BEHEMOTH’S NERGAL IS STALKIN’ ON SUNSHINE: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
You can really tell that Nergal loves his job. During our thirty minute conversation, the Behemoth frontman’s enthusiasm bordered on breathlessness when discussing Evangelion, the band’s ninth, and best, album. He was hopeful when subtly inciting wilder behavior from Behemoth audiences and deferential when praised. It would pollute the eye to indicate more than the major outbursts of laughter, but I was chuckling throughout the discussion, if only at Nergal’s undisguised joy. Needing little prompting, he oscillated between cheerful appreciation of his band’s success and mortally serious respect for good metal and its constituents. He deflated only momentarily upon mention of his political adversaries in Poland and their abuse of his rights (Nergal 1, Assholes 0). From a distance, our chat may have resembled a pitch meeting for a Curb-esque improvedy in which Nergal by day walks a puppy around the sidewalks of Santa Monica, pinching the bottoms of giggling old ladies and high-fiving homeless guys. And by night, his band is one of the best reasons to attend the Mayhem Festival and authors of this year’s heaviest, most violent record.
Sorry, can you hang on just one second?
Thanks. [Muffled chatter] Okay, we can talk!
Did you just order a coffee?
Tried to. I just woke up like an hour ago and it’s a two-mile walk downtown to get my Starbucks. So I’m kinda bummed. [laughs]
Obviously, you had a show last night.
It was awesome, man. We played in Detroit. It was so good – way better than I expected. It was one of the biggest crowds.
They say the Midwest – Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago – are the craziest metal crowds.
You know what? I don’t think that’s a rule. Some of the best shows we’ve played were in L.A. and San Francisco, or Texas where all the crazy Mexicans are. Those guys are the craziest, to be honest. But then again, Chicago’s never a bad show. Maybe you’re right.
Do you feel like things are starting to happen for Behemoth? You guys are everywhere.
Yes! [laughs] I do feel that. I sense it. First of all, we’re perfectly aware that we’re offering the strongest Behemoth album to date. Evangelion is the most significant, defining record of our career. The second thing is that we have back-up from two of the strongest independent labels in the metal business: Metal Blade here in the U.S., and Nuclear Blast in Europe. These people are so fucking passionate and determined; they push our band so hard.
Just to give you an example: I’ve been doing interviews for four, maybe five weeks? I’ve done more than two-hundred interviews for this record, which is more than The Apostasy and Demigod put together. It’s resources. It’s distribution. And it’s interest. One thing pulling another thing. Its just… it’s happening, y’know?
And the album is more than amazing. I’m so fucking stoked. I’m so fucking happy. It looks like people – both media and fans – are [having the same response] to it. Which is the whole point! That is amazing. We are doing this Mayhem tour now, which is going nothing but great. We have touring plans for later this year and next year. You can definitely see a tendency to grow for Behemoth in the near future.
You said that there’s a lot of interest and passion at the label, and therefore a lot of support. It’s pretty hard not to be interested in Behemoth.
[laughs] I take it as a compliment. I don’t know what to say. All I can say is that we are completely committed to what we do. We’re so devoted, motivated, and passionate about Behemoth and the music we make. That’s it, y’know? And if people pick it up, that’s awesome. And if not, at least I still have an easy conscience, because I do this stuff that I myself love.
But importantly, there’s an energy around us. We’re just bursting with energy, be it on stage or in the studio or in videos. That energy is present. And… I’m just guessing, but maybe that energy is captivating. So people keep their interest on Behemoth and enjoy our music, live shows, and so on. That’s my theory. I don’t know if it’s the reality.
I think that’s accurate. For one thing, Behemoth – and your views in particular – tend to cause a philosophical streak in journalists. And even your personal life is being exposed a bit. How comfortable are you with that?
You know what? That’s part of what it is. But then again, I’m not really an introvert. I have no problem speaking to the media and to people. I’m always very sociable. I’m a good talker – I hope. I love talking. And really that’s part of my life and part of the band. We definitely wouldn’t have made it here, if it wasn’t for us being so available – to people and to the media. I wouldn’t even say it’s a “price” because [we] aren’t really sacrificing anything. You know what I mean? [excitedly] I’m talking to you in the press and I’m on tour [where] there’s really nothing else to do. You know what I mean?!
This is my second interview today, and I’m fucking excited that I can share my answers with people. And the whole point is people are going to pass it over to other people. That’s the way it works. It’s like a chain reaction. I want the energy that we feel to be fucking contagious.
