In 1991 in Poland, Behemoth was formed. Capitalizing on the momentum and popularity of Venom and learning from the mistakes of Mayhem, Behemoth became the logical extension of Venom’s musical trend – more expressive, more visceral, darker and dirtier. Behemoth also became the answer to an intellectual question about metal – how far down this path can we go? How scary and vulgar can metal be and still attract an audience? For years, Nergal and his compatriots answered that call and laid claim to the throne of extreme metal in Europe.
As we consider Behemoth’s new record “The Satanist,” the band’s history is an important reminder of just how far metal has tread that path since 1991. Innumerable acts have walked down that same road, and the figurative envelope has been pushed far into the horizon. While Behemoth is a critical piece of that history they, and by extension “The Satanist,” have become trapped by it.
This is not a case of “Band X was great in the past but should step aside.” “The Satanist,” for those who appreciate Behemoth, is as vital and dense and twisted as one would expect. Rather the complication is that this sound is no longer unique or taboo. The younger artists who idolize Behemoth have emulated the sound, and the genre itself has descended into a sea of sameness.
“The Satanist” is rife with those trademark Behemoth moments; the chaotic, concussive cacophonous bursts of pure, furious sound. They appear early and often, dotting the landscape of early tracks like “Furor Divinus.” It’s an academically impressive array, even if the sheer force is difficult to break down or digest. As ever with Behemoth, seekers of groove or infectious rhythm best look elsewhere. As the crushing morass grinds forward, the listener is hit with a sense of familiarity. A thousand lesser bands have written hellish marches just like “Amen” or “Messe Noire,” and that cheapens the experience of “The Satanist” significantly. Cynical listeners not enamored with Behemoth or Nergal’s pained vocals may shrug their shoulders and wonder what’s new.
Behemoth’s best chance to differentiate themselves from the choking throng of their own disciples is to hold fast to their understanding of a concept so many others miss; the balance of riff and power. Inferno, Orion and Seth (ancient Egyptian god or no, one of these things does not sound like the others,) rise to the occasion a couple of times, most notably in “Ben Sahar,” a song that rings with nasty, churning guitar and moderate pacing. More of this would have served to better “The Satanist” and show the potential of this splinter genre outside of its niche appeal.
Behemoth will continue to have relevance because we as metal fans are creatures of pride, loyalty and habit – the name on the front of the record still matters much more than we’d like to admit. Nevertheless, from an objective standpoint and with high production values aside, a neophyte of metal would have difficulty distinguishing “The Satanist” from its myriad contemporaries. That’s not Behemoth’s fault, but it’s not as excuse, either.