BEHEMOTH has come a long way since its humble early days as an obscure, dark, melodic black metal band. It truly has gone on to become behemoth in terms of both its musical and commercial growth, with its outlandish music and performances deemed worthy enough to have earned them a coveted slot on SLAYER's recent final North American tour. If mainman and sole original member Adam "Nergal" Darski's tenacity and resilience through times and trends is any indication—let alone the fact that he overcame severe, life-threatening leukemia—it should be painfully clear that BEHEMOTH's success has been well-earned.
Nergal seems perpetually eager to take blasphemous jabs at Christianity, clearly the case considering that the Bible is the source material from which he lifted the title of the Polish band's new album: "I Loved You at Your Darkest". Even the most seasoned of dark metal enthusiasts would be lying through their rotten teeth if they heard the children's choir employed during the cinematic album introduction, "Solve", and didn't admit to being moved. With fortitude, the commanding youthful choir proclaim, while nearly shouting, the following lyrics, which also appear just a couple of tracks later: "Elohim, I shall not forgive! Adonai, I shall not forgive! Living God, I shall not forgive! Jesus Christ, I forgive thee not!"
The preceding mantra-like set of lyrics reappear shortly, this time spat out by Nergal's forked tongue, on a formidable, blasting symphonic black metal track. But for some reason, said song was entitled "God = Dog". The intended blasphemous nature is in tow, but it's also cringe-worthy, cheesy and unintentionally funny, to the nth degree. And this is where BEHEMOTH both succeeds and fails, depending upon the armchair quarterback. To a broader audience, the Polish ensemble is enjoyable, not in spite of the over-the-top theatrical performances, but because of them. And yet, for the most part, BEHEMOTH is essentially a Disney filtration of black metal. Sure, BEHEMOTH can be moving and powerfully dramatic, yet the band is far from being truly menacing. And, again—in the eyes of some—that's arguably prerequisite for a band to be in the realm of blackened death in the first place. But with that said, regardless of whether or not any band is deemed worthy or properly falling within some set of codified guidelines, and if we set aside social media and message board wars about whether band X deserves to be stamped with a given genre tag, any piece of art is most importantly worth considering as an individual piece. As such, "I Loved You at Your Darkest" is an impressive piece of dark art on its own terms, a well-constructed, layered, orchestral, operatic album that unquestionably embodies elements clearly associated with death and black metal. And really, shouldn't that be all that matters at the end of the day?
"I Loved You at Your Darkest" showcases BEHEMOTH as the kind of death and black metal band that's fit for arenas and stadiums. And, as far the North American audience of contemporary, popular heavy music, there's enough clarity and crunch to offer appeal and accessibility to fans of FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH and LAMB OF GOD. The acoustic guitars of "Bartzabel" and its dreary chanting provide tasteful variety and offer a breather from the band's more biting, tried-and-true metallic punch. The finale of "Sabbath Mater" is massive and undeniably epic with an unsettling sense of tension. The album certainly offers more diversity than what one would find from a bulk of the bands that are more easily pigeonholed within extreme metal. By the look and sound of things on "I Loved You at Your Darkest", BEHEMOTH is only going to become even bigger.