Behemoth – A History of Controlled Chaos


Now that the dust has began to settle with the release of the oddly titled “I loved you at your Darkest”, it is an opportunity to explore the history of Behemoth which starts back in 1991. It really is only in the past 5-8 years that Behemoth have come into the wider metal arena, headlining the likes of the London Forum together with high slots on all the major festivals throughout Europe.  This has been achieved through hard work, perseverance and maintaining their vision – which no one can argue isn’t larger than life.

Formed in Gdansk, Poland in 1991 Behemoth quickly released three demos. The fourth Demo “From the Pagan Vastlands” in 1994 brought the band to the attention of a Polish tape label which helped to grow their profile.

Their debut album was “Sventevith” which is, through and through, a black metal release and one you would not recognise as the band we have before us today. The band still retains some of this darkness today. This record along with the EP “And the Forests Dream Eternally” are harsh cold records and a fantastic document of the time. Main man Nergal performed all the instruments on these releases apart from drums, although on one of those tracks he stepped into that role too.

Grom” was a step forward with a line-up consisting of drummer “Baal Ravenlock” and bassist  ”Les”, whilst retaining essentially a black metal sound, the record has a more decipherable production than some of its counterparts at the time. A new level of musicianship had emerged, with different textures being introduced such as acoustic guitars, female vocals, clean singing and keyboards. At the time this would have been progressive and new, twenty plus years on it sounds ham-fisted in places but retains its charm. It was around this time that the band got their first chance to play around Europe and start to make a name for themselves.

The work rate of the band is quite astounding for the time period we are looking at. Between 1991 – 2000 they released four demos, 4 LPs and two EPs, there hadn’t been that sort of output by bands since the early 80s.

The next album “Pandemonic Incantations” in 1998 did not achieve the status which was expected due to poor promotion. If you remember the state of metal in general at this time, it was poor, and you really had to dig to find the good stuff, the larger bands were struggling never-mind bands at Behemoth’s level. The internet was still in its infancy, tapes were heavily in use and commercially priced CDs were still a few years in the future. The band did develop a name during this period with extensive touring and signed a new deal with AvantGarde Music. This was in time to release their next album “Satanica” which seen them stray away from the pure black metal sound and bring in more death metal influences which is a mainstay to this day.

For a band that had been, up to 2000, fairly unknown they have had their fair share of rough deals; with labels releasing their stuff unofficially, most notably the box set “Historica”, there is not much documented about how this came about, what the band could have done or indeed did do.

2000 seen the release of “Thelema 6” which is where the modern Behemoth really comes to life. This album is still a go to record after eighteen years. It is vicious and the musicianship is outstanding. Yet, in the middle of this whirlwind, the songs are memorable and still stand up against any modern death metal. At this point this is when the band started to gain serious traction and they were out playing live more, the time between records became longer. During this period they were out in the states with the likes of Cannibal Corpse and Slayer, as well as taking the European Festival circuit by storm.

It was around this time that tragedy struck and Nergal was diagnosed with Leukaemia, which took the fans by surprise, and saw a period of inactivity whilst he recovered. Once back to full health “The Satanist” was unleashed which brought the band to bigger audiences and they were accepted in more mainstream live environments.

Nergal has courted controversy, ripping up a bible in his home country, which saw him on trial; the band experienced visa issues whilst touring in Russia. A book released by Nergal “Confessions of a Heretic” gives a reasonably deep insight into the individual, a real character, deep thinking and uncompromising. However, it does spoil the illusion of the ultra evil ghoul! A must read for the Behemoth fan.

This moves nicely to the recent release of “I Loved You at Your Darkest”, which appeared from nowhere. No real fanfare of work ongoing, quietly does it. It was an unknown quantity as to what this might be like, would they take the foot off the gas and widen the sound to an unrecognisable more acceptable form of extreme which would fill the next level of halls?

I had not seen the cover and went to my local record shop to pick it up, which had the owner scrambling in boxes looking for it. There it was on the wall, I had looked past it, as it has no logo. It’s one of those sleeves that has detail, but only on careful inspection. The package is sublime, a heavy card sleeve and beautifully crafted booklet with religious themed paintings. This is the new level that they are aspiring to.  Any fears were soon put to bed from the opening of “Solve” straight into the controlled chaos of “Wolves of Siberia”, it is extreme and precise and no notes go to waste.

There are so many textures in this record from Gregorian Chants, good old fashioned classic metal riffs, clean guitars which build on the atmosphere giving it an almost Gothic tinge. Where these kinds of bands lose their old audience is when the vocals change too much, Nergal appears to have upped the extremity in his vocals, which is an unusual move for bands at this stage of the game.

We will hear the cries of discontent from the “I only like the demos” crowd; however, if this plays out right, we will see Behemoth higher up the bills at the next couple of year’s major festivals and it sets the stage for the fanbase to grow even further. A welcomed return and it is marvellous to see the older guys still ready to go to battle with the youngsters.

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About Dave McCallum

Old enough to know better. I have been a metalhead for a long time, I am a lifelong collector of vinyl and cds, the more the better.