At the dawn of a new year Polish black/death metal icons Behemoth have returned with a new live record In Absentia Dei released by Nuclear Blast Records, with whom they have successfully collaborated for more than ten years. You don’t really need to be a metalhead to know about Behemoth, these Polish blasphemers built their legendary status in their own time. But actually they deserve it in full glory – one of the first Polish black metal bands conquering the world scene, excellent live act, very energetic by all accounts, and of course, they have polished their own stylistic trademark, changing the shape of modern death/black metal. You can love them or you can hate them, but one thing you can’t take away from them…, Behemoth enjoy their cult status regally as the kings and humbly as the slaves all at once.
Behemoth consists of only three constant members – Nergal, Inferno and Orion, but these are hard and tough workers, who can’t allow themselves to make something half-heartedly. Behemoth has been a band of perfectionists right from the start; nothing gets past them regarding their art or organizational matters. So, everything is always flawless, it’s so rare, when you can be a rockstar, a businessman and a human rolled into one, and that’s all about Nergal (meanwhile there are many who consider him an asshole). And let’s not forget about their confrontation with Catholic Church, the official bans to perform in the native country or Nergal’s grave illness, yeah, there’s nothing that can stop or crush them.
In Absentia Dei was recorded and broadcasted in September 2020, when the pandemic hit worldwide at full capacity, and these live performances were a real salvation in those uncultured times. Now, when metal festivals are overcrowded and night clubs are fat from the offers, it seems a little bit strange, these online performances. But everyone who survived this pandemic remembers pretty clearly this drab and static life without entertainment, without culture, without any social gatherings. But this forced freedom (or incarceration) was a major opportunity for many creative people to concentrate on their art and to give them a break from active touring. Behemoth is a mind-blowing live entity, so no one ever doubted that their broadcasted concert would be just another cheerless noodling in the basement.
This review is only about the audio version of the live concert, but there exists also a blue-ray version to satisfy the visual side. It’s a spectacular show (alas, without an audience) with full stage attires, fire performance, bombastic theatricality and even with a hanged model. And this concert was performed in an abandoned church in rural Poland (and that’s surprising how after so many battles against the Polish church, they’ve managed to get a legal permission to perform in a former sacred place). Everything here is grim, dramatic and aggressive, but what about the audio version?
The songs are chosen carefully, honoring all the decades of their long history – from old traditional black metal hits to more sophisticated and slow occult black/death compositions from the last opuses (beginning with their first LP Sventevith (Storming near the Baltic) from 1995 and ending with the newest EP Forest from the same year when this concert was livestreamed). Many songs have occult ambient intros (creepy, noisy, emotional, ritualistic, anxious) or are adorned with intense speeches, smoothly transitioning into solid and straightforward metal parts. A little bit of melodic lines (“Conquer All”), symphonic solemnity (“Bartzabel”), oriental elements (“Sculpting the Throne ov Seth”) and shamanistic experience (“Lucifer”) embellish the traditional spirit of black/death fury. This live performance is really aggressive, but the aggression is restricted and never leaves the sacred territory of blasphemous rituals. The structural madness of horrors and hellish nightmares is so enchantingly mesmerizing, that these 105 minutes pass in the blink of an eye. And if you are really into music of Behemoth, then you’ll be genuinely delighted to enjoy your favorite hits like “Ov Fire and the Void”, “Blow your Trumpets Gabriel”, “O Father O Satan O Sun!” or “Conquer All”.
The phenomenon and cult reputation of Behemoth aren’t just competent PR stunts or their charismatic leader; it’s also about the uniqueness of their music, which seems primitive and classical at first sight, but then you begin to understand, that it’s not quite so simple. There’s kind of sophisticated technicality in the music of Behemoth apart from catchy melodies; and there’s also a poised discipline with nothing superfluous. Even though the pandemic is over and you can once again participate in live concerts (supporting local or foreign bands), it’s still a very heart-warming opportunity to stay home and watch (or just listen) In Absentia Dei. You can’t attend this Polish abandoned church, but you have a couple of options how to take communion. Meditating on an artwork with a burning church, surrounded by black candles, pentagrams and inverted crosses, drinking blood of your beloved partner (or better your arch enemy) and inhaling the profane energy of Behemoth’s music. But if your religion doesn’t allow all this solemn theatricality, it’s no big deal; you can immerse yourself into In Absentia Dei anywhere, black metal magic will get you anyway.
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