Behemoth’s Adam “Nergal” Darski has certainly faced more than his fair share of reactionary blowback. As not only the frontman for the biggest extreme metal band in the world, he is also one of Poland’s most well-known cultural exports. His anti-religion, freedom of speech stance has certainly caught the attention of his homeland’s more conservative prosecutors, with the Gdynia-born vocalist having faced multiple lawsuits – as recently as 2021- for ‘offending religious feelings’.
Of course, that is only part of his story. Having started Behemoth as a pure black metal band over three decades ago, Nergal has been the chief creator of some of the best extreme metal music to come out this millennium. With the impending release of Behemoth’s brilliant twelfth studio full-length Opvs Contra Natvram – read our review here! – we speak to a very affable and open Nergal, who admits to feeling a degree of trepidation and repetition before the release of this new album:
“In the first place I always do things for myself, but I do think about the reception and stuff – of course. Recognition is important to me, maintaining the status is important to me. It’s all very important to me. I deeply hope that people will dig this new album. Of course, it’s the twelfth record – I’ve been there and done that. I have no problems talking freely to people about music, about the content, about everything – I’ve learned that to perfection really. A lot of that stuff is repetitive, okay? So don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to sound like I’m a bored musician talking to another interviewer, every interview is always different. It’s like having sex with multiple partners – every time is different! But you need interaction, you need a fanbase, you need a following, you need a reaction from the people for this – and it’s worse and worse to get that these days.”
Of course, it’s not just other bands that artists need to compete with these days. With the domination of social media and the internet over the current generations, Nergal is more than wary of it playing a larger role in our society:
“I mean, I’m just upset about that, it’s more and more difficult to come through this overwhelming wall of noise and information. All this competition that’s out there, fucking TikTok, Netflix, this is all competition for what I do. So it looks like the world is really in transition, like shifting standards – and we still don’t know where we’re going. So on one hand it’s terrifying, but it’s intensely exciting to be observing this change of pulse, maybe – something is happening. There’s definitely a shift of energies.”
For a band that existed before the rise of home internet, Behemoth’s career was both positively and negatively impacted with the world wide web’s integration into everyday life:
“It’s a double-edged sword man. It could be a great tool, but it could be a suicidal tool as well. These days you never know and it looks like the rules are getting even sharper, and more restrictive, and I don’t like that, obviously, as a fan of freedom of speech. I confront bullshit every day on social media. And I’m not even talking about the state of mind of people that are more excited about an (Instagram) post that I make a fool out of myself and generates way more enthusiasm than my previous post, that Opvs Contra Natvram is the album of the month for the biggest Czech music magazine. I’m an analog man trapped in a digital world. Of course, the transit of communication is way better – you can communicate with people, and I love it and I love communication and I do it daily, and I love this device in one hand. On the other hand it enslaves you.”
The accessibility of music has been one of the major perks of the internet – however with that has eventually come waning attention spans and lowered fiscal returns. We are at a time when only the truly passionate are willing to put in the extra effort for the sake of their music:
“On one hand you have access to any music out there. You name it – BOOM! – you have it. The end of the day, what does that do to the value of music? It takes it down. Music becomes this disposable thing. ‘Oh music? Oh someone spent $100,000s in production or on the video, but who cares? I can only spend 15 seconds of it on TikTok anyway?’ ‘So why are you Nergal going to be releasing a music video that is eight minutes long? I can only pay attention for 15 seconds’. I don’t know, I’m probably an idiot – but I still do it. I’m an old-school idiot. ‘Why didn’t you record the record at home? You could have saved so much money’. No, I spent every fucking penny of this massive fucking budget we got from Nuclear Blast on making six videos, and working for months to make it sound different, to make it sound unique, to work with Joe Barresi, Bob Ludwig and all these amazing people. And then it all ends up in a fucking Spotify playlist – compressed sound and people judge you by that. But, I won’t be boxing with this; it is what it is. The best I can do is remain who I am. An honest, 45 year old cunt.”
With the last couple of years being some of the darkest of recent human history, it’s no real surprise that Nergal has found an almost endless well of lyrical inspiration through struggles both personally and collectively shared:
“Opvs Contra Natvram was born of isolation, and lockdown, and misanthropy, and dissatisfaction. It was born of my experiences that I’ve collected throughout the years, with battling the legal system. All those wanna-be inquisitors, and so-on and so-forth, that are just trying to nail my ass for just being who I am – I’m really no villain. For them I am a villain – but I’m just an artist. I’m for the fucking liberty of speech, and all I do is within my temple. It’s all on the record, it’s all in the video, it’s in the venue. But to get that access you need to click willingly, you need to buy a ticket. They’re still just trying to prove that what I do is contagiously ‘evil’. I’ve got my reasons to be this way to the world, I’ve got my reasons to be anti-system. Opvs Contra Natvram is the work of art against the nature. I’m not against the beauty of nature, which I worship as a pagan. It’s against the nature of things these days. That order of things these days that are just wrong, I just don’t get it. This album is a statement of that, all its content and it’s just an updated version of whom Nergal is at this very present moment.”
