Interview with vocalist and guitarist Nergal
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: September 8, 2018
Polish extreme Metal institution Behemoth is about to unleash their 11th studio album, titled I Loved You at Your Darkest, on October 5, via Nuclear Blast Records. The band’s previous album, The Satanist, which went gold in their home country of Poland, pushed the envelope of how extreme and provocative an album can be, putting fundamentalist religious groups on their toes with the band’s sophisticated way of saying, "F**k all religions—f**k all the blind and weak followers!"
On this new blasphemous opus, Behemoth has incorporated more Rock elements into the songs that allow them to breathe while still maintaining the band’s extreme, almost cinematic blackened Death Metal sound. It still sounds like a Behemoth album, so fans don’t have to worry. They tastefully re-crucify the Christ for the 11th time on this new masterpiece, which strengthens the band’s position as one of the leaders of the Black/Death Metal genre.
The mastermind behind Behemoth, Nergal, arrived in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, August 20th, to meet the media with the intention of talking about the new album. All interviews were arranged at a Rock bar called The Riff (co-owned by drummer Jussi 69 from The 69 Eyes), which is located in a really nice and cozy spot in the heart of Helsinki.
The Metal Crypt had the pleasure to sit down with Nergal and talk about the new album and much more...
Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland, Nergal.
Nergal: Thank you.
Luxi: You played here in Finland last month when you had a slot at Ilosaarirock Festival, which is not really a Metal festival even if they do book some Metal bands. How would you sum up the festival?
Nergal: It was awesome! We did a couple of festivals like that this summer and I love them because they are a challenge. When you go to a Metal festival, you can—I don’t want to sound arrogant—but you expect people to dig it, you know what I mean? If you do everything right, they’re going to fucking love it. When it’s a non-Metal festival, mainstream or not, or an alternative festival, there’s no certainty.
You really need to get out of your comfort zone and burst your ass and fucking push it hard, harder than you would for metalheads because it takes a while. At that festival you could see every song growing on the crowd so by the end of the show it was like, "Okay that was a victorious night." I like that there is no certainty from the start.
Luxi: Well, that’s all true.
Nergal: I have to add that right after our show, we ran to the main stage to see Jack White, and it was awesome. I’m a huge fan. I was actually very happy, and it was surprising that people were close to the stage. In Poland you could never get that close but here you could easily get to the very front row.
It was like an unusual formula. Shit, these people are really behaving themselves [*laughs*]
Luxi: Indeed. Most often they do, especially metalheads. So, summarizing your performance at Ilosaarirock Festival, you would say it was a successful experience for you all in all...
Nergal: Yeah, it’s a great experience for us! The location was amazing, too. It was just spectacular, the weather was beautiful, the sun was shining, and it was warm. I even took a trip because we had a few hours to kill. There was this canal or something or a little lake next to the hotel. I just went there and crashed, and had a swim and stuff, so it was cool.
AND JESUS SAID: I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST
Luxi: You are here in Finland to talk about Behemoth’s new album I Loved You at Your Darkest, which is the band’s 11th studio effort. Your previous album, The Satanist, released in 2014, was well received among the targeted crowds. Did the initial success of The Satanist put any extra pressures on you when you started composing songs for this new opus?
Nergal: No. Honestly, I don’t think we have been in that position for a few years now. I remember I was saying similar things when we released The Satanist, that we didn’t try to top Evangelion and we didn’t make I Loved You at Your Darkest in order to top The Satanist. What we’ve been doing for a couple of albums now is we’re taking different angles because how much heavier you can get, how much faster you can get? This is it, this is the peak.
I think the main thing is to get passionate and ambitious and just put out the best songs you can and make songs that are going to remain for decades, not just for one season, and wrap it up with some amazing art and aesthetics. That’s what it’s all about. We don’t really want to compete with ourselves because I equally embrace The Satanist and Evangelion, and other records. They are like my kids.
We are proud of our big catalog even though some of the it, especially early stuff, sounds pretty poor, but still, it’s our system, so we embrace it and love it for what it is.
Luxi: You mentioned that the album title, I Loved You at Your Darkest, is a verse from The Bible, something that Jesus Christ supposedly said himself. Why did you use it for this new Behemoth album?
Nergal: Well, there was no way we could top The Satanist when it comes to a one-word statement. I realized, "Okay, we have to go the other way around, and redefine ourselves with something groundbreaking within our subgenres." I’m not saying the quote from The Bible is super original, or quoting Jesus is super original and so on. But within this genre especially within this band, using our so-called opponent’s words, and using it as a tool, or even as a weapon against the Catholic and Christian doctrine, you change the meaning. You twist the meaning, you force upon it your interpretation and it can be really disturbing.
