(DGR has some thoughts to share about the new 12th album from Poland’s Behemoth, which will be released on September 16th by Nuclear Blast.)
It has been a long-standing tradition of Joe Baressi that whenever he works on a metal album, he is credited as ‘Evil Joe Baressi’. That’s pretty funny, considering that often Joe’s name is brought up more in line with groups like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age, Volbeat, and a bunch of other humongous rock acts over the years. Thus, you get ‘Evil Joe Baressi’ whenever he and his team work on a metal album.
It is certainly an unusual name to see attached to one of the bigger purveyors of Satan-as-spectacle out there — Behemoth. There’s been a little hay made in the press over the name drop, although it’s not like the band strayed well outside their comfort zone, since they’ve involved longtime collaborator Daniel Bergstrand as well. However, this may also be one of the more interesting new things happening with Behemoth‘s latest release Opvs Contra Natvram, because otherwise this is “as expected” a Behemoth album as you could possibly expect.
It hits all the check marks for Behemoth to be recognized as absolutely nobody else, and when it wraps up after almost forty-five minutes you can rest assured that you’ll not have been mistaken and accidentally picked a different group. You’ll have spent forty-five minutes with the modern version of Behemoth as they continue to rush down the trail carved by The Satanist prior to it with all of the events suggested therein.
Bands tend to move in threes when it comes to releases where they discover or experiment with a different sound and Opvs Contra Natvram is no different in that regard. Once found, there is usually an album following that attempts to either refine or expand upon that idea – usually when the group completely buys in on that style – and then the third album neatly ties things off by hybridizing the first two together or falling more in line with the first one.
No matter what, we always wind up back with the same narrative diamond, which is why you can’t help but notice throughout Opvs Contra Natvram just how much it shares in similarity with its two immediate siblings and just how many times the shadow of The Satanist and I Loved You At Your Darkest hovers just outside the field of view in Behemoth‘s latest testament to the dark.
Equally interesting though, is that at times during the new album you’ll hear echoes of even earlier installments within the group’s discography, as if Behemoth occasionally felt they had to restate what got them to this point in the first place. It results in a release that ties together two previous albums but also dives into a career retrospective. It can’t be understated just how much Behemoth dive into the playbook on this album.
Although Opvs Contra Natvram promises ten songs, in actuality you get nine tracks and three minutes of scene-setting right up front. “Post-God Euphoria” is the chance for Behemoth frontman Nergal once again to assume his identity as the mad orator, about to unleash another screed upon the world. The whole affair is a lot of rumbling drums, swirling soundscapes, and madness ranting, and likely why the following blastfest – since Behemoth take the opportunity early to remind people they are a heavy band – “Malaria Vvlgata” barely eeks past the two-minute mark.
“The Deathless Sun” is where Behemoth find their particular groove early for Opvs Contra Natvram and it is the sort of song wherein you’ll get your taste of modern-day Behemoth trademarks and all. Over the years the group have augmented their sound with quieter backing choirs doing a lot of the melodic work, so the band up front can focus on brutalizing, but also with a wall of symphony horns sounding off each time in order to send the listener into battle. Heavy moments throughout are often punctuated by both.
It’s only a natural evolution then that we move from songs like “Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel” to “Off To War!”, as more so than ever on Opvs Contra Natvram do Behemoth draw heavily from end-of-days rhetoric for inspiration, so too does the music follow.
Much like Opvs‘ predecessor I Loved You At Your Darkest, Behemoth also once again put in a lot of work to keep things varied. There’s plenty of honing and refining of their sound this time, but they just can’t seem to let go of a mosh-worthy punk-riff and drum-combo, which may be why “Off to War!” cycles back around to it. Elsewhere the band deal in shades of both the heaviest they’ve been in some time – like the opening drum storm that is “Neo-Spartacvs” – and also the most melodic – like the two-step-driven bass riff in…”Neo-Spartacvs”.
There are particular songs throughout the album that even feel like attempted sequels to songs on albums before. If not that, then Behemoth are more than happy to attempt to reconstruct the musical atmosphere of those songs. The pairing of “Thy Becoming Eternal” and closing track “Versvs Christvs” both seek to achieve the same highs as the ending of The Satanist did with “O Father, O Satan, O Sun!” and both succeed to varying degrees.
Behemoth have certainly settled into a mode where they have to close the album with a climactic closing number, so when the final two songs of the release are where things tie together into their heaviest, most intense, and even most familiar, it makes sense. They throw everything they have at you in those two songs and “Versvs Christvs” especially has its eyes on being the most ‘cinematic’ feeling of the songs present on this album, with all of its various brief breaks for ambience, a choir singing the melody in the background, and its earth-moving riffwork up front.
Where do we stand on Opvs Contra Natvram overall then? The overall take is a fairly simple one. This is a Behemoth album in the same vein as the last two releases have been for them. It is less bloated than its immediate predecessor but mostly works to tie the two together since, as mentioned before, the narrative diamond always ties itself off at the end. So too then does Opvs Contra Natvram.
The longer explanation boils down to this: Behemoth are a big name and have become a heavy metal cultural force, and on this release they are well within their comfort zone terrorizing listeners. Every song is an exhortation of all things dark and Satanic and Nergal does well in his role as the mad orator leading an equally mad congregation. This is also Behemoth‘s 12th album, in a year where it seems like a lot of big names are releasing twelfth albums that lay well within the groups’ comfort zones.
They cover equal ground across their discography on Opvs Contra Natvram but mostly hew to the formula drawn out by the prior two releases. The earlier works get their dues with a song like “Disinheritance” but otherwise Opvs Contra Natvram is going to appeal to those who have really gripped onto the band with The Satanist and I Loved You At Your Darkest. If you’ve really enjoyed those two then the newest addition to the triptych is going to make you more than happy. Otherwise, you have a pretty solid release here and it’ll be an interesting exercise seeing who sinks their teeth into which song.