Nergal (Behemoth) : the monster running in his veins

Nergal has reached a crucial point in his life. Now that his health problems are behind him, Behemoth’s singer and guitarist is free, and his creative spirit is unleashed and in perpetual motion. The same can therefore be said about his band, in which the artist seems to have taken the concept of art to new heights. For Nergal, their latest album, The Satanist, is a model of openness: still close to what the band has always done, but musically richer and more diverse – even if, ironically, it is more spontaneous than carefully thought-out. An album modeled on its leader and his overly creative mind, fueled by his constant need to meddle with different forms of art.

In the following interview, the frontman talks about his many musical and extra-musical side-projects. From his country music albums to cinema and to his appearance as a jury member on Polish television, Nergal speaks with honesty and shares his enthusiasm – the same enthusiasm he’s ready to show on stage during the band’s upcoming European tour, which Nergal and his gang are looking forward to.

« We try to extend the boundaries and still remain faithful to our origins, to our radical metal style, just extending them a little bit and be a bit more artistic, probably. »

Radio Metal: First of all, how is Inferno since he’s been replaced for the summer shows for medical reasons?

Nergal (vocals, guitar): He’s better. He should start to come back behind the drum kit next weeks I hope, so by the time we’re back in Europe with the shows, he’s gonna be great. He’s doing fine. His surgery was kinda complicated so it took more time than expected for him to recover, but eventually he’s gonna be fine. We cross fingers.

How did the shows go with Krimh on drums?

Krimh is doing a great job. I mean, it’s not an easy task to fill in for one of the best drummers in the genre, but he’s doing well, with discipline, he’s doing his best. We’re really grateful that he managed to help us out.

In a recent interview with Revolver magazine, you described your new songs as “very atmospheric” and “very emotional”, like “Burzum meets New Order meets Killing Joke”. Were those bands conscious influences while you were working?

No… I loosely said that. It’s not like I was just sitting here listening to that and then trying to copy stuff, no. The album has a different vibe, you’ve heard it; on one hand it has things from our past but then we broaden so much into the future and into other directions… We’re really proud of it, it’s very diverse, it’s not just death metal or black metal, it’s mixed up. It has a lot of rock structures in it, we used for instance for leads parts way more pentatonic and blues scales… I don’t know, it sounds way more musical. I just love it.

You also insisted on the fact that this will still sound as a classic Behemoth record, and you made an analogy with Slayer, saying: “Whatever genre they deal with, they still end up sounding like Slayer. Even when they were flirting with nu-metal, it was a Slayer record.” What do you think of bands that radically change their style then?

It depends, you know. As long as something is working out, it’s fine. I definitely respect Morbid Angel for having balls to make such a drastic change, but if you ask me if I like it… No I don’t! I mean this band should stay metal. But then again, if you take a band like Ulver, their transformations make total sense to me. It just sounds right. Some bands should do it, some bands shouldn’t do it. I don’t expect AC/DC to become a pop band, you know what I mean? I expect them to play the same old songs and I’m a huge fan of AC/DC. But when it comes to Behemoth, within the constraints of the genre, we try to extend the boundaries and still remain faithful to our origins, to our radical metal style, just extending them a little bit and be a bit more artistic, probably. I don’t know, it’s just changing, always changing.

OK, and how do you draw the line between what you can do and what would be too much?

I just listen to my intuition.

« We focus on our guts more than anything these days. […] And we try to limit the intellectual influence that we used to have on our music. »

Where does the emotional and atmospheric side of the album comes from? Has it been inspired by the health issues you’ve been through in 2011?

It didn’t really change since the beginning. I draw inspiration from everywhere I go and anywhere I look. I try to be an alert observer of life, my life, lives of others, other people… I draw inspiration from anywhere. History, books, movies, other bands, other music… Obviously some of this near-death experience that I went through during the recent years definitely had some serious impact on what the new album sounds like. But if you ask me the moment when leukemia comes out in our music, I can’t really answer… [laughs]

So you wouldn’t say it really changed your way of working or writing…

Well, it did. We focus on our guts more than anything these days. If something feels like we should do it, then we just do it. And we try to limit the intellectual influence that we used to have on our music. Obviously, from a technical point of view, you really have to analyze stuff over, but we try to balance it well. We try to use our heart and our intuition more than our intellect.

