Yella’Hammer of the Gods: Behemoth’s “The Satanist” is the band’s best, and likely the best of 2014.

Behemoth are, without exaggeration, legends on the metal scene, godfathers of Polish metal, and one of the progenitors of the blackened metal subgenre. Begun in 1991 in the Prussian Gdansk/Danzig area, the band started out mirroring underground brethren, Vader, as well as being shaped by ultra-technical, classically-inspired acts like Morbid Angel. And, yet, the band still managed to release tracks that seemed to be purely black metal.

They were, in short, an excellent band with little direction.

No one wants to pigeon-hole versatile, talented musicians as being solely “riffy, tech-death,” or “thrash-inspired, black metal,” but that’s exactly where Behemoth found themselves for the first decade of their career. But, importantly, those early comparisons are salient as the band matured.

Early Behemoth “From the Pagan Vastlands”

In 2000, despite several successful releases, the band wholly switched gears — lyrically and thematically. Gone were the Germanic neo-pagan overtures. Gone also were the pure Vader-homage death metal tracks. Gone as well were the Satyricon inspired-black metal tunes. Inserted into their stead was an admixture of Eastern harmonies, thrashy riffs, black metal tremolo backing, tech-death virtuosity, bombastic orchestral pieces, and broad-reaching lyrical themes of global, holistic evil. You know what? It paid off. Behemoth moved from being a mainstay of the European underground to something much bigger, much more complete, more complex -and, ultimately, something that spawned the genre of blackened metal.

Classic blackened Behemoth “Ov Fire and the Void”

Enter the past decade, where Behemoth have seen both their most commercial success and their most adversity as persons and musicians, notably ever-rotating members, the trial in Poland for blasphemy, the cancer of front-man Nergal, the seemingly-annual ritual of switching labels. Behemoth, frankly, could not catch a break -even as their albums were more critically and commercially acclaimed. Now, in 2014, and with no small fanfare, we gladly review Behemoth’s latest offering, The Satanist.

It is impossible to soft-sell this record, because, frankly, The Satanist is the finest album that Behemoth has produced in a career spanning two decades –and, honestly, I’m unsure there will be a release in 2014 year this dynamic and musically satisfying.

Beginning with the intro track, the much-hyped and previewed “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel,” you are treated to a bridge release that musically falls between the above-linked classical blackened track “Ov Fire and The Void” and the rest of the album’s secrets.

“Gabriel” demonstrates Behemoth’s concerted effort to pay attention to groove, to let the backbeat shine, to

emphasize bass lines, to show off Nergal’s vocal range, to ramp up the orchestration (including metal-as-fuck French Horn lines), and -above all -to slow down and let the song take the lead. The effect is nothing short of remarkable and, impressively, it endures through every track of The Satanist.

Behemoth’s “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel”

Are there black metal passages on the record? Absolutely. But, even as 2009’s Evangelion seemed to move Behemoth more towards black metal, Satanist takes a different tack, with black metal pedal tones as a backbeat to a grooving rhythm section. But, when those black metal phrases do arrive, they absolutely crush. The moments of cold bleakness serve as the foundation for something darker and heavier, as the balance of the album, and especially the more memorable moments, are far slower and more disciplined. The production is a little less slick than in years past; the bass far more prominent; and the guitars are masterful.

You can tell that Behemoth put careful thought into the arrangement of the album. As the album begins with “Gabriel,” some of the Evangelion themes yields to the hateful “Furor Divinus,” a mostly black metal track that would would be at home on early Cradle of Filth releases. “Furor” thematically continues into most of Track 3, “Messe Noire.” Then, at 2:50 of “Messe”, magic happens: The album slows down, and Nergal unleashes what can only be described as a soulful guitar solo. It is so random, so unexpected that you find yourself listening again and again. “Messe” then transitions seemlessly to “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer,” which (as with “Furor” and “Gabriel”), is sonically related to the prior track, including more truly phenomenal guitar passages.

It is the second half of Satanist that takes the album and the band in another direction entirely. The title track, for instance, is a clear homage to early first wave black metal, such as Venom or Bathory, with the unique tech-death melody that Behemoth have become known for. After the initial blues-based lead, the blast beats kick in, the French Horns dissonantly arrive and the riffs become contemporary blackened metal. This pattern is somewhat repeated in the closing track “O Father O Satan O Sun!” But, no where is “Behemoth 3.0” more evident than in the penultimate track, “In the Absence Ov Light,” which features an acoustic bridge, spoken parts, NWOBHM rhythm sections, and razor-cold tremolo picking.

I cannot emphasize what a tour de force this is for one of metal’s most respected acts. Whatever Behemoth was doing for the past 10-15 years as a “blackened” band is now dead and gone. The Satanist is either the very best the subgenre will offer or (more likely) something wholly different; this is much creepier, much more satisfying; it is an unsettling and truly evil album. The Satanist is not merely Behemoth’s best release -although it is that. The Satanist is, like Slayer’s Reign in Blood, something that the metal community will revere in twenty years as a watershed moment.

Behemoth 2.0 created blackened metal.

We need entirely new adjectives for what Behemoth 3.0 has done on The Satanist.

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