Monday 10 October 2022

Behemoth - Opvs Contra Natvram (2022)

Country: Poland
Style: Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 16 Sep 2022
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Legendary Polish extreme metallers Behemoth have been around for over thirty years now, which makes them kind of an institution. Given that everything Nergal has got up to in that time, from a series of trials for blasphemy for ripping up a Bible to his stint as a coach on The Voice of Poland, it becomes difficult not to see them that way. However, this is only their twelfth studio album, their release schedule hovering around every four years right now.

I remember enjoying them in the mid nineties and whenever they've crossed my path in the years since, but it's been a while since I've heard a full album from them, so Post-God Nirvana was rather unexpected. It's a neat, if long intro, rather like a Coil layer applied to Heilung, though it's heavier than either with a buzzsaw guitar eventually showing up to underline that. It's a slow and chanting piece to kick things off. And an angry one. There's a lot of anger on this album.

And then Malaria Vvlgata explodes out of the gates like a TGV from a tunnel, dominating all in its path. Behemoth may have shifted in style from pure black metal to become pioneers of the black/death metal hybrid style, but I'm out of date with where they've ended up on that spectrum. This album plays to me far closer to black than death. It doesn't feel at all like blackened death metal. Maybe we could call it deathened black metal, but that's just clumsy and I'd plump for black metal pure and simple. It's fast and it's furious but somehow the guitar solo still manages to add a level. This one has energy to spare.

The Deathless Sun adds a few symphonic and choral elements that continue to elevate the album. The choral side isn't front and centre but it shows up at points to add texture, whether at the start of Ov My Herculean Exile or later in Thy Becoming Eternal, where the voices are almost teasing in a back and forth with Nergal. There's a repeated keyboard swell in Off to War! that feels acutely like a summoning. These do background things but they all add to the whole.

However, Nergal still feels angry. It sounds like he's still combining a black shriek and death growl but adding a cry of frustration to the mix. It doesn't hurt that the lyrics echo this. "I am nothing." "I am no-one." This cry is especially obvious on the closer Versvs Christvs, which is, of all things, an almost whispered ballad for its first minute and change. When it heavies up, because of course it does, it doesn't get fast immediately and that transition ably highlights how angry Nergal is here.

And that anger works wonders. The more frantic a song is and the more Nergal emotes, the better it plays to me. The sheer energy of Malaria Vvlgata is difficult to match but the beginning of Neo-Spartacvs manages it. And, quite frankly, liking the fastest material isn't that surprising to me as a thrash fan at heart. However, I found myself connecting more with the consistency that arrives in the second half, from Disinheritance to Thy Becoming Eternal. On the first side, I'm listening to an impressive set of individual songs. On the second, I'm listening to an album.

And I think that's what Nergal and co. are aiming for. There's still death metal here but it's clearly not the priority that black metal is. However, this is far from a return to their early years. It's a lot more commercial and accessible than the early Behemoth ever were, even though they show how they can still absolutely rip on faster sections and songs like Malaria Vvlgata that don't stop for a breather. I like this more mature black metal Behemoth and look forward to their lucky thirteenth album in another four years.

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