Many people, when they’re facing serious health issues like you did, turn towards religion. Obviously, there hasn’t been a drastic change for you since your album is called The Satanist, which is a pretty strong statement, but did your fighting against leukemia change in one way or another your perspective on religion?

I don’t know… I think it’s a process. This transformation is an ongoing process but if someone would expect me to change my beliefs like 180°, then no, that’s not me, obviously. If I have gone more religious? It depends in which sense. Lately I’ve found a really cool sentence in one of the books that I’ve read: “Doubting is my religion”. In that sense, did I get more religious? Yes, I have more doubts than ever! [laughs]

Can you tell us more about the title of the album, “The Satanist”? It has a kind of less-is-more quality to it and it evokes Satanica…

To me, The Satanist and Satanica are two completely different things. The contexts are different. We’re in a different place, we’re different people in a way, we’re way more mature. I just thought it’s a perfect title for a 10th record, and considering the place we’re at now, considering our experience, the struggles that we’ve been through these recent years, for instance the trial I had to face in Poland, the battle, the cancer; it just felt like the strongest statement of autonomic, free human being we could make. I know it’s radical for many people, many people find it primitive, find it this, find it that, I don’t give a fuck. It just felt right for us. When I came up with this title, I had no single shadow of doubt that this would be it. This is the ultimate Behemoth title. I love it. I think it’s just perfect.

The album’s artwork has been made by Denis Forkas. It’s been painted with your own blood…

He used some of my blood to mix with the paint for the cover and he did an amazing job. He’s a Moscow-based artist. He’s still not very well known for his work with other bands which is kinda good too because it makes our cover more unique, and that was the point with this album, to state that it’s very artistic and very unique, original. And I’m sure it is, it’s different than anything else, you’re gonna see it in the market.

« It just felt like the strongest statement of autonomic, free human being we could make. […] Now, I say that this is my life’s work and this is the ultimate piece of work that I committed as an artist »

And what did it mean to you, to give your own blood for the artwork?

I don’t have children but parents would always say: “I would die for my children”. Now, I say that this is my life’s work and this is the ultimate piece of work that I committed as an artist, and I sacrificed a lot, I offered a lot, all my life basically, my life experience, my life philosophy, all captured there so if I can make or offer more… Blood is a symbol of life, it’s often used as a sacrifice, so you can consider it as the ultimate sacrifice to all artistic vision.

There’s a song on the album called “Messe Noire”. Why did you choose a French title?

Why not? [Laughs] It’s a beautiful language. It was actually a coincidence, because we were inspired by one of these occult calendars from the 19th century. I just got sent the pdf file one day about a year ago or something, I don’t remember, but I got it. As I was studying it, I saw this “messe noire” text there and was like: “Wow, it’s amazing, it just sounds perfect for that song.” I just knew it was the perfect song title for that song.

Is it the « calendrier magique » de Manuel Orazi ?

I don’t know, maybe. Is it that compilation of numbers and drawings, crazy stuff?


It’s beautiful! So it’s from there actually.

Now back to the album. I’ve heard that there would be a cover of a Polish punk band called Siekiera, but I didn’t hear it on the record…

Yeah, you just heard the main 9 songs, and it’s all our songs. The cover will be released on our upcoming EP [Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel]. Siekiera is an old punk band, they put out two records only. They started out as a really aggressive punk band and then released a record which was more like post-punk, new wave, and a bit gothic. It’s one of these songs and it’s amazing. We made it sound like Behemoth, but I’d say Behemoth meets Killing Joke with Dave Grohl on drums. That’s how I perceive that interpretation of the song [laughs]. It’s very groovy, very powerful. I’m not sure if we’ll be playing it on our upcoming tour… Probably just in Poland because it’s a Polish song but we really have a lot of material so I can’t say yet.

