe. “Bartzabel” is a great example of this, an atmospheric number underpinned throughout by a deftly picked melody, occasionally giving way to a geomantic mantra and thunderous percussion. Speaking of percussion; the drums sound over-processed throughout the album, though I’m hoping that this is more to do with my pre-amp disliking promotional mp3s; we’ll learn more when the pre-ordered LP turns up next week.
Of the remaining tracks, “Angelvs XIII” in particular stands out. It starts as a foot-to-the-floor exercise in blackened death with subtle time changes in the verses, then a rock-hero guitar solo gives way to an acoustic passage before the bombastic ending. And all in just three-and-half minutes. Only “Havohej Pantocrator” strays over the five-minute mark, alas not wildly (six minutes), though admittedly it’s the more pedestrian track on offer here. “We Are The Next 1,000 Years” provides a short but suitably anthemic album closer, segueing into outro track “Coagula” as an unexpected militaristic encore.
Whilst perhaps not living up to the sensationalist proclamations made by periodical publications who have advertisers to appease, “ILYAYD” nonetheless marks a further evolution of Behemoths consistently high quality threshold.
( 7.5 out ov 10 Doogz)