Interviews : Behemoth
Metal should be, above all else, four things: aggressive, well written, expertly performed, and intelligent. Since Emperor's demise a few years back, the number of bands actually meeting this criteria has grown even smaller. In fact, only four bands come to my mind right now as acts which manage to challenge the listener intellectually as well as viscerally: Opeth, Nile, Dark Tranquillity, and (you guessed it) Behemoth. The latter truly has all the qualities of a top-notch band: some seriously heavy, fast songs which are angrier and more brutal than anyone else currently playing; well crafted, layered songs performed with a musical proficiency most can only aspire to; philosophical lyrics which challenge listeners to think long and hard about what they're hearing. I was lucky enough to meet up with the mastermind behind Behemoth on their most recent US tour in support of Zos Kia Cultus with Six Feet Under, Skinless, and As I Lay Dying. A friendly, engaging frontman, Nergal told me a little about what to expect from Behemoth in the coming year and filled me in on the band's current activities, from the early days of "From the Pagan Vastlands" to the release of "Zos Kia Cultus" and the touring the band has done to support it.
So, first of all, how's the tour going so far?
It's going cool. It's going good... The first shows were really kind of warm up shows. We got a new guy on bass; he did fine, but we needed some shows, some time to get along with each other...
He did fine, but I thought there were going to be more people at the shows. But it's not that bad, it's pretty OK, a pretty easy time, you know...
You were with Danzig earlier this year...
Yea, we did two shows with Danzig, two festival shows. It was great; absolutely. Touring with Danzig was, for me, a kind of dream come true, you know? I've always been a huge fan of Danzig and being invited by Glen himself, to do the dates, was something special. We were just the opening band... 25 minutes [set] or something, it was nothing, of course, you know... just to show up, but it was a good time.
Before "Zos Kia Cultus", you'd never toured the US before, right? And now you've already been here twice to support that album...
This was a debut in the US for us, you know? "Zos Kia Cultus' was a debut album for us, because we'd never ever toured the US, so far. And now Century Media is pushing us hard; we did the Deicide tour first, then Danzig, now Six Feet Under, so it's been pretty good. And the sales of the album ["Zos Kia Cultus"] are three times bigger than "Thelema.6'.
Tell me about the "Conjuration" EP you just released.
It is not a new record or anything; we wanted to keep it very collector, limited edition for people who are really into the band. Killing time, you know, waiting for our new album which will be out next year. It's already been a year [since "Zos Kia Cultus"] so we wanted to put something out, just to keep the name alive. To let you know that we are around and doing something. There is some live stuff on the EP, there is some cover stuff - Nine Inch Nails and Venom, one "Zos Kia Cultus" outtake... It's 40 minutes, for half the price of an album. But, it's limited in the US to 2000 copies, to make it even more special; no money-making, just to give people something really cool, a really cool product for a good price. It's cult stuff.
Now, you just switched labels, from Avant Garde to Regain Records, right?
Right; Regain in Europe, Olympic in the US, Mystic in Poland.
Was there a reason you left Avant Garde?
The contract simply expired, and I always wanted to do something extra, something more. The new label will push us; I mean, with Avant Garde, it was like a good relation, but it was like an old marriage, know what i mean? Just too much stagnation. It was good, in its place, but I thought that we could do better in terms of promotion and everything, so we decided to change the label. There's nothing wrong; we keep in touch every couple weeks, we do business. They release our albums, so we are business partners, so nothing bad happened
Novy, your old bassist, is touring with Vader now.
Well, he was a session guy for us. He just was offered a position as a permanent member of Vader - it's more profitable, that's for sure, and he gets more exposure. In this band, he was just the bass player; he was mentioned in the album, but was never in pictures, so he's better off right now and we're cool.
Getting back to the current tour, how has the fan reaction been so far?
It's been good. We already met people who liked us, on the tours before, saw us on tours before, supported us. It's motivating, it's excellent, I love it. And now there's new guys, fans who come to the show and come up to us like, "It's my first time seeing you guys." They buy albums and shirts, and it's cool, because you physically see that you've built a new fan base. I'm pretty sure that this tour will push the band in America harder, a step ahead, then with the next album, we'll do something bigger, maybe.
How have the other bands on the tour been?
We get along good with the other bands. Six Feet Under are pretty cool guys, so you know...
You mentioned a new album coming out next year; can you elaborate on that a little?
