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The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019, #3: Behemoth, The Satanist

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MetalSucks recently polled nearly 180 prominent metal musicians and industry insiders to determine The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019! (You can read all about the voters and the methodology behind the poll here.) Over the next few weeks, we’ll be counting down the entire list, one entry per day.

The countdown continues today with The Satanist (Metal Blade Records), the 2014 release by Behemoth!

Some of the best metal bands in history got where they did by living on the edge. But Behemoth are not some of the best metal bands in history. They don’t live on the edge. Oh no. They dominate the edge. They non-consensually assault the edge. They are Lords of the Edge.

For evidence, one need look no further than Behemoth’s 2014 release, The Satanist. Frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski understands that being the scariest dude in any given room is a lot like riding shotgun in the car — you have to call dibs. To that end, Adam uses sophisticated and poetic lyrical turns of phrase to subtly remind the listener that he’s a rebel (on the title track: “I am the great rebellion!”), that he believes in Satan (on “Messe Noire”: “I believe in Satan!”), and that he believes in Sajack (on “Furor Divinus”: “I reversed the wheel ov my fortune!”). And that is but the most mild aspect of Behemoth’s creative temerity.

To wit: would any other modern metal band dare to provoke their audience the way Behemoth does on The Satanist? The album is a real poke in the eye to The Man. For not only does it re-appropriate the Led Zeppelin baby boomer classic “Kashmir” into the track “O Father O Satan O Sun!”, as if to say “To heck with you, old people, this is ours now!”, but it bravely eschews genre conventions such as aural peaks and valleys, indelible choruses, and thematic cogency in favor of musical mesas of anesthetizing sonic tautology and lyrical discomposure.

Take, for instance, “In the Absence Ov Light,” one of many examples of the album’s really cool use of “ov” in place of “of.” Partway through the track, during an uncharacteristically multifarious section that includes a saxophone and acoustic guitars, Adam says “Nie ufam żadnej abstrakcji, doktrynie” — “I trust no abstraction, no doctrine.” That’s a ballsy claim for a record that offers literally dozens of dogmatic declarations, has more Bible references than any metal album not made by Stryper, and even takes a moment, on the song “Amen,” to anthropomorphize the shroud of Turin (the famous death-cloth is called “cunning”). The Satanist doesn’t make an argument for atheism (it frequently speaks about the Christian God as though He were real), but, rather, acts as a missionary for Christianity’s competition, which contains its own equally orthodox tenets.

What are we to make of this fascinatingly jejune tension between words and actions? Although it’s tempting to credit the contravention to the kind of thoughtless “thinking” that would celebrate casual racism and argue the best way to fight fascistic anti-fascists is with fascism, an enjoyment of the band’s music dictates a rejection of this thesis in favor of a more reasoned motivation. Was Adam counting on the listener to assume that by “doctrine” he meant “Judeo-Christian doctrine”? Is he slyly satirizing the ouroboros-like manner in which metal demands individuality via conformity? Dramatizing the never-ending cycle of conflict fed by those incapable of living without discord? Or perhaps he’s making a nihilistic commentary on the very notion of living an existence truly free of belief and personal philosophy?

We’ll likely never know the answer, but we know it’s a posture that often scares authority figures and generates clicks, and we like that.

The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019:

#25: Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, Mariner (2016)
#24: Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones (2010)
#23: Pig Destroyer, Book Burner (2012)
#22: Yob, Clearing the Path to Ascend (2014)
#21: The Black Dahlia Murder, Ritual (2011)
#20: Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014)
#19: At the Gates, At War with Reality (2012)
#18: Meshuggah, Koloss (2012)
#17: Gorguts, Colored Sands (2012)
#16: Between the Buried and Me, The Parallax II: Future Sequence (2012)
#15: The Ocean, Pelagial (2013)
#14: Kvelertak, Kvelertak (2010)
#13: Judas Priest, Firepower (2018)
#12: Metallica, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016)
#11: Converge, 
All We Love We Leave Behind (2012)
#10: The Dillinger Escape Plan, 
One of Us Is the Killer (2013)
#9: Rivers of Nihil, Where Owls Know My Name (2013)
#8: Deafheaven, Sunbather (2013)
#7: Baroness, 
Yellow & Green (2012)
#6: Power Trip, Nightmare Logic (2016)
#5: Ghost, Opus Eponymous (2010)
#4: Deftones, Diamond Eyes (2010)

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