That triggered the whole religious imagery on the record if you’ve seen some of the photos. When you see the booklet, it is the most stunning booklet we’ve ever done. Messe Noire was nice, but you will see that this is going to be "wow!", and it’s very religious-driven. What we did, we took classic painters and classic paintings from Caravaggio, (Hans) Memling, Green Vault (The Grünes Gewölbe) and a few others. They are all very religious-inspired paintings.
We are actors in this scenery, the band members, I mean. I think all the context and the fact that we are doing this within this genre, using our radical message and stuff, makes it, maybe, even the most sacrilegious thing we’ve ever committed in our career.
I’m happy that we are doing it in a very sophisticated, tasteful way. It was not like some primitive blasphemy. There’s a very sophisticated idea behind it and you don’t need to share our views to see it as art. If you’re open enough, you’ll be like, "Shit, these guys are doing really well". We play very radical music, so I don’t expect people to love it immediately. They are probably going to hate it, but you can be indifferent to the quality and taste of it.
You don’t need to be a fan of pop music to really appreciate what Madonna or Lady Gaga do, you’d be like, "Okay, I fucking listen to Slayer, but this Lady Gaga girl, she’s the best at what she does." You know what I mean?
Luxi: Yes, I know what you are saying. One always doesn’t need to be so narrow-minded when it comes to music, for example.
Nergal: Yes. You got my exact point. Then again, I actually like Lady Gaga, but I mean the universal approach is enough open-mindedness and flexibility.
Luxi: The album starts with an ominous intro in which a choir of children repeat the sentence "I shall not forgive," which is obviously meant for one skinny guy who was eventually crucified on the cross. Do these children mean Jesus Christ?
Nergal: They could. Yes, addressing Christ, and they’re addressing all forms of gods that I came up with. It’s no quote here, I just came up with this line. We had the intro with no words then I had this children’s choir idea for the "God = Dog" song and when we used it for that song, it triggered the idea to steal the same tracks and put it in the intro. It surprisingly matched, so we used it for the intro as well.
Luxi: After the intro, the album kicks off with "Wolves ov Siberia," which is a merciless, brutally blasting number. That song, however, doesn’t set the standard for the rest of the album as the song material on your new album is more diverse and dynamic than some of your previous albums, with more "rock-ish" elements like one can find on songs like "If Crucifixion Wasn’t Enough" and "Sabbat Mater." Have you found more of this Rock ‘n’ Roll type of a guy deep down in yourself at your later age and started to appreciate such names as Rainbow, AC/DC, Deep Purple and other more Rock-orientated groups?
Nergal: Absolutely yes. And you can hear it on the record. It’s starting from the sound of the record that is very warm, and it’s not just another typical, generic Death Metal or Black Metal album. It’s very deeply rooted in both Rock and Heavy Metal. Yes, I’ve been listening to this music for pretty much most of my life, but it’s been just recently, maybe five years ago when I said that, and I realized that AC/DC is probably the best band on the planet. It just came to me like, "Okay..." and I started really studying and analyzing that deeply and the magic of verse and chorus, you can’t fucking beat it.
No matter how radical or extreme or whatever, no matter how adventurous we get with our songs, it still remains a song structure with the chorus and verse. That’s a rule that I never really broke because I worship that ancient Rock ‘n’ Roll formula.
Luxi: So, you could basically say you love Rock music, too?
Nergal: Absolutely, and I honestly think that the fact that after we released The Satanist, I went away for some time to focus on me, and Me and That Man project, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that?
Luxi: Actually, to be honest with you I am not. Sorry.
Nergal: Well, don’t be. Anyway, it helped me redefine that, it helped me realize that the core of Rock music starts with Blues. Even leads, you know, you’ll see that there’s a lot of bluesy vibes, and more bending and stuff and not like a typical shredding. First of all, I was not born to be a shredder nor is Seth, the other guitarist, but we’re all about melody and bluesy vibes. I want to hear emotions, more emotions than technique in our playing. It’s not even just about the guitars; it’s also the vocal expression and stuff. You can also hear on our record that I’m more freely using my natural voice as well and I hope I do it well.
It wasn’t that obvious on the previous records, I was very modest about that. I was very reluctant about using the vocals. Now, you can see that I’m using it with power and I’m really conscious of what I’m doing now with my vocal cords.
ABOUT RECORDING THE ALBUM IN MANY LOCATIONS
Luxi: Unlike your previous album, which was basically recorded in one studio, your new album has been recorded in quite a few studios across Poland and even the United States. Did this somehow challenge you as an artist, knowing that you need to work within timetables to make things work as far as making this album?
Nergal: It starts with us being producers of the records. I can’t really imagine at this stage someone stepping in and telling us what to do. We’re control freaks and wonder how someone else can know better than us what to do. Maybe I’m just not at that level yet. Judging by the reception of the record and objectively how well it sounds, I think we must be doing something right.
