Alas, Lord Is Upon Me
Adam 'Nergal' Darski, frontman for Polish metal titans Behemoth, talks English, Polish, and Slayer
By Raoul Hernandez,
2:37PM, Thu. Jan. 7, 2010
Bad connection, great English: Behemoth frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski as patched through the L.A. office of label Metal Blade from his home in Poland. Given the veteran metal trio's ninth blitzkrieg Evangelion (“the reward of good tidings,” according to the disc), there's only one way to greet the head badass, appearing Wednesday at Emo's.
Austin Chronicle: In the spirit of the new album I wish you good tidings.
Adam “Nergal” Darski: Thank you, thank you.
AC: Behemoth played here in 2008, with Dimmu Borgir and Keep of Kalessin at Stubb’s. Had you played Austin before that show?
N: I’m not sure. Honestly, I don’t think so. I don’t remember which tour exactly it was, but we traveled to Austin because our driver and manager used to live there. We drove to Austin and stayed there that day and night. We went out and had some dinner, hung out. I don’t really have time to get to know cities very well. I don’t know if I went anywhere, like downtown. That’s my only Austin experience. I don’t recall the show you mentioned. Maybe this time we’ll have more time to hang out and experience the night life.
AC: It’s obvious from your lyrics that you’re very well read. Had you ever come across the mythology of Texas in your intellectual travels?
N: I can’t say, really [laughs]. Sorry for my ignorance. My Texas experience is always Dallas, and what’s the other big city?
N: Houston, yes. That’s my only experience so far. I remember getting really, really drunk once in Dallas, and we were raging in the nightlife district. We were there with the Lamb of God guys and it went beyond control. I remember doing crazy things in one of these bars. It was just crazy. I don’t know if that fits your concept of Texas mythology, but maybe it does.
AC: Behemoth has been at almost 20 years now, correct?
N: It’s like 19 years or something.
AC: When was the first time the band toured the U.S.?
N: It was in 2003. It was our first tour. We opened for Amon Amarth and Deicide. It was a really, really rotten experience. Yeah.
AC: How so, just the traveling?
N: Yeah, traveling, with no money. We barely made it to the end of the tour, but we did. It was a trying experience to go through the states at that time. It was a crazy winter, January or February. I remember there were no facilities on the bus whatsoever – Amon Amarth pisssing in one big, five-liter empty bottle of vodka. Crazy stuff, crazy stuff.
AC: Was coming to the states at that point important for the band?
N: It was a huge thing. We felt very limited in Europe. It was important to experience new territories and expand basically. We traveled Europe countless times, playing the same venues 15 times. We just felt like something needed to happen. We needed to move on and expand. Just asking my friends from other bands I could understand that there was a huge potential in the U.S. I knew that with hard work and a bit of luck we could make it there. The first few tours were really, really rough for us. It was a huge struggle for us to make it that far and big, but we were extremely determined I remember.
AC: Has the band then made the necessary inroads in this market?
N: Yeah. We got to the point where we don’t need to struggle anymore. I mean we’ve always been struggling. It’s not that easy. But we have great management. These people get us great deals. They put us on great tours. They’re just awesome people at Channel Zero. Then we’ve got a new record company, Metal Blade. They put so much faith and invest everything in the band. We don’t really fear the future. We have a perfect set-up. We have a great record – the fastest selling record so far out of all of the records we’ve licensed. It’s doing great and selling very well. We’re on the way to the top, that’s for sure. No question about that.
AC: Listening to 2003’s Zos Kia Cultus this morning really put into relief the sonic leap forward of Evangelion.
N: It’s just a huge progression. It’s a really strong record. There’s no question it’s the best thing we’ve done so far and we’re really, really proud of it. No question about it. I’m really happy we don’t have to make people like this record. They know it’s a great record.
AC: Are you surprised that 19 years into your career Behemoth is making its best albums?
N: It’s refreshing. That’s the way it should be. The majority of bands around made their opus magnum in the early stages of their careers. Then they just try to top it, but they hardly ever do. Name any band and you know it’s true. It took us eight records to make the ninth our strongest album. It’s amazing. I love it. It means we can stay very creative and make impossible albums [chuckles]. It means we’re still improving. There’s still so much to say. I know that the next record is going to be a huge challenge – topping this one. We already proved ourselves though. People said we couldn’t top Demigod. Then we put out The Apostasy; some people didn’t like it, some people loved it. With Evangelion, people said, “Wow. This is it.” No reason to complain, it’s all good.
AC: In the bonus DVD to the new album, you say that the band is “more experienced” and “more mature.” Why do you think most acts make they’re most important musical statement when they’re young as opposed to later in life when they’ve accrued experience, wisdom?
N: I think the point is people get too laid back. That’s the biggest problem. I don’t know. That’s my idea anyway – too laid back. I could be wrong.
AC: What was the first metal album you bought?
N: It must have been a Polish band, Turbo. It must have been one of their records. It was a cassette. There were no CDs back then, and hardly any LPs because we couldn’t afford them. There were no imports. So I bought a cassette, yes.
AC: Was Turbo one of your first concerts as well?
N: No, I didn’t really see much. For some reason I wasn’t really attending shows when I was 16. I don’t know if I was afraid or it was my parents that wouldn’t let me travel somewhere. In my area, there wasn’t many shows. There were some underground shows that I started attending when I was 17 or 18, but before that, I was just staying home and writing music, listening to music. That was it.
AC: Where you into Zeppelin, UFO? When I saw you at Stubb’s you reminded me of the Scorpions somehow – a certain veteran approach to entertainment and Teutonic musical expertise, though far more contemporary.
