This extreme Polish black and death metal band has won unparalleled international acclaim.
The extreme Polish black and death metal band which has won unparalleled international acclaim
The group was created in 1991 in the city of Gdańsk, originally under the name "Baphomet". Its founders were Adam "Nergal" Darski (born on June 10th, 1977 in Gdynia), a guitar player and vocalist, and Adam "Baal Ravenlock" Muraszko, a percussionist. Throughout the first year of the band's activity, Darski used the stage name "Holocausto" while Muraszko appeared as "Sodomizer".
In 1992, after changing their name to Behemoth, the band recorded their first tape, Endless Damnation, in the basement of a Gdańsk high school. Another bass and guitar player, Adam "Desecrator" Malinowski also took part in these sessions. The following year, Nergal and Baal recorded their second demo, called The Return Of The Nothern Moon. This time, the recording was completed in a studio by Nergal and Baal, with Robert Fudała making a guest appearance on keyboards. The Return Of The Nothern Moon material was later released on cassette by the company Pagan Records. Two years later, the demo was re-released on vinyl by the German company Last Epitaph.
The breakthrough in Behemoth's early career came with their third demo ...From The Pagan Vastlands, which came out across Europe and the United States two years after its Polish premiere. By the time of the recording sessions for ...From The Pagan Vastlands, the guitarist Rafał "Frost" Bauer had also joined the group.
From the very beginning, Nergal was Behemoth's leader, composer, and the author of almost all their songs. The group's style was a blend of some of the biggest names in the black metal genre – Venom and Bathory, as well as the new wave of Norwegian black metal, with audible references to bands such as Mayhem, Emperor and Darkstone. Nergal's lyrics revolved around the theme of pre-Christian beliefs, and they drew inspiration from the historical books of Karol Bunsch. In 1997, these interests also led Nergal to enroll at the Department of History and Philosophy of Gdańsk University.
Behemoth's proper debut came in 1994, with the EP And The Forests Dream Eternally. However, this album was only released in Germany. Their Polish debut came later, with Sventevith (Storming Near The Baltic). It was once again recorded by the Nergal-Baal Ravenlock duo, with a guest appearance from Cezary "Cezar" Augustynowicz, the leader of Christ Agony.
This was the album which opened the doors to a bigger European career for Behemoth, and the band signed a contract with Solistitum Records. The subsequent Grom released by Solistitum was also the most versatile album in Behemoth's history. They had enriched their raw black metal with elements of folklore and feminine vocals. Leszek "Les" Dzięgiewski joined the squad as a new bass player. What was also unique about Grom was the fact that it featured two pieces in Polish. Curiously enough, Grom had to wait until 2003 for its first Polish edition. It was only after the release of this record that Behemoth began to give concerts (they had only performed once before), and they set out on a tour across Germany, together with Christ Agony and the Norwegian band Helheim. The tour was crowned with a gig at the Remont club in Warsaw, following which Baal Ravenlock left the squad.
Baal's place was taken by Zbigniew "Inferno" Promiński (born in 1978). The last recording with the participation of Baal was the Ostatni tabor (The Last Tabor) for the album Czarne zastępy. W hołdzie... Kat.
Pandemonic Incantation, the next album, saw yet another change in the band, with Mefisto taking the place of Les. The new record constituted another stylistic step forward. This time, Nergal and his friends gave up the folk additions, and decided to go back to rough-sounding garage black metal, which they enriched with elements of death metal. The message of the band also underwent a transformation. The lyrics made less references to pagan beliefs, and instead frequently called up the occult and Satanism. One of the most important pieces of this album was the blasphemous piece performed by Nergal in Polish, entitled Chwała mordercom Wojciecha (997-1997 dziesięć wieków hańby) (Praise to the Murderers of Wojciech (997-1997 ten centuries of disgrace).
Yet, it was the following album, Satanica (recorded with Les, who had made a return and replaced Mefisto), which opened wide the doors of an international career for the Behemoth. Released by the Avantgarde Music label, Satanica proved to be a great combination of the raw quality of black metal with the aggression of death metal. The album also featured the debut of Krzysztof Azarewicz, a poet, philosopher, translator (of Alaster Crowley's works, among others), and occultist. The message transmitted by Behemoth became completely subjugated to the occult and mythology, and Azarewicz later continued to author some of the lyrics for Behemoth.
The pace of concert performances picked up, and after the release of Satanica, Behemoth toured nearly all of Europe, playing along the side of Deicide and Satyricon, and making appearances in Poland at the Metalmania festival and the television studio of Łęg in Kraków. This last performance was later featured on a VHS cassette, Live Eschaton.
Behemoth recorded its next Thelema.6 without Les, but with the performances of guitar player Mateusz "Havok" Śmierzchalski and bass player Marcin "Novy" Nowak. Thelema.6 was a tip of the hat to extreme death metal, and one of the 'hardest' records in the band's history. The lyrics of two pieces were inspired by films – Inauguration Of Scorpio Dome drew on Lucifer Rising by Kenneth Anger, and the Vinum Sabbati based its text on Zos Kia Cultus by Austin Osman Spare. Thelema.6 was promoted with a tour across Europe, as part of the travelling X-Mass Festival. In 2001, Behemoth performed at the biggest European festival of metal music, the Wacken Open Air. For the first time, they also set off for a trip across the Old Continent on a tour of their own. That same year, they also joined the Mystic Festival and the Thrash'Em All Festival in Poland.
