Behemoth

I Loved You At Your Darkest

Written by: AP on 24/01/2019 19:13:07

Even for a band of Behemoth’s ambition and ability, surpassing or even just equalling the masterful composition of 2014’s “The Satanist” was always going to be a daunting prospect. The blackened death metal titans of Poland thus spent the better part of two years perfecting the concept and writing the music for an opus which, according to their frontman Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski, was to be a quite different undertaking compared to its predecessor. But while that certainly rings true when listening to the album, one thing it is not is less blasphemic, as evidenced both by the title (which paraphrases the famous verse from the Epistle to the Romans: ”But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us”) and the naming of the individual songs, some of which will unquestionably earn the ire of devout followers of the Christian faith. Behemoth and controversy are indeed inseparable, yet sticking it to the Catholic church has never been their defining characteristic — rather, it is the uncompromising ambition and visionary artistry of Nergal and his two cohorts, bassist Zbigniew ‘Inferno’ Promiński and drummer Tomasz ‘Orion’ Wróblewski, that has long since immortalised Behemoth in the annals of music history.

“I Loved You at Your Darkest” is possibly the most ambitious work by Behemoth yet, harnessing the prowess of no less than 22 session musicians to bring to life the orchestral arrangements envisioned by composer Jan Stokłosa as a spectacular backdrop for its 12 songs. The three band members are bolstered by a symphony of classical instruments including clarinet, flute, oboe and piccolo; cello, viola and double bass; trombones and trumpets; and a Hammond organ, in their pursuit of realising not so much a metal album as a Satanic grand opera. The record opens in macabre style with “Solve”, which makes use of a children’s choir professing their refusal to forgive neither God nor Jesus Christ, before the frigid “Wolves ov Siberia” spills out of the gates riding a formidable tide of blastbeats. The first half of the song delivers one of the most tempestuous passages on the entire album — yet it is when the storm settles halfway through that it earns the honour of a standout track. The drums begin to pound ritualistically, as strident bar chords give way to messianic chants and fiendish shrieks by Nergal, building tension until the horn section comes crashing down to unveil a dramatic crescendo for the ending. It is a perfect example of the finesse with which Behemoth mesh together the intensity of extreme metal and the grandeur of a symphonic orchestra to conjure an atmosphere so zealously diabolic it verges on evangelism, albeit of the pitch black sort. In its wake, “God = Dog” continues the satanic onslaught unabated, coughing up one of Nergal’s most demented growling performances to date amidst flattening blastbeats and a riff so unholy it would set his guitar on fire if he played it near a church. As the song winds to a conclusion, it artfully reprises the sacrilegious chants of the opening track as echoes to Nergal’s growling, and to make it all even more vulgar, Nergal whips out an almost sardonic ’70s-style guitar solo, as if to parade his triumph over the faithful.

The strong opening segment to the album extends into the following “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica” as well, the bombast and chest-puffing antipathy of which recalls the masterful “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” off “The Satanist” in composition, lyricism and sound. And though it lacks the spellbinding lead melody of that song, “Ecclesia…” nonetheless captures the spirit of Behemoth in all its glorious extremity, not to mention it harks back to the raw evil of the band’s first milestone offering, 1999’s “Satanica”. It is the only song on the album to arouse that kind of nostalgia mind you, and the same fans who regard it as the consummate highlight here are likely to renounce the subsequent “Bartzabel” in the same breath. Slow and solemn, it mimics the Gregorian plainchant, its mantric, monophonic repetition of “Come unto me, Bartzabel…” simultaneously bestowing it with a trancelike quality and rendering it one of the catchiest and most accessible songs in Behemoth’s discography thus far, for better or worse. The pop sensibilities of “Bartzabel” exist in subtler forms elsewhere too, such as Nergal’s euphoric roars of “Love me orgasmically! Fuck me ecstatically!” in “Sabbath Mater”, which seems destined for success in the live setting, and the deployment of an acoustic guitar in “Havohej Pantocrator” to lend even more depth to its epic, Amon Amarth-esque melody. With respect to Behemoth’s signature style, this excellent progressive piece might even be considered a kind of ballad, underlining just how tightly woven into “ILYAYD”’s fabric the band’s desire to keep pushing the envelope and challenging their fans really is. There is even an arpeggiated banjo melody reminiscent of Taake’s “Myr” hidden in the grand finale of “We Are the Next 1000 Years”.

The symphonic flourishes — as commanding as their presence is — are thus not the only reason the “ILYAYD” feels so quixotic. But while those who swear by the older sound of Behemoth will not respond as kindly to the eclectic character of most of these songs, it will also pain them to realise how ordinary the more traditional songs à la “If Crucifixion Was Not Enough”, “Angelvs XIII” and “Rom 5:8” sound. In spite of being among the most extreme tracks on offer here, they suffer from flat dynamics and create an impression of Behemoth having engaged the autopilot in order to flesh out what would otherwise be a very short album. I’d wager that you are unlikely to witness any of them becoming staples of the trio’s live setlists in the future, while regrettably, their patching role on “ILYAYD” reduces the overall impact of the album somewhat. Regardless, the sheer ambition and compositional skill underlying nonetheless renders it a strong addition to Behemoth’s repertoire and once again cements the Poles as some of the most accomplished musicians of their generation.

8

Download: Wolves ov Siberia, God = Dog, Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica, Sabbath Mater, Havohej Pantocrator
For the fans of: Belphegor, God Dethroned, Hate, Rotting Christ
Listen: Facebook

Release date 05.10.2018
Metal Blade Records

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