Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #131. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Black metal overlords Behemoth are en route to Australia for the first time since 2015, their sharpest and most defiant album yet in tow. Adam “Nergal“ Darski explains to Matt Doria what makes LP11 the peak of his elusive, yet always eruptive artistry. Photos by Alyssa Howell.
At this point, we’re convinced Adam “Nergal” Darski doesn’t sleep – he sucks power from the body of a demon he enslaved when it tried to drag him back to Hell (his creator, Satan himself, had some words about that time he hosted The Voice) and uses that power to fuel his ever-elusive artistry.
Since 1991, Behemoth have been churning out some of the most venomous, visceral and violently powerful music in black metal history. Yet, it was their 2018 effort, I Loved You At Your Darkest (their 11th album overall) that saw them truly reach their peak with a stunning spate of strings, atmospherics and the demonic guitar crunch we’ve come to know and love.
As we speak, Nergal and co. are packing their suitcases for a stupidly overdue return to Australia. The Polish unit will be tearing shit up on their biggest stages yet at the 2019 Download Festival, but before they leave punters with permanently dropped jaws (book those dentist appointments in advance, folks), we got Nergal on the phone to chat about the new guitar you’ll see him wield onstage, and dig a little deeper into the enigma that is I Loved You At Your Darkest.
Just from the title alone, there’s the notion that this album is a bold and major statement for the band. Why do you think this record is the perfect reflection of what Behemoth represent in 2018?
It’s just an immensely sincere record. There was no room for us to fool around with it – it’s exactly the record that we needed to do. It’s pretty uncompromising, too. I’m sure people expect that kind of record from us at this point, which is proof that we just follow our instincts and our intuition.
We play whatever is playing in our hearts, instead of looking around and seeing what the latest trends are, or trying to guess what our fans might want us to do. We just want to be honest. And the response from our fans has been pretty awesome as well, so I’m happy that the honesty pays off.
How do you keep things feeling fresh, honest and original after 27 years and 11 albums?
I don’t know if we’re original at all. All I know is that we’re honest. I’m not here to reinvent the wheel, y’know? I mean, it’s already there. So the question now is how we can approach it in an honest way and how we’re going to use it. The wheel has already been invented, but you can still use it in a very unique way – that’s how I see what we do with our metal. But is it original? I don’t think so, but it is ours. It sounds like Behemoth, and Behemoth sounds like no other band on the planet. That’s a feeling I’ll always stand by.
So how did you want to spin that wheel in a new way on Darkest?
When we were making it, I just felt way more liberated. It felt like I could do pretty much whatever I wanted with our sound. I wanted to take that as far as I could, and I think the record shows that. It’s a pretty adventurous record for Behemoth – there’s stuff that we’ve never done before, like some of the tempos, the beats, the melodies, the vocals… It’s all pretty new to us.
There’s a lot of cleaner guitar sounds on this album – you’re not just drowning everything in distortion for the sake of sounding brutal. Is that a challenge you like taking on, to make the guitar sound as destructive as you can without taking any shortcuts?
Is it a challenge. It’s much more difficult to play one note straight for a longer period – to play at a slower pace and keep it up at a new tempo, and just do it well without being sloppy. It’s much easier to be sloppy and just hide all your mistakes when you play a lot of notes at a super fast tempo. And that’s something I’ve learned throughout the years. When you listen to the album, you might think, “Oh, it’s so easy.” Well, it sounds easy, but it’s actually more challenging to play that than it would be to play some of the crazier and heavier parts.
It’s a literal approach to the age-old phrase, “Less is more.”
Yeah, and I think that’s something we all learn eventually. And I like it. These days, sometimes all I need is just one f***ing note, man! I’ll grab a chord and just let it sting, y’know what I mean? I enjoy that moment. And I mean, it’s really all about dynamics.
There’s a lot of dynamics on this record. On the one hand, you have these very simple structures, but they’re constructed with stuff that is absolutely f***ing wild. And then there’s something very primitive, but it’ll be followed by something very progressive and complicated. Then, there are these high-gain moments that are full of this acoustic, almost crunchy guitar sound.
When I listen to the Rolling Stones or The Beatles, or AC/DC or Metallica, there’s always a lot of dynamics at play. It’s never flat. And on most metal records, it’s super flat. And I don’t like that! Metal is a part of rock music, so I want our music to be dynamic in that way. We are extreme, but we are also a part of the rock genre. I wanted this album to sound like a rock album.
So in essence, Behemoth are the Rolling Stones of black metal.
Well, I f***ing hope I’m not the Keith Richards of black metal [laughs]. Nah, I saw the Rolling Stones live recently and they were amazing. Ask me that question in 15 years – if we’re still around and we’re releasing our 60th album at that point, then I’ll admit we’re the Rolling Stones of black metal.
You recently came out with this new ESP Signature Nergal-6 guitar. What’s the origin story behind it?
It’s not really a new model. Some people are even disappointed by it – they’re saying, “Ah, it’s just the classic Gibson shape. We miss the V, blah, blah, blah.” But I’m like, “Y’know what? For this new sound, and for this new music that we have, I’d rather go with something like that.”
And then it’s not really new to me either because I used that kind of shape during the Demigod era – I did months of touring using these Gibson-inspired shapes from ESP, and I liked them a lot. I switched to the V-shaped guitars afterwards, and that was cool for that period, and now I’m just using both. With this classic shape, it just really suits the music. It looks beautiful – it’s matte black and it has some very small ornaments here and there… It just looks very classy. And it plays amazingly! I’m playing it every night at the moment.
What were you going for in terms of its tone, and the “sonic identity” that you wanted to get out of this guitar?
Honestly, I don’t think that deep. The older I am and the more experience I have, the less I’m trying to f*** around with what I need. Just give me a Peavey amp and some boost along the way, and I’m set. I have a noise compressor and a few of the basic pedals, but that’s it, really. The Peavey combined with the ESP does the trick, and then the rest is in your hands. It all comes down to how you punch the strings and how you articulate your notes – that’s how you make your statement.
It’s not about what you have, but what you do with what you have.
Yeah. Again, it’s all about the dynamics. I mean, this record was just way more organic, y’know? Like, for The Satanist, we just re-amped all the guitars. We did the same with Evangelion – it was good for those records, but with this one, we wanted to really strip it down to the basics. All of the settings we had plugged in when we were tracking the guitars is what you hear on the record. I’m really happy that we didn’t change much of the original tones. It is what it is, and that’s what we play like.
Thursday March 7th – Riverstage, Brisbane
Saturday March 9th – Download Festival, Sydney
Monday March 11th – Download Festival, Melbourne
Wednesday March 13th – Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Tickets on sale via behemoth.pl