You mentioned the new album, Evangelion. How excited are you? Fans are excited!
Well, you and I didn’t talk after I did The Apostasy, so let me tell you: when we did that album, I was fucking worn out. I hated myself; I hated the record. Of course, I was proud of it. It was fresh. It was new. So I was supporting it. Then there were all the politics involved and we were about to tour. I couldn’t just say no to journalists, obviously. I tried to bring out the best in the record, but there was so much trauma in the studio. I ended up disliking the record. My opinion, of course, is different now; I can see it’s a very strong Behemoth album – the album that brought the band to where we are now. It was like a bridge between Demigod – which was our breakthrough record – and Evangelion, which hopefully is gonna fucking bring us to that next level.
The Apostasy was a very significant and important record. But music-wise, when it was done, I was like “Fuck! This is wrong, we should’ve done that better,’ and so on. With Evangelion, I can hear things here and there; if you tweaked this album to make it perfect – it’s almost perfect – I will never ever be happier with any Behemoth record than I am now. This is probably the only time that I’m leaving the studio with a big smile, and not with depression. This should give you the answer.
That’s awesome. Can we talk about mixer Colin Richardson? I think Evangelion is one of the best sounding records in a while.
Thank you so much for saying that. I’m gonna treat your words as an oracle. [laughs]
What can I say? I’m blown away. I love it. Fucking one of the biggest compliments we … [pause] Basically, when I listen to Evangelion, I listen to it as though it wasn’t me that recorded it. I had this impression with Demigod. With The Apostasy, it was a bit different. But now I have the same impression now with Evangelion. Which is awesome.
It allows me to listen to the album and enjoy it as if I were a fan, from that perspective. And it’s amazing. I can go in my car, put it on the stereo, and just bang my head and sing along. I’m not thinking “[groan] Skip this part. Skip that part. The kick is too low. This should be done louder.” You know what I mean?
I don’t analyze it anymore. When I visit MySpace, the album is on and I’m like “Wow. Cool.” Of course [laughs], I’m not like “Who’s this?!?” I know it’s our new record, obviously! But I’m just fucking hyped! So yeah!
So… why Colin Richardson for mixing duties?
We were thinking about having him do the mix on The Apostasy. Now I’m glad we didn’t do that. Because now it’s a fresh start for us, and Evangelion, in my opinion, is – even music-wise – just so much better than the previous record. So I’m happy.
And Colin is a legend! He did all of my favorite mainstream metal records of today. Machine Head. Slipknot. He did an amazing job on those records. And with Behemoth’s uncompromising attitude and approach – the fact that we’re so disturbing and so dangerous and so extreme and so on so on so on… if we could get this guy who could give us this mainstream extreme metal sound – you know the sound I’m talking about?
– the combination of these two elements could be fucking amazing. That was my thought. We could’ve stayed with Daniel Bergstrand and we could’ve done it the same way [as previous records]. And it definitely would’ve [turned out] a bit different. It would still be awesome!
To us, it was a bit risky. We don’t know the guy. Of course, he’s done a great job, but what if we don’t like his work? But when he started working on it, he did a lot of re-editing and little things; he definitely put all of his vision into the mix of the record. I was like, “Look. There are people that are smarter than us, ok?”
I’m always having a serious problem with guys that mix Behemoth, because I’m their predecessor. “Nooo, it should be done this way’ and blah blah blah. But now, it’s like, who am I? He did Gorefest and Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death and Carcass’ Heartwork – fucking Heartwork, right? And then he does some killer records these days. He’s a guru. He’s a walking legend. So, let’s make people who know their job best decide certain things.
I told Colin I wanted the record to sound like an extreme metal record. “Please do not polish it; please do not soften our sound. Make it dangerous, hungry, and conquering. Make it sound like a billion dollars.” And that’s what it is.
That’s how it sounds. He followed your instructions perfectly.
The next record is not happening earlier than three years from now. [laughs] But I definitely would love to have Colin mix the next album. Maybe even more than just mixing, but we’ll see. I’m so happy with Evangelion that I definitely want to work with Colin again. He was awesome. He was very anal. He loves to pay so much attention to every single detail. You’re waiting hours and hours – Colin’s still not ready. I tell him “Man! We’ve got to speed up. We have only one day to mix that song!” And he’s not even halfway done. We used twice as much time as usual. [laughs]
If we use Metallica’s “Black Album” as a starting point, metal has achieved a trickle of commercial breakthroughs, each slightly more unpalatable than the last. From Tool to Slipknot to System of a Down. In your mind, how likely is it that Behemoth is the next big crossover? Compelling personality, heaviness, catchiness, anti-establishment – all the ingredients are there.
