MetalSucks Exclusive: Behemoth Frontman Nergal’s First Interview Since Being Diagnosed with Leukemia
Seven months is a long time to hold your breath, but that is what metal fans have been doing since late August when Behemoth frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski was diagnosed with leukemia. Nergal, a formidable opponent to religious zealots and their disregard for his human rights, now was no longer fighting for his liberty, but for his survival. For fans, the announcement was a new and debilitating shock coming mercilessly soon after the losses of Peter Steele and Ronnie James Dio. But both Nergal and his supporters rallied, the former undergoing a successful bone marrow transplant in December and the latter staging an awe-inspiring series of leukemia awareness events. (Believe it, metal people: We are capable of awesomeness.)
But another scare came in late January after an infection landed Nergal back in the hospital. Astoundingly, he and I had planned an interview just prior to this episode; no doubt his determination is illustrated by this desire to get back to Behemoth business mere weeks after a physically- and emotionally-taxing medical procedure. And though I’d been unspeakably eager to ask him a million questions, I could have never anticipated the bombshell nature of our discussion once we finally connected on Tuesday morning. He described to me his current condition (good and improving), his lowest days (“I had some shitty moments”), and his reaction to the outpouring of support (“I had tears in my eyes”). But I didn’t have to start holding my jaw in place until he disclosed that Behemoth has tour plans for this year (!) and more tour plans for next year (!!); that he “expects serious changes” to Behemoth’s music (!) and that he doesn’t plan to employ “the same entourage and the same outfits” on tour (!!); and that the two of us agree on Motorhead (duh!) but disagree on Maiden (huh?). Stop what you’re doing and read the words of a man hobbled but still as strong as the most powerful among us. He may not be healthy, but he must be hell-thy. We love the guy — and we have proof. Nergal is back.
It’s great to hear your voice again! How are you feeling these days?
Actually, I’m doing pretty fine, thanks. It’s developing. It’s not like I’m completely healthy or something. But I got new bone marrow and the transplant went totally fine. The new bone marrow is accepted by my organisms. It’s not [fighting] against my organisms, which happens very often in such cases. But in my case, everything is going according to plan. There have been no delays. My blood was checked every week, and now every two weeks, so actually I reduced the amount of blood tests that they’ve been taking. Everything is going almost perfect and in the direction that it should. There is no reason to be worried. Physically I’m getting better. Obviously my muscles are not the same, not as strong. I get tired quite easily still. It’s still getting better. For example, [laughs] three weeks ago, I tried to do push-ups; I did three. Today, I did 11. That should tell you how it’s improving all the time, and every next push-up makes me happy. [laughs]
[laughs] What a relief.
It sounds funny maybe, but when you watch movies like Rocky or The Wrestler, you see the guy going down and then he still gets up and gets stronger — it’s pretty much the same. It’s starting from zero, from the very foundation. It keeps me striving.
That is awesome news. Back when your diagnosis was first made public, metal people started to stage bone marrow drives worldwide. Was it gratifying to have reached a lot of people about this illness?
First of all, I never expected such massive feedback, to be honest. Not only from friends and [Behemoth supporters], but people who haven’t been in touch for years. They were like, “Is there anything we can do to help?” There were plenty of people applying for bone marrow tests — you have to be tested first — and these people were trying to contribute. Which was awesome.
And the metal community reacted continuously and immediately; it was massive. I’ve received, like, thousands of emails when the news got out, and the response to this news… there was not a single comment that was negative. I didn’t really expect the extreme metal community to be very sympathetic, to be this empathetic, to be this [pauses]… caring. But they were totally into it; they were all ready to stand behind me and help me out. I didn’t really need money; my health insurance covered pretty much everything. But I’d get offers from people, like “We’ll collect money and send you cash.” And I was like, “I don’t need money, guys. But what you can do is talk to other people and raise awareness of what leukemia is. Talk to them about bone marrow donations and about [getting registered to donate.]” That’s all I needed.
I can tell you this now [pauses]… that it was very early after I got sick that the foundation found a perfect donor match. But we didn’t want to reveal this to the public because of [the movement to help] was so awesome. The ball was rolling! And everyone was into it, so I was like, “Fuck, no! I don’t want to fucking stop this!” It was madness to me! People went crazy doing anything to help. It was just awesome. I can tell you — not just to make people fuckin’ cry — but there were times that I’d be reading comments and emails from people, and there were tears in my eyes. It was very humanitarian. Shit, I don’t know what you call it, but it was awesome. There are lots of people who appreciate what you do musically, they fuckin’ appreciate you as a person and individual, and they have faith in you. That is awesome. [laughs]
It really brought back a lot of faith in human beings after what happened. I’d been very skeptical about the whole human race; I still am. There is more that pisses me off and makes me [pauses] pessimistic about the future of the human race. But now it’s like, fuck, it’s not all lost! There are still real humans out there that feel, that are real. That’s a lesson that I’m very thankful for.