N: I became a huge Scorpions fans lately. But I wasn’t into Zeppelin. I wasn’t into Deep Purple. I was a Black Sabbath guy, and [Iron] Maiden guy, and [Judas] Priest guy.
AC: And now you play festivals with them.
N: I don’t remember opening for Sabbath, but maybe one day [chuckles].
AC: At the Sonisphere Festival in Poland this summer Behemoth is playing with Metallica and Slayer among others.
N: Yeah, yeah, that’s awesome. That’s a huge thing. It’s a dream come true, obviously. What can I say?
AC: I assume you’re a Metallica and Slayer fan?
N: I’m a huge Slayer fan and I really like Metallica. I like pretty much all the Metallica eras. I understand them much these days once that I’m older and more experienced and more open-minded.
AC: Have you heard the new Slayer album, World Painted Blood?
N: I think I heard it 50 times already [laughs]. At first, I thought it was weak. That was my first impression when I listened to it on the car stereo during a tour. Someone put it on. It was some shitty-quality MP3s. Then I bought a CD, and I also bought and LP, and I started digging deeper into it and understanding what it’s all about. It grew on me. It took me some time, but it grew on me. Yeah, it’s definitely a great record. It’s some of their best songs ever. Like the second song, “Unit 731,” is amazing. It could easily have been on Reign in Blood as well. I love it.
AC: Lyrically, on your new album, phrases like “Chaldean priests,” “streets of Bethlehem,” and “martyrs of falsehood,” among many, many others, jump out. As religion is to man, it’s also to metal. Why is that? Other than Christian bands, you don’t hear much religious imagery in pop music, but in metal it’s everywhere.
N: [Chuckles] It’s probably because metal is... I dunno. The music has always been philosophical to me, and philosophy and religion they come really close. For me digging both topics and exploring them – using them as a tool in Behemoth – is natural. It feels natural to write about this stuff, because I have a lot of questions and reservations about it.
AC: Is that because Catholicism is so prevalent in Poland?
N: Yeah, it’s partly that. It does have an influence on me.
AC: You can hear a holy war in the music.
N: Yeah, yeah, yeah. In a way, yeah, you’re right.
AC: The new song “Alas, Lord is Upon Me” is so heavy and the drumming is so heavy that the density alone makes it epic, and yet it’s a three-minute song. It reminds me of that Ramones thing that the songs are actually long, but played very, very fast.
N: [Laughs] I like that attitude. That’s a song that came out very naturally, a spontaneous thing. It just happened. It just came out and it was awesome. Originally we wanted to do it as an instrumental, because we hardly ever had instrumental songs. The structure of this song is fucked-up. It starts off almost as a doomy track, then it turns into this serious piece. It was killer. We loved it. Then I played it for a friend fo mine, and he suggested, “Hey, put lyrics into it, and it’s going to be a great song, one of the best on the record.” Then I just thought about it, and yeah, gave it a shot. It’s definitely one of my favorites on the record.
AC: Another Evangelion highlight, “The Seed ov I,” has this great riff that made me think it's a very fine line in metal between noise and melody.
N: Mmm hmm. Melody is kind of essential in music as a whole, you know. Even the fact that we play extreme, fast, heavy, serious music, there’s always a melody. We have a very musical approach to what we do. It’s very important in Behemoth. I don’t know about other bands. I’m really attracted to melodies – good melodies. I can listen to pop songs if they have great melodies. I listened to this new Lady Gaga single, and I think it’s awesome, because it has this great big chorus.
AC: Metal’s wall of sound doesn’t normally deliver great big choruses.
N: Yeah, especially all these new extreme death metal bands, whatever you call them. There’s a lot of that these days. They can shred like hell. They’re fast. They’re picking is amazing, and they’re soloing is out of control. It’s great. For the technical aspect there’s no question. But in terms of songwriting, there’s nothing I find attractive. I like the rock structures. I like the fact that something repeats in a song. I like the catchiness of music, and I don’t really divide it into rock and pop and metal music. To me, music is music. It’s got to be catchy. I really believe that Behemoth is catchy. Behemoth is melody, as well as extreme, fast, and all this crazy shit that’s going on at the same time. It’s all about balancing it well. It’s all about making it all happen, and playing passionate music, but with a hook.
AC: One of the best songs on the new album is the closer, “Lucifer,” which is in Polish.
N: That’s one of my favorites too. I wrote it two weeks prior to entering the studio. I came up with the riff and everyone who heard it went, “Wow, it’s amazing.” I was like, “Okay, you know what? We don’t need anymore songs,” because we had a completed track listing for the record. But I was like, “Let’s do the song – maybe it’s an outtake or whatever. It’s a great fucking song, let’s do it.” Then, a few hours later, we had the basic structure down. After that, I realized it was probably one of the best ideas I had for the record. So I remembered this email I was trading with this friend of mine, Krzysztof [Azarewicz], who’s partly in charge of the lyrics on the new record and some past records. I remember mentioning to him about doing something in Polish and then he sent me the poem by Tadeusz Micinski. “Lucifer” is the name of the poem, and I just thought it was a great chance to use it. We still didn’t know if it was going to be on the record, but once we recorded it and the way it turned out, everyone was just blown away, so we thought, “Okay, this song must end up on the record. It’s going to be one of the highlights fo the album. So yeah, a lot of people point that song out.
AC: Did it then invite fans in Poland to ask if you’ll ever make an album all in Polish?
N: Yeah. They hear the one song and they want the whole album [in Polish], but they’ll never get it, so whatever. English is the language for rock & roll music, so there’s no way I’m going to do a whole record in Polish, but it was a great experiment. The fact that it’s so special is because it’s sung in Polish. Doing the whole record in Polish wouldn’t be that special. It’s all about surprising people and I think “Lucifer” will surprise a lot of people.