Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A bit of balance - Behemoth

Anyone will tell you that you need some balance in life and, after all the sweetness and light of Susan Boyle yesterday, how better to restore equilibrium than with a bit of Polish blackened death metal? Behemoth, originally from Gdansk, and progressing from its original black metal to its more lethal blackened death metal (not that I really know the difference between the two), is a pretty full-on band and, while I found it's not too easy to make sense of any of the guttural, snarled lyrics on their album At the Arena ov Avion – Live Apostasy, I could decipher enough to know that most of it is unlikely to get through even a fairly liberal profanity filter.

With songs like ‘Slaying the Prophets ov Isa’ and ‘Christgrinding Avenue’ and ‘Christians to the Lions’, this is not exactly an album for people of deep Christian sensibilities. And yet neither is it entirely fair to dismiss Behemoth as just a bunch of crude hate-filled Satanists. Their songs might heap scorn and fury on what they perceive to be the hypocrisy and destructiveness of traditional Christianity – but when they sing of angels falling to the earth, of the death of god, and of the triumph of evil, they seem to be painting a picture of the world that is more descriptive than prescriptive. These songs do not encourage or celebrate hate – but they certainly portray it and, in the rage between good and evil that Behemoth captures so potently, the blackness and bile is very much going both ways.

But even when they’re as cleverly and poetically written as here, lyrics don't tend to be the main forcus for people who listen to blackened death metal. It’s the music that overpowers everything and everyone – music that pounds and stabs with a ferocity that would, indeed, knock angels out of the sky.

Behemoth, though, seemed to have resisted any temptation just to spew out decibels and nothing else. You can listen to any of the 17 tracks on this album and you will hear that is the work of real musicians who rip the intestines out of their instruments and themselves and, through the sheer brute force of their talent, coerce incredibly powerful music out of the carnage. Guitar riffs shoot out at you, fierce and dark; drums pound away like the sound of an unrelenting avalanche of boulders; and the lead vocals snarl and growl with such rhythmic precision and force that you can’t help but think of band leader Adam “Nergal” Darski as part of the percussion.

It’s true that there’s not a lot of variety in this music. There’s no soft, sweet interlude. Even the brief moment of haunting gothic-infused acoustic guitar at the beginning of ‘At the Left Hand ov God’ or the dance-like pluckings at the beginning of ‘Sculpting the Throne ov Seth’ are soon mercilessly swept away by the violent, tyrannical weight of metal, storming in and crushing everything in its path. And just as Susan Boyle transformed everything into light and gentleness, here Behemoth transforms it all into shadows and brutality.

At the Arena ov Avion – Live Apostasy is, obviously, a live recording. It’s probably the best way to hear this sort of music, where every stop is pulled out just that little bit further and where the music is pumped outwards and onwards as much by the adrenalin of the crowd as by that of the musicians.

I imagine that if Susan Boyle were to do some guest vocals with Behemoth, we would probably end up with something pretty bland, despite the calls we are already hearing for her to make herself more upbeat, and the calls we have heard for a long time for blackened death metal to tone itself down a bit. But fortunately we live in a world big enough to allow space for the extremes, whatever end of the spectrum they might sit on. And that’s where both should stay.

My thanks to Mirek for introducing me to Behemoth.

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