With this album the main concept was "we don’t really choose studios anymore." We were like, "Okay, there’s the best equipment," but we’d rather go, "Okay, how is the vibe of this studio," you talk to the bassist or the drummer, "Okay, how do you feel about this place?" You know what I mean? We really want to make sure that whoever records his parts wherever, we really pay attention to the vibe of the place, and the comfort of the musician who’s using the facilities. We started with the drums recording in solitude, really like an isolated spot in the mountains in Poland. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful location. It’s called Monochrome. The studio was designed by the guy who also designed Abbey Road. I don’t remember his name, Japanese guy. You can Google it.
Luxi: Will do for sure...
Nergal: He came down to Poland years ago and he designed this studio and it’s basically like a warehouse in the middle of the mountains. It’s all black and it’s a really cool spot, amazing for drums. It’s called Monochrome and then we took it from there. I remember I was doing guitars and vocals two blocks from my apartment. I could either walk there or it was just a one-minute drive next door.
I’m happy I did that because I chose to work with a guy in the studio named Sebastian. It was the first time for me working with that guy. It’s such a big project and I’m super happy because he was amazing to work with. I don’t want to go too much into details, technical details because it’s going to bore people to death, it’s not about that. That was maybe the most comfortable studio session for us ever.
Luxi: So, you could say it was a pretty easy and relaxed recording session?
Nergal: It was relatively easy. It’s never easy to record but it was relatively easy.
THE ALBUM COVER ART
Luxi: Okay. Moving on, what can you tell us about the album’s front cover? Is there any deeper symbolism in the album’s front cover artwork?
Nergal: It’s a long story again because Denis Forgas was commissioned to do a front cover for the new album, our 11th album. When I got the sketches, they looked amazing. When he delivered the final pieces, they were not that amazing anymore. Something just didn’t click, they were good, but they were not great enough for that record. We always want to give it the very best. In the meantime, I came across paintings from Nicholas Amaury who also did the God = Dog EP and a few other things that we want to release next year.
When I came across his art on the Internet, I was hooked right away, I was blown away, I fell in love with it, it was amazing, it was fucking amazing. He was so cool because he’s not a very well-known guy. He’s a young guy, maybe 35–40 I would guess. He’s not familiar with the Heavy Metal genre at all and no big band has used him before. He was like, "Yes, sure go ahead, use it." He was super easy to work with and I must point that out we are eternally grateful because when I look at that stuff, holy shit it’s too much goodness in one place.
Then when I look at this cover I’m like, "Okay, this is something very deep, something very immense, something very multidimensional." I just picked it up and he was, "Yes, sure, awesome." He even asked, "But is it dark enough for your music?" I’m like, "Man this is magnificent, and I can’t think of anything that portrays our music better than your work." To me, it’s like synergy. The interesting part is that The Satanist was commissioned to be cover art for that album, but this already existed, which doesn’t take away any value.
It’s like To Mega Therion by Celtic Frost; Giger’s painting also already existed but hey, it’s just a perfect match. I have my interpretation of the cover art, but I don’t want to spoil peoples’ fun.
Talking too much about that. Just go through it, read the lyrics, listen to the music, you don’t really need me to self-analyze myself to make up your mind and to just create your own vision of what it is really, but what I’m 100% sure of is the very coherent vision. It works perfectly together.
WHEN PEOPLE GET UPSET ENOUGH CENSORSHIP STRIKES
Luxi: Over the years, Behemoth has been between the teeth of censorship due to your blasphemous image, lyrics, videos, and stuff.
Nergal: Yes. What can I do?
Luxi: Do you think the censorship of art is a disgrace?
Nergal: Hmm ... yes and no.
Luxi: I mean, if you lose your artistic freedom due to prevailing censorship and shit, do you feel like some of your freedom of speech, or freedom of being an artist and expressing yourself is taken away no matter if your country’s constitutional law says you are entitled to express yourself the way you want, as an individual artist and human being?
Nergal: I do understand what you are trying to say, but there are different levels of fragility and sensitivity. Then again, I can’t really talk on behalf of other people, you know what I mean? It’s about their emotions, so they have to deal with them personally. I’m an artist and I’m here to commit my art—and that’s it. I take no control over what’s happening next. Every now and then it happens that I’m stricken by some censorship attempts. What can I do? It is what it is. Mainly in Poland, but that basically defines where our country is mentally. We’re very backwards nowadays, which is sad because it’s a great country and we have great potential. We’ve been led by idiots for a few years now. We just follow like blind sheep and that’s it. But hey, fuck it.
