Opvs Contra Natvram

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Post-God Nirvana
02. Malaria Vulgata
03. The Deathless Sun
04. Ov My Herculean Exile
05. Neo-Spartacus
06. Disinheritance
07. Off To War!
08. Once Upon A Pale Horse
09. Thy Becoming Eternal
10. Versus Christus

Contrary to popular opinion, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was somehow getting BEHEMOTH into arenas. No wonder the Polish band are more confident and imperious than ever on their 12th studio album. After such a long, hard and tumultuous rise from underground obscurity to the metal mainstream, not to mention frontman Nergal's well-documented conquering of death itself, BEHEMOTH have earned the right to conduct themselves as heavyweights in a world of wannabes. The band's live show consistently confirms that they are well-equipped for the task, and "Opvs Contra Natvram" is an album full of moments guaranteed to sparkle amid the flames.

For obvious reasons, the dense horror of BEHEMOTH's one certified masterpiece "The Satanist" is destined never to be repeated. As with 2018's "I Loved You At Your Darkest", "Opvs Contra Natvram" makes no attempts to emulate it, instead focusing on an evolved version of the epic, blasphemous bombast that informed their albums before Nergal's dalliance with the abyss. The added bonus is that BEHEMOTH are much better songwriters today than at any point in their lengthy history.

After the eerie swarming of overture "Post-God Nirvana", opener "Malaria Vulgata" makes the band's refined intuition plain. It's a dark, destructive and grandiloquent piece of ornate but feral heaviness, but weirdly catchy too. Again, "The Deathless Sun" and "Ov My Herculean Exile" fulfill all the infernal requirements of a BEHEMOTH anthem, but there is a brightness and elegance to their riffs and a cinematic edge to each one's production that owes more to the ghostly sweep of FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM than any metal band. Similarly stripped down is "Neo Spartacus": one of the most joyously straightforward metal songs Nergal has ever written, and a sly nod toward the grinding austerity of post-punk too. As an aside, Inferno's drumming is, as ever, fucking outrageous.

For all its many stylistic detours and sonic embellishments, "Opvs Contra Natvram" is defined by its streamlined and unselfconsciously accessible core. Songs like "Disinheritance" contain moments of supreme savagery and plenty of delicate atmospheric touches, but it's the succinctness of these songs that most enhances their impact. At full, hellish pelt on the fervent grotesquery of "Thy Becoming Eternal", BEHEMOTH simply sound like a highly evolved version of their old selves. Underpinning it all is a powerful sense that they are still gaining strength and momentum, and that being the biggest Satanic heavy metal band on the planet hasn't quite sated Nergal's artistic ambitions. Listen to the Herculean pomp and pitiless, metal-punk fury of "Off To War!" or the obsidian melodrama of closer "Versus Christus" and you will hear a band in complete control of their musical world, and sculpting it in service of the Ancient Ones. World domination still firmly on the cards, then.

Author: Dom Lawson
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