On the song “In The Absence Ov Light”, we can hear a part in Polish…

It’s from Witold Gombrowicz. He should be known in France because he’s one of the biggest Polish writers from the 20th century, and his wife, Rita Gombrowicz, lived in Paris. I’m sure his books are translated in French, they must be because he spent some time here before he died. I don’t know, google him and see if you can find anything of him. But yeah, there’s a quote that I used and that is amazing. It’s really difficult to translate because he created his own style of writing. Trying to translate it is already a failure because it’s so difficult, but it’s a really beautiful and touching fragment about the poet human being just stripped down to his own weakness and needs, the human being being bored and tired of all the Gods, indoctrinations, doctrines and dogmas, cursing God and any kind of ideology and thoughts, and just asking for another human being, craving for that interaction, just craving for love, unconditional love.

So you said a bit before that it is the ultimate piece of art you’ve ever done. What’s next then?

I don’t know. It’s too early to say. One of the main thoughts I have for myself in life is that I live here and now. The future is obviously very important for me, but I don’t think to much ahead. I’m thinking about the next months. I’m so happy about this record now, I’m happy to talk to you, I’m happy to hear all the feedback about the record and I just can’t wait to give it out to people, but I focus on the present time, and I try to squeeze out all the juices there is from today, just to make today more complete to experience in my life. Who the fuck knows what the future brings [laughs]?

« I’ll be involved, in the future, in music that’s not related to metal whatsoever, eventually I’m gonna release some of it. But just because I’m interested in different kind of music, that’s it! »

You played in a Polish comedy about Nazism (AmbaSSada). Can you tell us how you got involved in this movie?

Yes! It was a funny coincidence. The director read an interview with me that I did for the Polish edition of Newsweek, a cover story with me on the cover and a long interview. He just sent me a text that he liked my way of thinking. It started from there. We met a few weeks or a few months later. He started talking to me about the screen play, his ideas for this movie and I liked it, so he sent me the screen play, I read it, and then we sat together and he offered me this role. I’m playing one of the four main characters in the movie, and it turned out really well, I mean… according to my standards [laughs]. Obviously, everyone have their own opinion about that. I’m really happy about the fact that I did that. If you ask me if I’m gonna continue, then I don’t know. Maybe it was a one-off experience for me on big screen, maybe I’m gonna do something more in that direction, I’ve got no fucking idea today. As I said, we have a new album out now and I wanna tour my ass off for this one.

These last years, you’ve been very busy as you got involved in very diverse projects such as this movie or even a country album. What can we expect from you in the future?

Every time I would do side-projects besides Behemoth, fans will be complaining: “Bring some new music, bring some new music, stop dealing with other stuff, bring us new music!”, so… Doing all these projects was definitely a cool experience for me and I’ve always been doing stuff that I wanted to do, but that was also announced officially that when I put out a new album, I’m gonna commit myself completely to the new record and that’s what I’m doing. I won’t be doing much outside the band. I will be promoting The Satanist as long as can be.

OK, and what triggered the fact that you got involved in many non-metal projects lately?

I’m a pretty open-minded human being, I’m into a lot of stuff. I mean I’ll be involved, in the future, in music that’s not related to metal whatsoever, eventually I’m gonna release some of it. But just because I’m interested in different kind of music, that’s it!

You became very popular during the last few years, thanks to Behemoth but also thanks to TV shows in Poland. Some metal fans complain about that because they think you can’t be a “star” and do extreme music at the same time. What would be your answer to that?

Nothing, really. I got my opinion, they got theirs. I respect that [laughs].

Can you just tell us a bit more about the tour in Europe coming up beginning of the year?

Of course! We’ll be playing in Paris obviously, at the Bataclan. It’s a cool venue, we’ve been there with Cannibal Corpse last time and the show was fucking spectacular. I can’t wait to be back here. We have a very controversial but very diverse and amazing line up. There’s a lot of haters for the fact that we joined forces with Cradle Of Filth, but I think that’s the perfect combination to be honest. The fact that we throw in all these underground bands that are very promising and very different but great artists like Inquisition and In Solitude makes this tour really, really amazing. I love it, I can’t wait to start. It’s gonna be great.

Interview conducted on November, 20th 2013 by Chloé.
Questions: Spaceman & Metal’O Phil.
Transcription: Chloé
Introduction: Alastor

Behemoth official website: www.behemoth.pl

Album The Satanist, out on February, 7th 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records.

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