Helmuth Lehner, the frontman of the Austrian black metal band BELPHEGOR, was allegedly assaulted by a Russian orthodox activist when the group arrived at the Saint-Petersburg airport for a concert with NILE.
A video clip posted on the Ria Katyusha YouTube channel (see below) shows Anatoly Artyukh, the local chair of the Orthodox Christian nationalist organization Narodny Sobor (People's Assembly), confronting BELPHEGOR as the musicians landed at the Pulkovo airport prior to the band's scheduled April 19 concert at the city's Zal club. Artyukh can be seen asking Lehner a question in Russian before the BELPHEGOR frontman responds by telling Anatoly to speak English. At that point, Artyukh spits in Lehner's face, causing the BELPHEGOR frontman to react by lightly kicking Artyukh in the leg and spitting back at the orthodox activist. The rest of the clip shows Artyukh following the musicians from BELPHEGOR and NILE as they made their way trough the airport to a waiting van to take them to the venue where they were supposed to perform that night.
Artyukh reportedly later claimed that Lehner assaulted him after mistaking his speech as aggression, a charge that was denied by a representative for Infinity Concert, which organized the Saint-Petersburg concert. "It's all lies and slander," the representative said. "There are surveillance cameras that captured the incident. We, most likely, will file a complaint with the police for hooliganism."
Artyukh was apparently successful in persuading organizers of last night's concert to cancel the show by claiming that such an event would allegedely violate at least two Russian federal laws: the recently amended blasphemy law — which states that "public actions, clearly defying the society and committed with the express purpose of insulting religious beliefs" are a federal crime and are punishable by up to three years in jail" — and the law banning "incitement of ethnic, racial or religious hatred," with penalties ranging from a fine to five years in prison.
BELPHEGOR's lyrics are mostly embodied by obscene and sacrilegious themes against Christianity, as Helmuth explained in a 2014 interview. "The verse content is about exploring your own mind, walking one's own path, and to hail freedom," he said. "We never kneel down for any god nor to any institution. Topics such as perversion and blasphemy are also an important aspect when it comes to BELPHEGOR's lyrical content."
He added: "I describe myself as an atheist. I use the philosophy about Satan/Lucifer – the Light-bearer in our lyrical content as a proud, exalted, majestic figure who resisted against all influences. A seducer, tempter, one to make his own decisions, walk his own path as a rebel and a mocker against the masses; victorious!"
BELPHEGOR is far from the only rock band to have run into problems in Russia. Back in June 2014, shock rocker Marilyn Manson was forced to cancel his show in Moscow due to a bomb threat while another concert in Russia was scrapped over fears his performance would insult Orthodox believers and promote sadomasochism.
More than a dozen CANNIBAL CORPSE fans were arrested in St. Petersburg, Russia in October 2014 as they were protesting against the last-minute cancelation of the band's concert at the Kosmonavt music club.
BEHEMOTH's May 2014 tour of Russia was cut short when the members of the band were ordered to leave the country after allegedly violating Russia's visa regulations. While still in the country, BEHEMOTH's concerts in Khabarovsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk and Krasnodar were canceled following a string of protests by Christian activists. According to The Moscow Times, unidentified thugs prevented the musicians from taking the stage in Novosibirsk and beat up concertgoers, local media reported.