I was shocked by the breadth and swiftness of the metal community’s reaction. I think we’ll look back at this as a great moment for us.
You know what the funny thing is? Sometimes a band gets a lot of love and [other times] you get people fucking [pauses] trashing the band and having this total fuck-you attitude for no reason. I think it’s really weak; it shows what low-lifes they are. But when real shit happens, it makes them wake the fuck up and say, “No more bullshit. Now we gotta be fucking serious about this.” They all were serious; there was no bullshit. They were totally into it. Like I said, I never expected it. I thought it might be the opposite, it might work the other way. But it wasn’t. I’m happy about that. I’ve always been very friendly to people, but [now] I’m aware of the fact that I owe them.
Do you foresee a change in Behemoth’s level of activity? I mean, I watch the Evangelion Heretika DVD and it shows you guys forever backstage at smelly venues and on tour buses. Do you now wish to, so to speak, work less and live more?
Well, all I can say is that I was working really hard for pretty much the last two decades. And the more success we got, the more I got involved. Then, the more I worked, the more success kept coming. So, it was awesome. But I’ll say that after I went to the hospital, I tried to take it easy. But I prayed for touring. I yearned to be back in the studio and to lay down tracks for the next record. I’m excited about it, but I know it’s time that will make it happen. It all needs time. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but the time will come; in fact, when I reach that point again, I’ll be even more conscious and aware of myself, the band, and our abilities. So it definitely brought some light to my way of viewing things.
Man, when I was in the hospital, I called up Seth [Patryk “Seth” Sztyber, Behemoth guitarist] and told him, “I have this dream again and again about the Demigod tour [in 2004] when we were playing all these shitholes in the U.S. for a hundred or two hundred people; we got paid like $200 and got pizza for dinner. And you know what? I fuckin’ miss that pizza! I miss the smell of the crappy backstage! I would give everything now to be back on stage doing those Demigod songs on that shitty tour.” He told me, “Know what? I also have dreams about touring!” This should tell you how much we love what we do and how passionate we are about it. This hasn’t changed. We’re getting ready.
Let’s put it this way: We want to start rehearsing in, say, six weeks. We’ll be rehearsing all the songs, jam out, and we want to be ready for some shows in a few months. We want to do first shows in Poland in October. I know it’s still six months away, but we’re gonna fuckin’ do it. I am sure about it. It’s been three months since the transplant now, and [my improvement] has been huge. So in three more months, I’ll be ready for it.
Hold on a second, alright?
[An exchange in Polish between Nergal and a drive-up window.] Okay, go ahead, bro!
Are you ordering food?
I’m traveling, so I need my coffee. I’m kinda sleepy. I thought you might not reach me today, so I took a short nap in a parking lot.
Where are you going?
I’m traveling around the country just visiting friends. Tomorrow, I have a meeting in the south of Poland because we might be doing one more video from Evangelion this year. It’s quite possible that we’re going to do it. There’s going to be no band performance; it’s going to be like a short movie or something. We really want to do it, so I have this meeting tomorrow.
So Behemoth business is continuing without interruption!
To be honest, [laughs] I never stopped working on my business. I had this moment of doubt when I was going through chemo. I had some shitty moments. I took some time off — sometimes a week, sometimes two weeks. I wasn’t able to even talk to people. I didn’t feel like talking to people. I was fucking worn out totally. You can imagine.
But then I’d wake up and think, “Fuck. I’m ready to go and there is so much to be done.” So I was working with Paul Conroy from our management; I was talking to our labels; I was putting together Evangelion Heretika. I was so fucking weak, but I was still talking to Orion every second day to go over details, and talking to the guys that were in charge of graphics. Even though I was so fucking weak, I was like, “Fuck, we will complete this project. This DVD will come out regardless. I don’t give a fuck that I’m hardly alive — we will fucking do it.” It was a top priority for me, y’know?
Every few days, I’d be talking to Orion [Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski, bassist], Inferno [Zbigniew Robert “Inferno” Promiński, drummer], Seth, and Malta, our sound guy. I just told the guys to calm down, it’s going to take a few months, then another few months for a full recovery — but I’ll be ready. Just wait and see. I have nothing but strong back-up, support, and faith from them and all metal people. Media and label people, too. Everyone was calling me and sending text messages. It was amazing. Like, no other scenario would be possible with this support.
You mentioned that this outpouring of support surprised you. Do you predict that future Behemoth lyrics and themes will reflect that? Up to this point, one could say that the message in Behemoth is “relentless conquest.”
I really see Behemoth’s attitude as a very positive thing anyway. Even though our music is serious and angry, it’s all about just marching over the top of any obstacle or problem whatsoever. Nothing will change in this direction. But obviously, this is definitely going to affect the lyrics; I’m anticipating some effect on the music, too. That’s the whole point. Behemoth has always been developing, changing, and evolving — musically, lyrically, fucking every possible way. I really expect some serious changes.
