Poland’s Behemoth are no stranger to both accolade and controversy. Coming off the heels of their immense The Satanist album and tour cycle, I Loved You At Your Darkest sees them aiming to ride the wave of momentum generated by the preceding album.
The band have professed in interviews that the approach on this album sees them incorporating some touches from the earliest rock influences. This reviewer is keen to hear the altered approach in play.
‘Solve (Intro)’ begins with the sound of a liturgical choir, which is soon inverted as it gives way to a funeral march, leading into the first track proper. ‘Wolves ov Siberia’ starts in typical Behemoth fashion; a cold riff combined with a piercing vocal line from the infamous Nergal. It’s almost as if they’ve stripped their sound back to the fundamentals here, before bolting something new to it. This is only the second track, but the instrumental passages build to such a majestic crescendo before a brief, if genre-typical guitar solo joins proceedings. A short, lethal piece that works in tandem with ‘Solve’ to open the album.
‘God = Dog’ is driven initially be a laidback bass line from Orion that soon erupts into classic Behemoth black/death fury. Nergal’s vocals are in fine form, and they blend well with the choir that reappears part way-through the track. The classic rock influences at play here have given Behemoth’s music a newly delineated sense of breath and space, a tasteful guitar solo bears evidence of this before giving way to a Nergal-led reprise of the liturgical choir from ‘Solve’. It’s easy to see why this track was chosen as the lead single.
‘Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica’ already has more of a classic black metal feel to it, a slight reduction in tempo compared to the prior tracks, but in exchange it sees an increase in intensity. The choral sections as well carry a weight to them, one that really allows the rhythm section of Orion and Inferno to shine. There are some unique touches here, like distorted vocal passages from Nergal that offset the choir quite nicely.
‘Bartzabel’ begins with desolate, forlorn strains of guitar before fading into some martial drumming, chanted vocals intone the chorus in call and response with Nergal’s familiar vocals, giving the track an ethereal, dreamlike aura. Something like ‘Bartzabel’ works as a deliberately repetitive piece, designed to confront and shock the listener, almost lull them into a sense of security. The pounding drums, choral vocals and another of those long guitar solos work in tandem to make this track something special.
‘If Crucifixion Was Not Enough’ comes across as a slightly downtempo, introspective track, before dissonant guitar weaves in and out of frenetic drumming, this is a track where the instrumental passages resonate further than Nergal’s trademark vocals. It makes for a nice change of pace compared to much of the album.
‘Angelvs XIII’ is a ripping piece of Behemoth’s patented black/death chaos. It’s relatively refreshing to get something so straightforward in the middle of an album that has already seen so many twists and turns. It proves that Behemoth are just as adept in the style that brought them renown, as they are when they shift. The latter half of the song sees them introduce another shift as delicate acoustics are brought into the mix, as a counterpoint to some technical soloing and powerful vocals from Nergal.
‘Sabbath Mater’ displays more of Behemoth’s traditional sound, albeit flecked with melodic interludes, and tasteful drumming from Inferno. A great of example of how their ‘rock’ influenced outlook has heightened their sound rather than detracting from it.
‘Havohej Pantocrator’ begins with an elongated, martial intro before revealing a pronounced shift in dynamics. Almost akin to a classic horror soundtrack, tt’s the longest track on the album yet it’s perhaps the one with the greatest number of time changes and different atmospheres contained within it. Each element works together to create a track unlike any other on this album, perhaps even in Behemoth’s vaunted discography.
‘Rom 5:8’ sees Behemoth’s black metal influences combine with sinister spoken-word vocals to find the band at its highest instrumental apex and Nergal at his most blasphemous. It feels much shorter than its four minutes. ‘We are the Next 1000 Years’ continues on the path set by ‘Rom 5:8’ albeit throwing more of those rock influences back into the mix. It’s a relatively simple, pounding, powerful way to bring the album proper to a close. This one would be a real crowd pleasure during a live show. It feels too short, but it serves its purpose in giving way to the outro.
‘Coagula (Outro)’ finds more of that martial drumming and that almost-orchestral majesty to ride the album out. It joins the circle neatly to ‘Solve’ and makes I Loved You At Your Darkest the cyclical journey it needs to be.
It was going to be hard to top The Satanist; I feel like Behemoth knew this. So they didn’t set out to try. They instead created a record that stylistically stands alone in comparison. In fact, I Loved You At Your Darkest stands alone among their discography. It was no doubt a gamble bringing in a heightened rock influence, with some fans thinking that it’d possibly see Behemoth losing their edge and aiming more towards the mainstream. What it has done instead is refresh their sound and offer it a few new dynamics. I Loved You At Your Darkest shows why Behemoth are at their apex. Even at this point in their career, they’re not afraid to take risks and challenge perceptions of their own sound, succeeding in a manner that few bands have. Behemoth fans and open-minded listeners will find a lot to enjoy here.
2. Wolves ov Siberia
4. Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica
6. If Crucifixion Was Not Enough
7. Angelvs XIII
8. Sabbath Mater
9. Havohej Pantocrator
10. Rom 5:8
11. We Are the Next 1000 Years