Anyway, it’s disgraceful, but also, I have to point out that maybe there’s no better fuel for artists than to confront the restrictions, to confront the censorship because that forces new ways of expression as artists will always find their ways to express themselves because it’s in their system. For example, Frederick Nietzsche said that the finest power comes from the restriction. When you confront restrictions and limitations, that’s the force, that’s power at its best. Try to stop a river, go into the water and try to stop the river. You’d be a fool to do that because the river will always find its way to overcome.
Luxi: Are there some religious organizations that are constantly trying to put you or Behemoth down, boycotting your concerts or getting names for petitions that are meant to prevent you from entering their countries?
Nergal: Yes, those are biggest problems we face in Poland, but most cases we managed to play, and Russia was the most disturbing I must say. It was also dangerous because it was not only religious, but it got political back then. I don’t know if you aware of the fact that we were even in jail there. We were put behind bars four or five years ago.
Luxi: Yes, I remember reading about it.
Nergal: It was no fun. It felt weird to be jailed for no good reason. You may think of Russia as being a relatively civilized country, but then you get there, and you forget that they have their own regime. They have their own rules. Russia is a state of mind and well, [*laughs*] I’m in Finland and I am pretty sure you know something about that.
I don’t want to disdain the Russians and I don’t want to undervalue Russians. Honestly, quite the opposite because there’s a special place in my heart for these people and they’re amazing people. We’re just not very compatible with their politics and the way they run their country, but it’s none of my business.
All I crave for is to go back to Russia and do a proper big production tour, so we can celebrate music together. They are awesome people; very honest, good people. I love them. We have a massive following in Russia, and I would hate to miss that.
Luxi: I know that Austria’s Belphegor has had lots of trouble with some deeply religious organizations, pretty much for the same reasons that you have. They just take their artistic vision to extremes and get a lot of shit for that. Talk about some artistic freedom on here...
Nergal: They’re friends of mine. Helmuth is a good friend of mine. As for this censorship thing, it is what it is. That says a lot about times we live in and we have to learn how to deal with that. That’s it.
Luxi: That’s true, and there’s not much we can do about it. Now, to talk about a little bit lighter topic, you will also do a headlining tour in North America in October/November this year, having At the Gates and Wolves in the Throne Room supporting you. Then in January it’s Europe’s turn with the same bill. Undoubtedly you are already excited to bring this caravan on the road, aren’t you?
Nergal: Absolutely! Not that we haven’t been on the road, we’ve been on the road pretty much constantly for the past several years, but it doesn’t take away any excitement and it’s going to be like a new constellation. New oil boom, new production, and great company. That’s just going to spark new passion and new adrenaline for sure. I just can’t wait to fucking do it.
Luxi: How much of this new album’s material will you be playing? Half?
Nergal: Not half, half is maybe too much. When I went to see Maiden supporting The Book of Souls, even if it’s a good record, they left the new songs to the minor role in their set list.
What Maiden does, Maiden goes on tour and they support a new record and they play like most of it, and then some crossover. Then, they come back with another record, with another tour when they play crossover. I do the opposite and that’s what we did with The Satanist and that’s what we might do with this new record.
It should be a cross section; old, new, medium or whatever from all the eras and then, if the record does really well and is really well received like The Satanist was, we can maybe do "I Tortured You at Your Darkest," maybe in two years down the road when the record does really well and people would want to see us performing live, almost like a theater play, you know. This new album, combined with The Satanist, it might do really well as well, so, let’s just wait and see.
BEHEMOTH BEING INFLUENCED BY THE FINNISH UNDERGROUND METAL SCENE
Luxi: I had one more question, but I think I slipped it away, plus my time is running out, so...
Nergal: Maybe you wanted to ask me how much the Finnish underground Metal scene has had an influence on Behemoth? It did quite a lot, I must say. Like early ‘90s Beherit was one of my favorite bands and still is, honestly. I really love this band and such bands as Impaled Nazarene and Barathrum were important to me and...
Luxi: ... and Archgoat perhaps?
Nergal: Yes. Thergothon was also from here. The slowest band on the planet, I think.
Luxi: Yes, they were the first band to start this whole Funeral Doom Metal, I believe.
Nergal: Yes, so I really appreciate these early ‘90s Finnish underground Metal bands. A lot of killer stuff. Respect for that.
Luxi: Nice. Now that’s a perfect ending for this interview.
Nergal: Cheers. Right on, buddy.
Luxi: Thank you Nergal for your time. It was pleasure.
Nergal: Thanks to yourself for coming over and talking to me.
|Other information about Behemoth on this site|
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|Review: Zos Kia Cultus (Here and Beyond)|
|Review: Crush.Fukk.Create - Requiem for Generation Armageddon|
|Review: The Apostasy|
|Review: The Satanist|
|Interview with Nergal (Guitar/vocals) on March 5, 2003 (Interviewed by Barbara Williams (Crowley))|
|Video: Ov Fire and the Void|
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