(Andy Synn provides these early and unfiltered impressions of the new album from Behemoth, which will be released by Nuclear Blast on October 5th.)
Over the years I’ve discovered that the term “too big to fail” is one that doesn’t just apply to the banking industry, it can also refer to certain bands who, for various reasons, have reached a certain level of fame and success which makes them essentially “immune” to criticism – no matter what they do, enough of their fans will buy whatever they put out, shout down any disapproving comments, and make excuses for their actions, to guarantee they stay on top.
This isn’t helped by the fact that certain publications, both physical and digital, tend to reserve their big scores for the big names, and lavish the most coverage on the bands with the most exposure.
Essentially, once you’ve reached this level, your success becomes something of a self-perpetuating cycle (as long as you don’t %$&! it up).
Now, like it or not, I’m sure very few people would disagree that Behemoth have long-since passed this point (most likely with the massive success of Evangelion, though I’m sure there are those who would argue that this happened even earlier), and that the release of the career-defining The Satanist simply helped cement their status as one of the Metal scene’s biggest names.
The main question which needs answering now, therefore, is… does their latest effort actually deserve to be praised entirely on its own merits, or is it likely to be one of those albums celebrated more for who it is, rather than what it actually sounds like?
Now this review is going to be a little bit different from some of the ones you’ll have seen me write before now, as I wanted to try and maintain a little bit more spontaneity, and to focus on my early impressions, this time around, instead of over-analysing and second guessing myself.
As a result, this write-up is more about going with my gut-instinct, and giving you my unedited, unfiltered responses, to the album, as a way of trying something new and breaking out of my usual patterns.
Will it work? Well, we’re about to find out…
First and foremost I can definitely say that this is a good album. No question about it.
I Loved You… picks up pretty much right where The Satanist left off (both for better and for worse) and, although I think it falls short of that album’s widely-accepted (if more than a little divisive) greatness, it still finds Nergal and co. trying on some new ideas for size and refusing to rest on their laurels, as well as showcasing a looser (as in less stylistically constrained) and more free-flowing approach to song writing.
There’s a smidgen more Black Metal flavour to several of the tracks, with a greater emphasis on writhing chord patterns and sizzling tremolo runs, as well as a continued emphasis on beefing up the bass and drum presence by giving both Orion and Inferno more room to be creative and do more than just follow the guitars or blast away as fast as possible.
There’s also, as Nergal himself has admitted several times, a much more “rock and roll” feel to the album as a whole, and I think this is what’s allowed the band to embrace the freedom to loosen up a little, and there are umpteen occasions where you can tell the group are just having an absolute blast (no pun intended) writing and recording the music that they want to make, rather than simply sticking to a tried-and-true formula.
Of course this is still very much a Behemoth album – the vocals, the guitar and drum tones, and the knowingly blasphemous, ever so slightly irreverent, lyrics all attest to that – but the intricate interplay between bass and drums, and the plethora of ripping solos, all sound less like the product of a band boxed in by their success, and more like a band who are still finding new ways to enjoy what they do.
It’s not a perfect album by any means, of course.
For one thing, a couple of tracks do hew a little too close to the sound established on The Satanist, and feel a little like leftovers from those album sessions.
And, perhaps more strikingly, I Loved You… also feels weirdly long… particularly when compared to the lean, mean, metallic machine that was its predecessor. And yet it’s actually only two minutes longer!
Part of that may be due to the fact that it’s made up of twelve tracks (two of which, the intro and outro, don’t really add much to the overall package), rather than nine, but it also feels a little over-stuffed with ideas, with certain songs trying to pack in a little too much instead of allowing themselves room to breathe.
There’s also a few odd stylistic and structural choices which I find a little hard to fathom, but we’ll get to those in the track-by-track breakdown below…
Ok, let’s be honest, the chanting child voices are extremely cheesy (but, thankfully, only make one other appearance on the album, in case you were concerned), but on the whole “Solve” is a solid intro, which, though not the most vital opener I’ve ever heard, still does a good job of setting the scene.
- Wolves ov Siberia
As the first “real” song on the album, “Wolves of Siberia” does a more than adequate job of reintroducing the core Behemoth sound and, even though it feels a little bit like a track from The Satanist session which didn’t quite make the cut the first time around, it shouldn’t fail to please the band’s loyal fans.
- God = Dog
Dumb title aside, “God = Dog” is another good, if not spectacular, example of the band’s signature sound. And although, much like its predecessor, it sometimes feels a little too closely aligned with the sonic style of The Satanist, it does find the band making a few gestures towards progression, with the choral clean vocals in particular being a nice addition that probably should have been explored and exploited even more.
That being said, the use of the children’s choir during the mid-section proves to be more distracting than it is daring, and feels more like an idea that was better in conception than execution.
- Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica
This is the song where the album really picks up and begins to find its own identity, that looser, more rock ‘n’ roll feel Nergal talked about in early interviews finally manifesting itself without lessening the impact or overall heaviness of the band’s sound. The hooks are bigger, the rhythms are more bombastic (Inferno in particular seems to playing with a looser, more limber style), and the unexpectedly shreddy solo and moody, acoustic outro both add an extra dramatic flair to the track that works wonders when combined with their traditional blasting, chugging attack.
Track five is another killer cut, and I’m actually surprised this wasn’t chosen as a single (or pre-release track)… though I suppose there’s still time between now and the release date for that to happen!
Moodier, doomier, and more overtly melodic than I can ever really remember the band being (“Lucifer”, the epic closer to Evangelion might be the closest comparison), the mix of sombre, seductive clean vocals, punchy percussion, and gorgeously gloomy atmosphere might actually make this my favourite song on the album.
- If Crucifixion Was Not Enough…
Continuing this run of quality tracks, “If Crucifixion…” is another fluid, rhythmically-driven number which gives both Orion and Inferno a chance to shine as the song’s prime movers, with the guitars used more to add texture (and occasional stabs of extra heaviness) along the way.
Again, it’s far from what you’d call a “typical” Behemoth song, but is still recognisably “them”, and definitely serves to broaden the band’s music horizons a little more.
- Angelvs XIII
A blast-tastic bombardment of strafing snare hits, churning chugs, and swirling tremolo runs, “Angelus XIII” feels like a darker, doomier, and more atmospheric take on the band’s Demigod/The Apostasy era material at first, but the more extravagant and (dare I say it?) proggy second half showcases an impressive ability to fuse their newfound creative ambitions with a more classic, and abrasive, heaviness.
- Sabbath Mater
“Sabbath Mater” is undeniably an ambitious attempt to take the sound established on The Satanist and to push it in a new direction, and for that at the very least it should be praised.
Unfortunately, it suffers a little bit not from a lack of new ideas, but a surfeit of them, which often seems to pull it in a few too many different directions in quick succession, making it a little less than the actual sum of its parts. There’s still some very cool moments here and there, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t necessarily coalesce all that well into a coherent song.
- Havohej Pantocrator
Much like “Sabbath Mater”, the key issue with “Havohej Pantrocrator” is that it frequently sounds like the band are trying to do too much in one go, such that their ambition often outstrips their execution. The extra length allotted to the track however at least gives them some additional room to explore some of these ideas, even if not every aspect of the track is a home-run.
I could definitely see this one being a grower over time, but my early impressions are that, although the band have thrown a lot at the wall here, not that much of it is actually likely to stick.
- Rom 5:8
The second half of the album is rescued from its slow decline by the appearance of “Rom 5:8”, which has both an energy and an urgency that both its predecessors lacked.
It’s another bass and drum driven number, one that mixes ominous, oppressive grooves with some powerful percussive pummelling, as well as an impressively varied and visceral vocal performance from Nergal, which is both instantly catchy and pleasantly unpredictable, and a great example of just how good the material on I Loved You… can be when all the stars are aligned and the band are firing on all cylinders.
- We Are the Next 1000 Years
This one has all the hallmarks of being a great track… the delivery is intense, the interplay between guitars, bass, and drums, is intricate and intoxicating… yet it isn’t given the space or time to truly develop. Heck, it’s only just over three and a half minutes long, but the outro starts at about the 01:40 mark!
Despite its early promise it feels like there’s a chunk of the song missing somewhere in the middle, something which would make the build-up into – and out of – the extended outro even more impactful.
While I understand the symmetry of beginning the album with “Solve” and ending it with “Coagvla”, it has to be said that this is a slightly underwhelming ending to the record – particularly coming hot on the heels of brilliants closers like “Lucifer” and “O Father O Satan O Sun”.
One thing I did find interesting about it, however, is that – with its abrupt beginning and relatively pacey feel – “Coagvla” could almost be the missing segment of “…1000 Years” I mentioned up above, and I’m still scratching my head a little as to why the band chose to write these tracks the way they did, and put them where they are.
So, when all is said and done, is the band’s latest effort a success or a failure?
Mostly the former, thankfully, even though it only occasionally reaches the same impressive heights as its predecessor, and finds the group making some odd writing/sequencing decisions which don’t always work in their favour.
Of course, the very fact that Nergal and co. are “a big deal” in the Metal scene these days practically guarantees that you’re going to see a bunch of 9/10s and 10/10s thrown at this record simply because of the name on the cover (and I’d be willing to bet that at least one blog or ‘zine will have called it “a masterpiece” in the time between me writing these words and having them published).
My impression though, delivered with no agenda except to illuminate and inform, is that I Loved You At Your Darkest will, ultimately, be held up more as a transitional album for the band, rather than as one of their truly defining moments.
However that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad album by any means – in fact that run from “Ecclesia…” through to “Angelvs XIII” is incredibly strong indeed – and I doubt any of their serious fans will be majorly disappointed when they finally get their hands on it in a few weeks.