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Shout With the Devil: Behemoth’s Stellar The Satanist

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I’m not sure why I would even have to clarify this, but I can’t write about Behemoth without thinking of the New York Yankees. They spent $471 million this offseason to distract people from the fact that they missed the playoffs for only the second time in almost two decades. And maybe this is just a grouchy Boston fan’s take on it, but I don’t think it will change anything. The players the Yankees signed all throw up huge red flags: Jacoby Ellsbury’s body is due to start breaking down and could possibly spend most of his lucrative contract on the DL; Brian McCann is already in his 30s and is coming off a mediocre year following shoulder surgery; and though Masahiro Tanaka has had a phenomenal career thus far, he’s yet to play a single game in America. Add to that the absence of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, a declining Derek Jeter, a shaky starting rotation, that chode everyone hates, and the fact that their starting 9 will often consist of guys on the verge of an AARP membership, and a lot of things would have to go perfectly for the team to do well. Add to the fact that many of them are injury-prone in addition to the Yankees’ pathetic farm system and they’re a light breeze away from becoming a schadenfreude festival.

The comparison everyone keeps making, though, is the 2009 Yankees. They spent around the same amount of money and wound up winning it all that year. But back then, I remember thinking (even when cursing them under my breath for nabbing both Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia that winter) that if everything gelled for them, they’d be unstoppable. And after a while, they were. I’ve thought the same thing — and again, not even sure why I would have to clarify this —about Behemoth. I’ve always liked them quite a bit, but never loved them. They have all the pieces of a transcendent metal band, but something was always missing. Their early black metal stuff lacked oomph, the gargantuan blackened death metal of their last few records didn’t have the kind of emotional heft to put it over the top (though, man, Demigod is fucking heavy). If and when everything aligned for Behemoth, they could be one of the best metal bands going. And The Satanist, their latest, is where everything amalgamates into something that feeds off the best parts of what they do. They’re unstoppable.

It’s hard to argue that The Satanist isn’t darker and weirder than what Behemoth have been doing as of late. This may come at the expense of an easily accessible anthem like “Daimonos” or “Demigod,” but instead of isolated moments of pagan triumph, Behemoth employ everything they know to keep you on board. This isn’t to say that it it’s a record with bridge-song filler; every damn track is huge, emotional, and fierce. The Satanist’s first half has plenty of blackened blastfests, culminating with “Amen,” a song that gives Hellfire-era 1349 a run for their money. But “Messe Noire” wraps up with an evocative solo that manages not to sound out of place after the fractured-but-burly black metal that comes before it. The same goes with “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer,” building up an airplane hangar of chunky riffs to a section augmented by brass. But the kind of stuff Behemoth are doing between anomalies is markedly different as well. Dissonance has as equal a place as crowd-riling heaviness. The main objective seems to be creating a mood, and the band succeed at that far more ably than previously thought possible. The Satanist isn’t a fun record; Behemoth aren’t straddling the line between ferocity and kitsch here. But the Wagnerian power they’ve spent the latter half of their career summoning has broken something open, and what they’ve found inside has made them incredibly robust.

The Satanist’s second half is where the band begin to drift. But being Behemoth, they don’t become unfocused. The hobbled march of the title track and “Ben Sahar” are difficult, but still immediately gratifying. It’s “In the Absence ov Light” where the band really start to fuck with its audience: it starts off owing as much to blackened grind as “Amen,” then after about a minute, drops out for an acoustic section featuring rambling in Polish and a distant sax solo (which admittedly isn’t all that uncommon anymore). When the band comes roaring back in, it’s only for a brief period until the song’s comparatively leaden outro takes over. The nakedly anthemic “O Father O Satan O Sun!” sounds simultaneously vulnerable and violent, ending with righteous anti-Christian preaching over a sullen doom trudge.

Then that’s it. The Satanist feels remarkably complete in that regard: it doesn’t leave you wanting, but it doesn’t wear out its welcome, either. It’s plenty heavy and brutal, but not easy. Then again, something easy and relatively palatable wouldn’t have sounded right coming out of the band’s recent history. And you’ll surely be hearing about that (which is a shame, as the entire band is in top fucking form, especially 8-armed drummer Inferno), but in a vacuum, The Satanist is something remarkable. For a band that’s gone through so many stylistic shifts over their existence, we could just be getting to the real Behemoth now. All it took was the planets aligning, the moon passing in front of the sun at the right time, and Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez hitting their stride in unison.

Behemoth’s The Satanist comes out February 4 on Metal Blade. You can both stream two songs from the album and pre-order it here.

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