A review by Jordan Sibberas for MusicInjection.com.au
For the readers of this review who are familiar with Behemoth, let me answer the burning question; does I Loved You At Your Darkest (stylised to ILYAYD by the band) successfully follow up The Satanist? Spoiler alert, yes, yes it does. And that’s all the time I’ll spend comparing ILYAYD to their previous record.
For those not yet familiar with the boys from Poland, Behemoth is a three-piece metal group (three-and-a-half including the live contributions of Seth), led by charismatic frontman Nergal, who dabble across death, black, and extreme metal. Along with Nergal, Behemoth is composed of Inferno, who plays drums similarly to how a machine gun plays with its targets, and Orion, who crushes bass guitars in his hands for a light workout. In 2010, Nergal was diagnosed with leukemia, which he subsequently defeated. In 2014, Behemoth released The Satanist to critical acclaim almost globally, except for the Polish government and church who have since tried multiple times to arrest or imprison Nergal and co. for blasphemy. Yes, the record was that good. Since then, The Satanist was accompanied by a tour which was less of a gig and more of a black ritual in which the album was performed end to end and accompanied by a travelling art show. During the touring phase for that album, Nergal discussed the possibility of the end of Behemoth, as they did not know where to go from there. Thankfully for metalheads everywhere, that where to go is set to be released on October 4th.
I Loved You At Your Darkest is possibly Behemoth’s most sonically diverse release yet; a swirling tempest of thick, luscious black metal chords assault above blasting drums at one turn, yet around the next strides the raucous, toxic grooves of Orion and Inferno locking in and delivering punishing low end drives. The album opens with some haunting, mood-setting chanting children, which are quickly devoured by blast beats. This leads into the bombastic Wolves Ov Siberia, which feels like an anthem for the new age of black metal. Perhaps the simplest song on the record, Wolves sets the tone early with duelling guitars and brass painting a scene of a violent, chaotic war engulfing the listener, but also feels a little of a reprise from the just-passed era of Behemoth, with chantable choruses and memorable hooks.
On first listen, one of the more prominent features of this record is the exchange of power chord and palm-muted chugged riffs of old Behemoth (even from back when Behemoth were “trve kvlt”), for hooks driven by arpeggiated chords, claustrophobic guitar rhythms and melodies draped in the upper registers of chord progressions. Rather than Nergal chugging out rhythms on the low strings which punch along with Orion and Inferno, he allows them proverbial room to breathe and sets out to envelop their rhythms in texture. This exchange creates a breathtaking aural hellscape that lends itself beautifully to the semi-introspective lyrical nature of ILYAYD; one can’t help but wonder if the chaos of this record lies within Nergal or the listener, rather than in mystical worlds or times past like previous Behemoth records have discussed. Dare I say it, this record seems to be the antidote to the modern metal syllabus in a similar way to Burzum in the ‘90s, and frostbitten, desolate tracks like Havohej Pantocrator and ROM 5:8 at times don’t sound too dissimilar to the second wave bands (particularly Ulver), albeit much more well produced, and with the trademark Behemoth swagger.
Don’t think for a second that melodicism and introspection have made this a softer album; if anything, ILYAYD is a more intense album for it. Even major chords and bright, triumphant brass flourishes littered throughout cannot thaw the permafrost of this emotionally dark album. Sabbath Mater particularly strays into this territory, with a poignant lead guitar solo that weeps and laments, despite sitting up above the mix. This break sits in stark contrast to moments on past Behemoth songs, such as Messe Noire or Conquer All, where the guitar solo has typically stood out as a tool to punctuate a bold or powerful moment, rather than expose a musical vulnerability. However, this is far from a negative element; ILYAYD stands out boldly against the plethora of modern metal releases that strive to be more mechanical and technical than the last. Maybe then, this isn’t a record for the metal purists who accused Behemoth of “selling out” for releasing branded coffee and dog food, but rather an album for fans of music who don’t expect metal to meet a particular set of criteria; and blessed are they for this album shall be their reward.
“One can’t help but wonder if the chaos of this record lies within Nergal or the listener”
Another very enjoyable aspect of I Loved You At Your Darkest is the production quality. Production was performed by the band, along with co-production of drums by Daniel Bergstrand, then mixed by Matt Hyde and mastered by Tom Baker, and the end result is a sound which is both thick and punishing in parts, but delicate and free to breathe in others. The track If Cruxifiction Was Not Enough exemplifies this beautifully; an icy-steel backbone of bass and drums is complemented by delicate and haunting rhythm guitars that glide above like a deep fog clouding an ancient forest, however neither seem to dominate the other despite their contrary characteristics.
I could wax lyrical about guitars, drums and orchestral accompaniments for a lot longer, but most importantly, Nergal’s vocals round I Loved You At Your Darkest off beautifully into the powerful album it is. Whether the trials of the last decade have matured him from the not-so-subtle death metal growler of The Apostasy into the infernal orator he is today, or whether it’s simply practice and technique exercises I’m not sure (hit me up Nergal, I’d love to know your secret), but either way something about his delivery on ILYAYD manages to reach into, and stir uncomfortably, deep parts of the listener. On tracks like Sabbath Mater and Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica Nergal contrasts his raspy, powerful rough vocals with touches of his equally powerful clean baritone voice. This isn’t a Me and That Man record by any means; Nergal still sounds like the fierce hell-beast that Behemoth fans love him for being, but ILYAYD adds a new depth to his vocals which are sure to leave listeners enthralled.
In summary, I Loved You At Your Darkest is a sublime record which has exchanged the in-your-face attitude of past Behemoth records for a more insidious and intimate aural violence that is sure to leave listeners rattled in the best possible way.
Review by Jordan Sibberas
Behemoth will return to Australia in March 2019 as part of the Download Festival line up!