All long-running bands eventually face a moment of extreme tribulation and tragedy. For some, it’s the untimely death of a beloved band member. Within the last few years, the metal world lost Jeff Hanneman, Pete Hurley, Clive Burr, Joey LaCaze, Jonathan Lowry and Joey Lombard. Most of their bands carried on in memory of their fallen friends, but some don’t, understandably caving under the haunting permanence and mourning of death.
Poland’s Behemoth narrowly escaped that fate, as mainman Adam “Nergal” Darski pulled through leukemia after being diagnosed in 2010, successfully receiving a bone marrow transplant. As a big middle finger to the ravages of illness, the band unveiled their triumphant tenth studio album, The Satanist, in February, complete with lyrical themes addressing enduring illness and symbolic cover art utilizing his blood.
“To be honest, back then, we had no idea what it’s going to be and we didn’t really know which way we should go or what we were doing,” says bassist Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski, who gave BeatRoute a unique perspective on the heavily publicized near tragedy.
“Then it all happened, these sad stories about Nergal being diagnosed with leukaemia and hospitalized and lots of other changes in our private lives also. I think, somehow, this whole hard period and time just changed us a lot as human beings and as people,” reveals Wróblewski. “And I think we somehow changed the approach to what were doing and to the way we work. Somehow, we just learned to appreciate what we have much more.”
The band had been riding a high since the release of Demigod (2004), propelling themselves to the forefront of technically proficient, brutal bands. It was shortly after the release of the critically revered Evangelion (2009) that they received the news, which put the blackened death quartet in a weird limbo. Wróblewski notes that it was imperative at the time for the group to keep busy amidst maintaining a positive outlook.
“We just started behaving like we were having a break but the band is still on. It’s just going and we’re just waiting for him to get healthy. It’s gonna happen at some point and we all truly believed it.”
The positive outlook proved helpful. Instead of crumbling in the face of stress induced by the illness, the band focused on releasing their DVD, which ended up being their second, dubbed Evangelia Heretika (2010). In addition, Wróblewski worked with other projects, like the heavy rock act Black River (who are now on permanent hiatus) and symphonic extreme band Vesania, the latter of which is releasing an album later in 2014.
Good news came eventually: Nergal received treatment and the band came back in full force. They wrote and released The Satanist, a dark and raw album that brings many elements of old Behemoth back to the forefront. The overproduction and mass instrument layering of their mid 2000s tech-death are gone, giving way to a doom-tinged, blackened death album. Critics were either wowed or indifferent, responding much like metal fans who either worship or revile the band.
“It sounds way more organic and way more human and we didn’t try to edit all the tracks to the very edge. We didn’t try to make it sound perfect in any way. We just wanted it to be like us. Imperfect, sometimes,” says Wróblewski. “We’re not the best musicians ever. We’re not guitar shredders or whatever. We’re just doing our thing and that’s what we can do and it’s not going to be any better in terms of musicianship. We’re just not trying to behave like were better than what we are. It is what it is.”
The record is a symbolic release of pent up aggression, Behemoth’s version of a therapy. One could conclude that the trying times was a way for the cosmos to bring the band back down to earth after sending them around it so many times.
“Looking from perspective, at this harsh time for us, we’re trying to get as many good things from it as possible.”
See Behemoth at the Garrick Centre (Winnipeg) on April 27, at MacEwan Hall (Calgary) on April 29 and at Union Hall (Edmonton) on April 30.
By Brandon McNeil