Sound — 8
Behemoth is one of the biggest death metal bands in the world right now. They've got over 60,000 listeners on music tracking site Last.FM (that's more than Morbid Angel, Nile, Obituary and many other huge death metal bands), and have really brought the Polish metal underground into mainstream attention (along with Vader, Graveland and Sacrilegium). They started as a black metal band, with pagan lyrical themes and maximum atmosphere, since 1998's 'Pandemonic Incantations', they have begun a style change, from black metal, to blackened death metal. Since their last album 'Demigod', they have been a straight-up technical death metal band (though there are still some black metal elements), often compared to Nile due to their brutality, technicality and Middle Eastern influence (though I would say that Nile have more of all three). 'Demigod' was easily their most popular album, and introduced (along with the rather famous parody of 'Slaves Shall Serve', involving waffles) many people to their rather impressive back catalogue. They return in 2007 with 'The Apostasy'. Even when they were an incredibly unknown little black metal band, Behemoth's guitar work has been very professional. The only consistent guitar player has been founder Nergal, but, as with 'Demigod', session guitarist Seth has contributed guitar parts to the tracks (both rhythm and lead). The pinch-laden riffs are hard hitting but do not really contribute to the song in any way aside from give the music a thick layer of brutality (there's very few moments on the album where I think Damn, that's a good riff, though 'Inner Sanctum' is a very notable exception). However, the leads are a different story. Shared almost equally between Seth and Nergal, the leads and solos during instrumental sections blow me away. From simply harmonising with the riffs to diminished sweeping licks, these guys can play. They're always performed and produced with the right amount of emphasis (not all the leads are conventional 'solos' where the rest of the music repeats so the guitar can shine), and are played with taste and technicality (something which a lot of tech death bands find difficult). They've improved massively upon the sloppiness of some of the leads on 'Satanica' (I mean, if you don't have the chops to play something, don't put it in your song! ) and their compatibility with the riffs really impresses me. There's no moment when the guitarists let me down, because, despite the fact that the riffs can be rather generic at times (there's a riff in the middle of 'Libertheme' which reminds me greatly of Zyklon's 'Ways Of The World'), there will always be other things in Behemoth songs to listen to. The bass player 'Orion' must feel a little cheated. Behemoth bassists of old were given great room to do what they wanted, and could be clearly heard, particularly on their debut 'Sventevith (Storming The Baltic)' (then again, Nergal played bass on that album, and we all know how much he loves the limelight). Since Orion joined, their production has taken another turn which essentially removes him from any kind of audibility. Perhaps if I could see these songs performed live I would know what Orion's performance is like, but alas, I haven't and so all I can say is that he is simply backing up the riffs, and that Nergal has cocked up the production when it comes to bass. I feel that the one area where Behemoth's comparison to American titans Nile is justified is in the drumming department. Nile's drummer George Kollias is one of the best death metal drummers I've ever heard, and Inferno doesn't exactly pale in comparison. He can blast with the best of them (250+BPM blasting is no mean feat) and his fills are ridiculously technical. In fact, that's another reason I want to see Behemoth live, because this guy's hands must be a blur. I'm not a drummer myself so I can't go into too much depth, but honestly Inferno is instrumentally the best member of Behemoth. Listen to any album featuring him (that's 'Pandemonic Incantations' onwards) and you'll see what I mean. Brutal death metal is a very demanding genre to play in for a drummer, and it's played by such legends as Flo Mounier and Mike Smith, but Inferno definitely holds his own, once again. Onto the one sound of Behemoth which rather annoys me: the vocals. Nergal's low vocals are fantastic, and there's no doubting it. He's got a very gruff shout which sounds like a late-80's Glen Benton, but he's been layering his vocals, normally with two or three tracks, one with those brutal lows, and another one or two with high pitched, almost black metal screeches. Both of these sound good when separate from each other (the screams on their black metal albums are fantastic) but when stacked on top of each other it really grates your nerves. Thankfully, Nergal has toned it down a little for 'The Apostasy' ('Demigod' was covered in those horrible vocals) and I'm glad because this time around his vocals do sound a fair amount better (even when they are layered). He has a great sense of rhythm and timing (one aspect which certainly favours Behemoth over Nile) and his delivery is near perfect. The unfortunate part is what he's actually saying...
Lyrics — 2
The lyrics that Nergal wrote for 'Sventevith (Storming The Baltic)' and 'Grom' were excellent, though of unoriginal themes. He used great imagery and delivered the right lines with the right style of vocals ('Hell Dwells On Ice' comes to mind), however since their musical change from black metal to death metal, the lyrics have also changed. His lyrics are now infantile, and while researched, are incredibly poor. A lot of the songs have little sections about what the lyrics are about, or where the ideas came from, and it's hilarious. First of all, Nergal spells the word 'of' with a 'v', because he's hardcore like that. He clearly researches his lyrics, but behind all the old fashioned language and apparent historical awareness, his lyrics are incredibly bad. As with a fair few Behemoth albums, there's a silly anti-Christian song title, this time 'Christgrinding Avenue' (which is probably the most ridiculous yet). Nergal's use of language is fairly impressive (in parts); however what he is trying to say is ridiculous. Even Glen Benton is more logical than this guy. He can call himself a rebellious intellectual all he wants but if you're not going for dark-humoured gore lyrics, do not include Eat the weak! F--k the flesh! Slit the throat! Consume the dead! in one of your songs. The song that stanza appears in ('Prometherion') is supposedly inspired by John Milton. Apparently his pal Krzysztof Azarewicz performed some 'incantations and spells' too. Nice.
Overall Impression — 7
'The Apostasy' is a good album. It definitely beats 'Demigod', but I'm not sure if it's their best death metal album (I know that they'll never make a better album than Storming The Baltic, at least with their current style), beaten fairly convincingly by 'Zos Kia Cultus (Here And Beyond)'. It's a solid effort, and musically there are no major faults, but this is the first time that the lyrics have affected my enjoyment of an album in a negative way. They're, in a word, crap. Nergal thinks they're very clever and profound but honestly he just sounds like a little child who just found a dictionary of ancient words and decided he doesn't like Christianity. Despite being a good (music) writer, good guitarist and good vocalist, whilst I read the booklets of Behemoth albums I grow a rather strong dislike for Nergal. He's written some classic tunes (and there's a few on here, too, like 'Inner Sanctum' and 'Be Without Fear') but his lyrics are just ridiculous. Overall this album is a decent effort and definitely worth a purchase if you're into brutal death metal, though for Behemoth there are better places to start.