The minialbum Antychristian Phenomenon turned out to be somewhat of a supplement to Thelema.6. It featured previously unpublished pieces which were recorded during the Thelema.6 sessions, and also included covers of songs by Mayhem, Morbid Angel, and David Bowie. The band's covers of the two former groups were also later included on Mayhem and Morbid Angel compilation albums.
The following year, Behemoth further enlarged its discography with Zos Kia Cultus (Here And Beyond), a sort of a better continuation of Thelema.6. The tracks once again stunned listeners with their death metal energy, but at the same time, the tracks also manifested a unique frequency of tempo changes (the less than 7 minutes-long Horns Ov Baphomet piece is a great example of this). Similarly to Thelema.6, another minialbum followed, with 'debris' from Zos Kia Cultus. It was called Conjuration, and also included the covers of Nine Inch Nails and Venom, as well as live recordings.
Conjuration also marked the beginning of Behemoth's collaboration with Regain Records, one of the most important labels in the heavy metal industry. Behemoth promoted their former Zos Kia Cultus (Here And Beyond) with a tour across Europe. After the record hit the American market, they also toured the United States, where they were invited by the band Danzig to perform as part of the Blackest Of The Black festival.
Their performance at the German Party San Festival in 2003 came out on DVD, and this recording, together with a documentation of their gig at the 2001 Mystic Festival was released under the title Cruch. Fukk. Create. Requiem For Generation Armageddon. During this period Nergal made guest appearances on recordings by other Polish metal bands – Vader (Revelations), Corruption (Orgazmusica) and Sweet Noise (Revolta).
Their first 'full feature' release with the Regain Records label was Behemoth's album titled Demigod. It was recorded without Novy (who moved on to play with Vader), and without Havok (who started to perform with Blindead). They were replaced by bass player Tomasz "Orion" Wróblewski (who simultaneously played with Vesania, a former member of Neolithic), and guitar player Patryk "Seth" Sztyber, who had been assisting Behemoth in the studio. The American guitar player from Nile, Karl Sanders, also made a guest appearance on Demigod.
It turned out to be their best record yet, as the musicians had completely mastered the mood of their music, combining black and death metal. The main theme of the lyrics (written almost solely by Nergal, with only three pieces authored by Azarewicz) was man's divinity. The inspiration once again came from Crowley, with the addition of references to Egyptian and Sumerian mythologies. A minialbum Slave Shall Serve was the supplement that followed Demigod, and it included pieces which didn't make it onto the 'full-feature' album, as well as covers of Nefilim and Danzig tracks.
After the release of Demigod, Behemoth set off on the longest tour of their career, which lasted sixteen months and comprised nearly 300 concerts! During this period, the musicians travelled across the globe, performing gigs in South America and Australia, and playing in the US at the invitation of two metal giants – Glenn Danzig and King Diamond. In Poland, they performed with Frontside and Pandemonium, and also made an appearance at the Mystic Festival and Hunterfest. Demigod is the band's most popular record in the United States.
The full-length studio album that followed Demigod was the The Apostasy. With it, Behemoth broke through yet another barrier, as the record was listed 149th on the prestigious Billboard list (which compiles the best-selling albums in the US). It was the first album by a Polish rock band to have made to onto the Billboard list. The Apostasy differed from previous albums, as it brought about more spacious music, and developed arrangements – undoubtedly also thanks to the participation of the acclaimed jazz pianist, Leszek Możdżer. It featured the vocalist of Nevermore, Warrel Dane, a seven-person choir, and a section of wind instruments. The minialbum Ezkaton was a supplement to The Apostasy, with covers of the Ramones and Master's Hammer, as well as live recordings and material that wasn't included on the previous record.
The promotional concert tour went on for the next year. Once again, Behemoth travelled across nearly all of the continents, but the most spectacular occasion came with their participation in the 2007 edition of the American Ozzfest travelling festival. One of the performances at the Parisian La Loco club was recorded and later released on Behemoth's first live album, At The Arena ov Aion - Live Apostasy. But after the concert at the Ucho club in Gdańsk, during which Nergal tore up the Bible, a big scandal erupted in Poland. The president of the Polish Committee of Defense Against Sects, Mr. Ryszard Nowak, filed a report with the Prosecutor General's office on the account of a "public insult of religious feelings". The court case went on for the next three years, with Nergal finally declared innocent.