We won’t be. Because we’re so extreme and we don’t really want to change our approach. It’s fucking scary and dangerous; that’s who we are. We don’t wanna become someone else. You mentioned Slipknot – they’re definitely more accessible and approachable. Behemoth is not. We’re too fast, scary, and heavy for the majority of people.
But still, I think we’ve already crossed boundaries of extremity. Every fucking day I get to meet people who are into different genres of heavy metal and rock. [They’ve been telling me] “I’m not a death metal fan, there’s something about you guys that’s so captivating.” I say “Wow. Thank you so much.” So maybe there is something about us that people can identify with. That’s what I’m feeling; I’m talking about energy now. That’s what Behemoth has in common with Slayer and Machine Head. Behemoth’s music has more gymnastics, more double bass, more blasts – but I would really love for [the audience] to share the same energy. I mean, when I watch Slayer, [lowers voice] I go crazy. When I see Machine Head, I witness the same kind of vibe. I would love for people to have that when they see Behemoth. I would love for this to happen.
So I don’t really know, to answer your question. We’re definitely gonna stay how we are and stick to our character. So you won’t be seeing Behemoth watering down our sound, or I dunno, play more melodies in order to attract kids or something. Fuck it! I’m the other way. Evangelion is even more fucking hateful and angry than The Apostasy. I’m not going to change for people to like me. If I would wanna change, I’d be more extreme, angry, and pissed off, and I’d still attract the kids. Because they need it. That’s my attitude.
Right. Speaking of people liking you, can you update us on the weird legal troubles you’ve been experiencing in Poland?
Well… we have some organizations or institutions… one of them is the Committee for Defense Against Sects. They’re just so uneducated when it comes to extreme music. They’re against pretty much anything with the word “satan” or “death.” You can see them trying to ban Behemoth. But at the same time, they’ve been trying to ban the fucking Rolling Stones for a song called “Sympathy For The Devil.” So that shows how absurd and how fucking surreal their accusations are. So I just ignore it.
But of course, we did face some problems with them.
Decibel recently reported that Ryszard Nowak is again trying to sue you?
Well, he tried to bring me to court twice; he tried to sue me for ripping up the bible onstage in Poland in 2007. The case was deleted. He attempted twice to sue me, but the judge basically deleted the case. So nothing happened. But then Nowak went to the media, talking about me as if I was a criminal. There was this big interview that he did on the internet, and he kept calling me “a criminal.”
How could you be defined as a criminal?! It’s impossible.
He’s saying that the law is not perfect. So I am a criminal despite the fact that I wasn’t even convicted.
Yeah. It basically speaks for itself. [To Nowak] “I wasn’t even convicted, alright? And the fact that I tore up a bible doesn’t mean I’m a criminal. It is just artistic expression. It’s a metaphor. You watch lots of movies, video games, and books where people fucking do craaaazy shit, you know? And I’m just being … I’m another artist trying to express myself. I’ve got my views. I’ve got my philosophy. But you have nothing to do with it. So fuck off.”
But still, the guy kept calling me a criminal! So I brought him to the court and won the case. I made him cover all the [legal] costs, apologize to me in the biggest Polish press, and also I asked him to pay $1,000 for a homeless dog shelter. Because that’s the opinion that they’re trying to force onto society: that we’re dangerous Satanists and we kill animals. I was like, “I’m dangerous in the sense that I question the law and your stupid philosophy. In that sense, I’m a danger to your philosophy, but I’m definitely a friend to animals. So I’m not only going to win this case, I’m going to make you pay for animals’ care.”
You see how all of this is a source of happiness for metal people, right?
For months – no, years – we were like “Fuck it. We don’t need this kind of recognition.” I really wanna be known for quality music. But then again, this guy is basically stepping with his dirty feet into my private life! And this we just cannot accept. And it’s obvious.
I think everybody in metal supports that.
Yeah, I know. That’s awesome. It feels great that the metal community is so supportive. But then again, every human being would probably do the same if someone were so aggressive with his stupid attitude.
Anso DF is a former music journalist who is gunning for your job, Trebek, on daily metal column Hipsters Out Of Metal!