I’d hate to do the same record as Evangelion, even though it’s such a fucking awesome record. But still, I want to do different music. Not, like, completely different. Obviously we’re going to stay extreme. I just want it to be something that’s going to be exciting not only for listeners, but also for us. I don’t want to get bored with myself, man. [laughs]
Well, here’s my thing. Metal people have something amazing to wait for, ’cause the next Behemoth album is going to be one-of-a-kind. With your experiences over the last year —
You’re right, man.
— you’re in a position to make a very special record.
That’s exactly how I see this. And what can I say, man? Just wait and see. I’m so fucking excited. I’m so waiting for when I grab my guitar… I mean, I do practice these days, but I don’t really do any metal music. I’m just waiting for the momentum, the right timing. I know when the time comes, I’ll just burst with craziness and all the fucking insane ideas. I just can’t wait to put all these experiences and emotions that I’ve collected throughout this year into the music, and make it so fucking rich and real and serious. Fuck yeah, man.
It’s going to be interesting. No doubt about it.
So, when there’s trouble in my life, it seems that some record or song always rescues me from a bad time.
Same here, man. Music is like a fucking antidote for problems in my life. So many songs and albums were like soundtracks to different situations in my life. Then, it might be awesome music, but I can’t listen to it because in fact it was accompanying me in harsh times, y’know?
But yeah, exactly. Music brought me out here, just brought me out of shitty situations and helped me out so much. The best compliment that I can get… I don’t give a fuck if people say, “Hey, you got an awesome guitar sound!” or “I love your growling” or shit like that. I’m like, “Hey, okay thanks.” [laughs] That’s cool. But the best thing that I can hear form people is that our music gives them motivation. It keeps them striving; it keeps them fucking going on and never giving in. That’s like, fuck, the biggest reward that I can get as a musician or an artist.
I’m interested in what you’ve been listening to lately.
I keep it wide and open, y’know. I’ve listened to some crazy black metal shit lately. Pretty much everyday I need to put on my AC/DC CDs too, because I’m fucking addicted to their music. The older I get, the more I gravitate to bands like Motorhead and AC/DC, man.
I know what you mean. I saw Motorhead just last month.
How were they?
That’s cool. I’ll probably be seeing Motorhead along with Killing Joke and Iron Maiden here in Poland. I can’t wait.
That latest Iron Maiden record is so good!
Oh, I fucking hate it!
Yeah, the last Maiden album… I mean, when I see Steve Harris, I’m going to hit him in the face for what he did. [laughs]
I can’t fucking stand it, honestly. [laughs] It’s one of the worst records of the decade. But hey, it’s all about taste. Everyone has his own taste and I hate this fuckin’ record. [laughs]
But it’s so Adrian Smith-y and musical and fun! It’s magic!
Oh, I think they overdid it. The last record, A Matter Of Life And Death, was more furious and progressive, but it was still listenable. It was good! Now, all these fuckin’ melodies… I have no words, y’know? I tried to view it from each angle, but I couldn’t go for it. I had to listen to it [in pieces] because it’s so bad. I’d check out just two songs — “Oh, they are so awful! — then two more the next day: “No, they’re even worse!” Shit, man. [laughs] But again, it’s all about taste.
Okay, we disagree about The Final Frontier. Shit. Hey, let me ask you about your fiancée and the support you’ve gotten from her —
Well, to be honest, it’s not really the right moment to talk about it because we just split up.
Yeah, you can erase the question because we’ve just split up two weeks ago. There’s been a fucking swarm in the Polish media, as you can imagine. I’m just so over this and I don’t want to talk about it. We’ll talk about it next time when we do an interview for the next record. I’ll give you a wide perspective of this matter, but now it’s just too fresh.
No worries, man.
Crap. That was my last question. Shall we talk about something else?
Man, I just want to warn all the people out there in the U.S. that we’re planning a tour around Spring next year. We’re going to come back stronger than ever. And, fuck, I can’t wait to see all the people. You can expect Behemoth on stage being even more hungry and crazy than before!
So, let me get this straight: You have shows planned for Poland as soon as October, and plan to hit America as soon as Spring?
Yes, exactly. The October shows are just to get warmed up. Then we might do some shows in Australia and Asia — that’s the plan. Then the priority for early 2012 is a European tour, then shortly after that, a U.S. tour. This is our top priority for the next year and we’re going to fucking do it!
You are insane!
[laughs] Just wait and see us on the stage. You’ll see. I’m not going to reveal anything about it, but we … It’s not gonna just be Behemoth. It’s not like time stood still for us, like we were frozen in time and are just going to appear with the same entourage and in the same outfits. No. We’re going to come back, we want to remind people of our existence obviously, but we want to make a fucking impact, an impression. We want to show them that, hey, we are still fucking evolving. We’re not just hoping that you’ll come to see us because I was sick. Fuck that. I’ll be better soon and we’re going to deliver!