The 2009 Evangelion turned out to be an even bigger event than The Apostasy, as it hit number 55 on the Billboard list. It is the best album in the band's history, with the masterful production by Daniel Bergstrand from Sweden (previously a producer for Meshuggah, In Flames, and others). It is a unique combination of massive riffs, mad percussion rhythms, and Nergal's growling. The lyrics (once again mostly authored by Nergal), draw on the Bible, and Dionysian and Orphean myths. Among their literary inspirations are Jean-Paul Satre, Jean Genet and Marcel Proust. For the piece tited Lucifer, Nergal decided to borrow a poem by an author of the interwar period, Tadeusz Miciński, which is recited in a guest appearance by Maciej Maleńczuk. This majestic piece, which is more than eight minutes long, became the extraordinary highpoint of Evangelion. The record marked the start of Nergal's collaboration with some of the biggest companies in hard rock – the European Nuclear Blast and the American Metal Blade.
The album was promoted with more than a hundred concerts across the world, including a shared tour with Slayer and Marylin Manson, and an appearance alongside Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax at the Warsaw-based Sonisphere festival. The record also enjoyed its biggest commercial success. In Poland, with sales exceeding 15 thousand copies, it was certified gold. Behemoth also received its first Fryderyk award in the heavy metal category.
The album also garnered acclaim in other countries. The British Terrorizer magazine distinguished Behemoth in nine categories. The promotion of Evangelion was interrupted in 2010, when Nergal was diagnosed with leukemia. The musician had to undergo numerous tests, chemotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant. The period of rehabilitation lasted up until mid 2011. During this period, the discography of Behemoth expanded to include a two-volume DVD, Evangelia Heretika, which included the Paris concert from 2008 and a 2009 Warsaw performance, as well as two documentary films about the band, Evangelia Nova and De Arte Heretica, created by Fabryczna Art.
Nergal made guest appearances on many records, including those of Herhm, Damnation, Wolverine, Frontside, Czesław Śpiewa, Vulgar, and Root. From 1998, Inferno recorded with the bands Azarath and Witchmaster, while Orion was member of Black River and also sang with Vader on his live album entitled ...And Blood Was Shed In Warsaw.
- Endless Damnation (MC), 1992, demo
- The Return Of The Northern Moon (MC), 1993, Pagan Records; (LP), 1995, Last Epitaph (Germany).
- ...From The Pagan Vastlands (MC), 1993, Pagan Records; (CD), 1995, Wild Rags (USA); (CD), 1995, Nazgul's Eerie.
- And The Forests Dream Eternally (mCD), 1993, Ethopy Records
- Sventevith (Storming Near The Baltic) (CD), 1995, Pagan Records; (LP), 1996, Last Epitaph
- Grom (CD), 1996, Solistitium Records (Europe); (CD), 2005, Metal Mind Productions
- Bewitching The Pomerania (mCD), 1997, Solistitium Records (Europe)
- Pandemonic Incantations (CD), 1998, Vox Mortis / Koch International; (CD), 1998, Solistitium Records (Europe)
- Chaotica - The Essence Of The Underworld (2CD), 1999, Metal Mind Productions
- Satanica (CD), 1999, Metal Mind Productions; (CD), 1999, Avantgarde Music (world)
- Thelema.6 (CD), 2000, Mystic Production; (CD), 2000, Avantgarde Music (world); (LP), 2000, Avantgarde Music
- Live Eschaton (VHS), 2000, Metal Mind Productions; (DVD as Live Eschaton: The Act Of Rebelion), 2002, Metal Mind Productions
- Antichristian Phenomenon (mCD), 2001, Avantgarde Music.
- Zos Kia Cultus(CD), 2002, Avantagarde Music; (CD), 2003, Century Media (USA); (LP), 2003, Osmose Prodcuctions
- Historica (5CD), 2002, Metal Mind Productions; (5LP), 2002, Metal Mind Productions
- Conjuration (mCD), 2003, Regain Records (Europe).
- Demigod (CD oraz LP), 2004, Regain Records (Europe); (CD and LP), 2004, Century Media (USA)
- Cruch. Fukk. Create. Requiem For Generation Armageddon (2DVD), 2004, Regain Records (Europe)
- Slave Shall Serve (mCD), 2005, Regain Records (Europe)
- Demonica (2CD), 2006, Regain Records (Europe)
- The Apostasy (CD), 2007, Mystic Production; (CD), 2007, Regain Records (Europe); (LP), 2007, Regain Records (Europe); (CD), 2007, Century Media (USA); (CD+DVD), 2008, Regain Records (Europe)
- At The Arena ov Aion - Live Apostasy, 2008, Regain Records (Poland and Europe)
- Ezkaton (mCD), 2008, Metal Blade (USA)
- Evangelion (CD and CD+DVD), 2009, Mystic Production; (CD and CD+DVD), 2009, Nuclear Blast (Europe); (LP), 2009, Nuclear Blast (Europa); (CD and CD+DVD), 2009, Metal Blade (USA)
- Evangelia Heretika (2DVD), 2010, Mystic Production; (2DVD), 2010, Nuclear Blast (Europa); (2DVD), 2010, Metal Blade (USA)
- Abyssus Abyssum Invocat (2CD), 2011, Peaceville Records (Europe); (2CD), 2011, Metal Blade (USA).
Author: Leszek Gnoiński, August, 2011.
Translated by Paulina Schlosser, 22/05/2014