REVIEW: BEHEMOTH – “I Loved You At Your Darkest”
Behemoth’s 11th album I Loved You at Your Darkest has a lot of high expectations around. It. Following an album as anthemic as ‘The Satanist’ was never going to be an easy task, and given the four year gap since their last release, the pressure that is being put on the band is high. But if any band is able to do it, Behemoth could. So it’s with this thought that I want to preface this by saying that my expectations for this album were based around what the band had delivered on the previous record and what I thought was going to be the natural progression for the band. After spending more and more time with the album, it became apparent that those preconceptions needed to be shelved as I Loved You At your Darkest isn’t a continuation of The Satanist, nor is it a linear growth — but an album that is unique enough to stand firmly on its own.
Opening track Solve immediately subverts any preconceived expectations the listener might have, with a children’s choir vocalising lines for a minute before the heavy instruments kick in and the choir fades into the background. It’s an effective tool which makes this two minute long introductory track shine and prepares listeners far what is to come. This is then followed by Wolves Ov Siberia, a track that feels very reflective of Behemoth as a band through its unrelenting aggression, but one which the lyrical content really shines through.
God = Dog is next and was the first track off the album released as a single, and it’s little difficult to see why. The barreling drum and guitar riffs are synonymous with what most people consider to be classic Behemoth, but the introduction of a backing Gregorian chant and the reintroduction of the children’s choir from Solve create such a vivid soundscape for this song, and the interlude piece in the middle is beautifully crafted to build suspense before its climax. It’s a well rounded song and one that is reflective of the different things Behemoth has attempted to harness with this album.
Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica again follows a similar formula, with a barreling riff carrying the song for the most part, and an exceptional mid-song solo and a minute long acoustic outro being the only real variances. There are some really interesting drum fills used to break up certain sections of the song, and again having that backing Gregorian chant at certain parts makes this song feel very complete, and definitely a song that will go down well live. In contrast to some of these faster songs, fifth track Bartzabel seems almost ritualistic. The chanted line “Come to me Bartzabel” repeated over a slower, almost tribal drumming pattern and softer lead harmonies help to accentuate this, but also provide a wonderful platform for Nergal to bring his vocals over. It’s a different track to what fans might expect, but after a few repeat visits it definitely belongs in the Behemoth back catalog.
Following on from this If Crucifixtion Was Not Enough and Angelvs XIII return to the bands faster paced and more in your face style of delivery, with both songs carrying ethereal undertones underneath the fast paced aggression of the songs. Sabbath Mater follows and has some of the bleakest lyrics on the album, but what makes this track so strong is Nergal’s venomous delivery of each line. Behemoth have always been a band that has taken aim at Christianity, and this album is no different, but for some reason the profundity of the way the lyrics are delivered on this track gives the song an edge that only a vocal performance like that could ever provide.
Havohej Pantocrator slows the tempo down once again, for what could be considered one of the stand out tracks on the album. Artistically melodic, but filled with the same harshness that Behemoth is known for, there’s little more to say about this song other than that it really needs to be experienced. This is followed by closing duo Rom 5 8 and We Are The Next 1000 Years that really add an impressive and strong conclusion to the album before instrumental outro Coagula caps it off.
Overall, the first thing that is immediately noticeable in this album is that the production quality feels very raw. Feeling more akin to the bands earlier releases than embodying some of the polish of the production on their more recent albums, this mix gives certain songs a very raw feel. This is perhaps most apparent in fourth track Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica, but can be felt throughout.
This albums use of orchestral elements all work beautifully and never feel overdone or gimmicky. Additionally, the lead guitar is more prevalent on this album than originally expected. Most of the songs have a beautiful lead guitar moment in them— whether it be a solo, or a just a short passage. These pieces really enhance some of the darker areas that pop up throughout, but also help to highlight moments specific climactic moments. With that being said though, Inferno’s drumming is at times placed very high into the mix. This definitely won’t be an issue in a live sense, with anyone having seen Behemoth live knowing how loud and cathartic that the drumming is, but it does feel like it detracts from the sound at certain points when the layers allow the drumming to overpower the other instruments or the vocals (typically the instruments). This is only a minor blemish, and one that is easily overlooked in the scheme of the album where for the most part the layering is quite balanced, even when balancing parts recorded by an orchestra.
Vocally, Nergal has only improved drastically as the years have gone on. As alluded to earlier, the delivery of the lyrics on this album could only be performed by someone who has the interest and investment in the subject matter that Nergal has or else the meaning would be lost. With most of the lyrics focusing on anti-religious sentiments, Nergal’s venomous sibilance provides the perfect vessel to transmit the bands message.
With I Loved You At your Darkest, Behemoth have seemingly taken their sound and altered it in a way that pays homage to their roots, reflects their recent works, and showcases their continued growth as a band. Where most bands would be afraid to experiment as much after such a successful album, Behemoth has clung to their artistic integrity and experimented, creating an album that is unique, but still very much a Behemoth album. While it may take listeners and longtime fans more than a few playthroughs to truly appreciate the nuances of these songs – it is an investment that is worth making and one that will provide a greater appreciation of this albums sound – and the bands future direction overall.