Being the intrepid explorer into the unknown that I undoubtedly am, I thought that to fully prepare myself for The Satanist I should get myself into a suitably dark mind set. As such, I turned off the lights, put on the headphones, and pointed my browser at a suitably dark corner of Reddit. Admittedly I also listened to it once or twice whilst in my girlfriend’s dressing gown, but that’s by the by. Point is, I’m expecting a Pulitzer nomination any day now for my commitment to the journalistic cause.
Oh right, the album. So, Behemoth seem to have been a critic’s favourite for a while now and I can’t say I’m surprised to see that this was similarly given universal praise; upon release Evangelion was plastered absolutely everywhere as the be all and end all of extreme metal. Weirdly, outside of magazines and online press, I never came across real human beings that were similarly enraptured with the album, but perhaps I hang out with the wrong crowd (who am I kidding? My cat has excellent taste in music). Personally, I listened to Evangelion many times, mostly because I was confused by all the praise it was getting and wondering if I’d missed something; it was by no means a bad album, but it was largely forgettable with many songs blurring into one. Even after repeated listens. Admittedly at the time I was listening a lot to another blackened-death, experimental extreme (etc. etc.) metal band, Akercocke, and for a quick comparison of the two…let’s just say that I am thoroughly depressed that it doesn’t look like I’ll get to review a new Akercocke album any time soon. When it comes to putting out an interesting extreme metal album in praise of the fallen one, Behemoth are in the shadow of Akercocke (cue hate mail).
First thing’s first, The Satanist is a definite improvement of their sound over Evangelion. That said, the first track, ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’, does pretty much sum the experience of listening to the entire album; a bombastic track you could pump your fist to whilst wearing a black robe, head bowed, surrounded by candles (if that’s the sort of thing you’re into). The choral elements, the complementary usage of orchestral instruments, and Nergal’s throaty, rasping roars… It’s all very epic in a less ambitious, or perhaps more restrained, vein to what Cradle of Filth achieved with Damnation & A Day. Said track is the first single, which you can watch here; if you don’t like it, the rest of the album will do very little for you, as it’s one of the best tracks on the album.
Many critics have claimed that the new album might alienate old fans, which I guess might be true if you were only interested in their more death metal sound of older albums, but they were never a particularly clear cut genre job, so if you liked their older albums, chances are you listen to a greater variety of metal than just bands that sound like carbon copies of Cannibal Corpse. With that in mind, if you at least tolerated Evangelion, you’ll at least tolerate The Satanist; the sound isn’t a million miles away, it’s just an older, wiser sound than it’s younger brother.
The only track other than the single that I think is worthy of a standout mention is the last one on the album, ‘O Father O Satan O Sun!’, mostly because it’s significantly different enough from the other tracks to separate itself from the similarity that the album can lend itself to on the first couple of listens (actually, that similarity doesn’t entirely go away, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing). It feels like you’re listening to a painting of a scene from Paradise Lost; the point where the album steps out of the dark, restrained cave of ritualised worship and out into the fires of the sun to scream at the Heavens. The first and last track aside, the album is a definite ‘grower’; it requires a number of listens before some of the subtleties start to boil to the surface (weird, acoustic, Witold Gombrowicz passage aside). At first I was only listening to the album with a mind to give it a fair hearing, now I find myself putting it on simply because I want to hear those trumpets once again.
Truth be told, I’ve found this album extremely hard to score, because I just cannot make up my mind about it. Many parts of the album I still find rather dull after repeated listens, but there are some moments that standout as being truly excellent; when the trumpets start to sound at the end of ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’ I still get chills (and I just adore that last track). It is my favourite Behemoth album, but I’ve never much cared for the band, so it’s difficult to take much from that. The album sometimes bores me, at other times it exhilarates. At times I think it deserves a mediocre score, at others, a relatively high one. So, dear reader, if you happen to disagree with my rating, do note that I probably do too. Like Lucifer himself, the album is difficult to judge easily; the character has more complexity than the first glance permits you to see. There are, however, two things I am sure about; firstly, that it is definitely worth more than one listen if you have any interest in the more extreme side of metal; secondly, that I can guarantee you it will make more than one ‘Top 10 albums of the year’ list. If either of those two certainties hold relevance to you, then you should check this album out. If you’re simply holding out for a return to their more death metal influenced sound, then you’ll have to hold out for a while longer yet, I’m afraid.
-A frustrating beast to pin down; it’s by no means perfect, nor is it the best thing I’ve listened to in a while, but it is sodding hard to ignore. Defiant, explosive, and definitely worth a look.