We've got a working title: "Demigod". It's a working title, you never know - with me, you never know - but I'm pretty sure it's going to be "Demigod". It's simple, it's very symbolic, very striking. It's powerful and simple, you know? It's not "Zos Kia fucking Cultus, Here and Beyond", where people get confused, "What the fuck is "Zos Kia Cultus"?' I got fed up with people asking me about the meaning behind stuff; it's just too complex; people like it simple and straight, so we give them something simple and straight now. Of course the lyrics will still be very occult, very philosophic, but we wanted the title to be very striking, very to the point, and "Demigod" just speaks for itself. When you give the name "Demigod", to the album to the music, you can expect only fucking god-like, huge sound. So there's not going to be some tiny, little thing, with crap-sounding guitars and drums and poor arrangements; It's going to be a conquering, blasting record, that's for sure. Very powerful. We are writing already, we got a new lineup, with Havoc leaving the band right after the tour and a new guy, Orion, on bass. I'm writing the songs with Inferno - it's always been like that - Havoc was never taking part in the writing process, it was just me and Inferno, and nothing will change. We just feel way more motivated now because we have a lot more to prove, with so many things changing: labels, line up, and everything. We've got a lot more recognition than ever before; for lots of people, "Zos Kia Cultus" wasn't the first thing for them. And then they expect something better, of course, but we already got six albums out, and "Zos Kia" is really the highlight of our discography, and it will be hard to top it. But I'm sure we will do it; we always do it. I've heard this since "Pandemonic Incantation", "Oh you're never gonna top this record." Then "Satanica" came out, "Oh this is your best record, you'll never top it." Then "Thelema.6" came out and it sold more, and it's the same story every time, and I'm pretty sure this time, we'll do it [again].
What about the music? What can listeners expect in terms of progression?
All directions, I would say. We always push in all the possible ways. We already have a song; [Because the sound was a little distorted on the tape, this is my best guess at the title of the song and is probably wrong] "Structuring the Throne of Set"... It might be like an opening song, I think so. It's like four minutes, four and a half, and its really, really intesnse. It's brutal, it's very blasting. It's very sweeping and more intense, I would say. It's very fast, frantic...
But there's going to be slow songs as well. There's going to be lots of variety on this album, that's for sure.
Do you ever run into the old school fans? I mean like those who liked "Into the Pagan Vastlands..."
We are going to play that one tonight. There are those people; people are people, they like differnet things, they all have their own opinion. I can't do much about it, you know? What I can do is write music that I would like myself and try to sell it. If they buy it, it's great. If they don't buy it, it's great as well. There has to be this point; if I am satisfied, that's it. There are things you can never control, because they [people] all have different feelings. Some people don't like the new stuff and that's cool; some people hate the old stuff and like the new stuff and that's also cool. I respect everything I've ever done, and the truth is we are playing songs from '95 and '94 as well as from the new album, which means that deep down we are an entity. We are not just past and future, whatever... You know what I mean? It is all the same thing.
On the new album, can we expect the same pagan metal vibe that Behemoth is known for?
Hard to say; it's going to be a Behemoth vibe thats, for sure. It's going to be us playing: it's Inferno drumming, it's my voice, it's all going to be there. Nothing left out, just crushing all the way; that's for sure.
How about the album art? Will you be continuing the tradition of appearing on the cover yourself? What's up with that anyway?
I put out "Satanica" and people are "Aw fuck, you put yourself on the cover," but I just use my body as some kind of symbol. It's not about being me on the cover; it's just, instead of having just some guy on the cover, I'd prefer to have myself on the cover. It's kind of like I play on my album and I don't want any other guys playing on my album instead of me; same thing with the cover. It's a personal thing. It just underlines that Behemoth is about very personal stuff. Then we put out "Thelema.6", and again, people are like, 'The next one is going to be you again, right?' And I said, "We'll see." And it's still me, my body, but with a goat head, kind of like playing with those people. The music is what's most imporant anyways, so...
Have you been doing any writing of the new album on the road for the current tour?
No, we don't do that, though I just came up with a new riff. We've come up with a couple new riffs for new songs. It's however it happens, but I am just focused on playing live [when on the road].
So you guys have been touring pretty extensively for "Zos Kia Cultus". How long have you been promoting it and will you be back to America again any time soon?
Altogether it's about 120 shows for this album. We did one year for this album, but I can promise you that for the next album we are going to tour twice [as] long... that's for sure. We are going to do a huge tour in America, two tours in Poland, 2 tours in America, 2 tours in Europe, Russia, South America, maybe Japan, just everywhere. We are pretty ambitious about it.
Anything else you want to say to the fans before the interview is over?
Thanks for supporting us and keep the spirit of metal alive; enjoy the show and wait for the next album!
So there you have it; keep an eye out for Behemoth's new album in the new year, as it promises to be a truly killer release, and be sure to catch their tour if it comes anywhere near you. It was a fantastic experience, both speaking with Nergal and seeing Behemoth in a live setting, and I'd like to thank both George at Century Media and Nergal for setting it all up. Oh, and if you don't own it yet, go buy the Conjuration EP now! Until next time...