Another by-product of his old-school mentality in creating music is the importance of crafting an album. Rather than an assortment of great songs, Behemoth’s records have always been meticulously compiled and arranged in an order that creates a flowing arc – something Opvs Contra Natvram continues:
“We are telling you the story. The album should tell you a story. Kids only pay attention to singles or playlists and stuff – don’t get me wrong, I do that too. I’m not accusing kids of being kids. My attention is also distracted because, again, I’m also a victim of this (point to phone). So I’m not sitting here fucking preaching. But regardless – especially as you put ‘Opvs’ in the album title – it should be a statement, a work of art. You can’t just throw the songs in a bunch, mix them up and hope people will buy it. I’m building a story – a story has a proper start. It goes up and down, it has dynamics. I spent a shitload of time looking at the record and listening back and forth on how I should build it, in case there are some fans out there that are willing to listen to 42 minutes straight from start to finish. Maybe there are people who still do that.”
Interestingly, in a move for cohesion, and perhaps buck the current trends, Nergal was initially pushing for a more streamlined physical release to pair with the new album’s stripped-back sound:
“I really only wanted to have one vinyl this time, unlike previous records. I wanted to make more of a cohesive album. I Loved You At Your Darkest (2018) was definitely more all over the place, maybe a little more accessible and a little bigger sound – this one I just wanted to make more raw, more frenzied, more bezerk, more compact – so a little shorter, but still with some alternative adventures. See ‘Versus Christvs’, which starts almost goth. It starts with singing and piano, but before you shoot, wait until you hear what happens in the mid-section and how it ends, because that is one of the best parts we’ve ever come up with musically. I love it! And the lyrics and everything. So yes, it’s pre-planned things – it’s a completed work.”
The ‘less is more’ mantra was in full effect with the LP’s lean run-time – as too was its nod to classics of the past:
“I grew up in those times – Master of Puppets, Reign In Blood – when I see new editions of Reign In Blood with bonus stuff, I think like ‘no don’t do that! 28 minutes, that’s all you need!’. Opvs Contra Natvram – it’s 42 minutes. We’re not putting on any bonuses – it does not need that. When I go to the restaurant and I want to eat something, I’m looking for something tasty, and something that’s going to fill my stomach. But it’s not going to blow up my stomach. That’s what I do when I go to the movies – ‘why is this movie 2 and a half hours long? I should be an hour 40, and it’d be perfect’. I don’t need more. So when you eat, eat as much as you need – embrace that, enjoy it, cherish it – but don’t eat another fucking dessert, and have three more beers, ‘cause then you’ll feel bad, you’re heavy, you’re overweight, you can’t sleep. Same goes with the music, with what I’m delivering to you with Opvs Contra Natvram – you don’t need anything else. All that you need is on that record, start to finish. No fillers. Every song stands on its own. Every song is different, every song has its hooks, every song has its moments. I really hope it’s a very exciting journey for anyone who’s willing to take it.”
As one of the best songwriters in heavy music, Nergal shares his creative process – and divulges with us that he’s already demoing ideas for the next Behemoth record!
“I’m already collecting ideas for the next one. I’ve got some demos ready – I haven’t really presented anything to the other guys yet, but before I do that I’m just gonna make sure. Usually I just collect stuff on my phone, and I just record guitar or hum melodies. Lately I’ve been going on and off to my friend’s studio and just set the click and do one guitar left and second guitar right and just put two or three parts together and make these chunks that eventually, potentially might become a song sooner or later. I’ve got several of those. It’s waiting for its time eventually.”
Behemoth Photo Gallery by Bree Vane
With Behemoth last seeing Australian shores as part of 2019’s Download Festival, the conversation was always going to lead to future potential dates. Nergal is honest in his response, with the rising cost of living and transporting playing havoc with budgeting and overheads:
“Yeah we got an offer (to tour) from Soundworks, our friends and great business partners. The offer is amazing but I’m going to be straight up about it with you; the prices, the flight costs and everything just went significantly up, and when we put all the numbers into Excel it came back below zero. So it’s this new post-Covid standard, and because of the war (in Ukraine) and the gas and the whole geo-politics. We are in a different position to where we were four or five years ago, very, very different. And even for us, an established band to go on tour it’s becoming more and more of a struggle. So when I see yesterday that Anthrax have just cancelled their European tour due to logistics and unexpected costs. One of the biggest thrash metal bands cannot make the trip to Europe and do the tour! But trust me, I will do everything that is humanly possible to move my ass over to Australia because I love you guys, and I have nothing but amazing experiences. We do a lot of travelling – I remember every time we just either fly in earlier or stay for a holiday, go to Tasmania and just do stuff. Super friendly people, and beautiful weather – I’ve been all over the place and I miss it. I’ve even had kangaroo meat – it only happened once, and never again!”
With Opvs Contra Natvram out now, Nergal has some choice words for the Australian legion of Behemoth fans:
“I wanna say I miss you people – those Download shows in 2019 were the biggest we’ve done down there. Raising hell backstage, doing crazy shit, the fans and everything. Please get the new record and enjoy the fuck out of it! Try to listen to it from start to finish, if you dare! And get the vinyl version, because the options are fucking mind-blowing. And cross fingers that economics can make it possible for Behemoth to go back to Australia!”
Behemoth’s Opvs Contra Natvram is out now via Nuclear Blast.
Behemoth – Opvs Contra Natvram tracklisting:
1. Post-God Nirvana
2. Malaria Vvlgata
3. The Deathless Sun
4. Ov My Herculean Exile
7. Off to War!
8. Once Upon A Pale Horse
9. Thy Becoming Eternal
10. Versvs Christvs
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