Polish metal extremists pour themselves into ‘The Satanist’
By Michael Toland,
11:07AM, Thu. Apr. 10, 2014
After 23 years and 10 LPs that began in the Polish port of Gdańsk, extreme metallers Behemoth appear unstoppable. Even bandleader Nergal’s leukemia didn’t derail the band, The Satanist arriving full of surprises. Longtime bassist Orion spoke to these matters and more, including Crimea, prior to Behemoth’s show Saturday at Emo’s.
Austin Chronicle: Let’s talk about The Satanist. It’s your first album in five years and you put a lot of hard work into it. Are you pleased with it and the reception it’s gotten so far?
Orion: Oh, yes, definitely. We’ve never been happier with a record. It took us a long time to get to this point. During Nergal’s hospitalization and everything – this whole hard period – we weren’t really sure if the next record’s gonna happen. But it did happen, and we’re truly happy with it. In our honest opinion, it just represents us to date. It’s the best record we’ve ever done as a band, and it actually feels great. We all feel that.
AC: The deluxe CD version includes a DVD documentary on which there’s talk about how emotion should power the music. One of you even said it should just yell. Although there’s a high degree of craft, the band wanted to keep it very organic. As you put it, “Open the wounds and let the blood flow.” How do you balance all those things?
O: Well, I remember this theory after Evangelion, when we started touring. We were trying to talk about a new record, which was gonna happen at some point. We didn’t really know which way we should go, or where we should move from this point. We had no idea, because we didn’t really feel that we can compete with the 200% of our abilities that we’ve applied up to this point.
Then we sat down to write The Satanist. We went through this whole dark period of Nergal being sick, and I feel like we all learned to appreciate what we have and who we are much more. So, at some point, we started talking about the new album, and it was just flawless, fluent, very, very smooth. Because we sat down to write the music, and it was just going. We quit asking questions, for some reason. I really don’t know why it happened, but we just wanted to have us and our blood on this record – and we didn’t want to edit it to the very edge. We wanted to be very human.
We’re imperfect as people, as musicians. So we just let this record be imperfect. And somehow we managed to do it the right way. Even the recording process itself was very much different from what we used to do before. Most of the tracks recorded, the parts are the first take. There’s not many overdubs on it. It’s just us, as imperfect as we are.
AC: Some questions about Poland itself: Obviously there’s the situation in Crimea, and I know you have a couple of countries between Poland and Russia, but one end of Ukraine borders Russia, the other end borders Poland. Does that concern you at all?
O: Well, we’re trying to stay away from politics as much as we can. And I’m not going to try and say that I support this or that at this date, because we really wanna stay away from this situation.
People in Poland, they feel unsure what has happened. The majority of them support Ukraine in the conflict. And I understand that, actually. If I would be choosing sides, I would be on this one.
Hopefully World War III is not gonna happen, y’know. Who knows? If it happens, we’re involved.
AC: Correct me if I don’t have up-to-date information, but isn’t Nergal facing charges for ripping up a Bible onstage seven years ago. At the same time, after his recovery, he appeared as a judge on The Voice of Poland. That seemed curious. Religion and freedom of expression seem... entwined.
O: Well, the case was going on for seven years, and it’s just over. Two months ago was the end. He finally won. There are no more charges. It was a big thing on the Polish media. Poland is extremely Catholic, so there was a lot of talking about this situation all the time, but it happened that they offered him this Voice of Poland thing and he accepted. For the show itself, taking him as a judge was a good choice. There was a huge amount of spectators willing to see him on it. The way we see it, as long as you can put our views and our ways of expression into the mainstream media, we just do it.
So him accepting the offer, that was strange for us at the beginning, but it ended up being quite a good thing for the band, and him also. The funny thing is, you’re choosing your team on this program, and you coach them, then they compete at this final. Nergal’s guy won the whole thing. Somehow the trial and everything around it didn’t really affect the TV show appearance. I’m glad the case is over, still.
O: Well, Poland’s stupid. In a very Catholic country, we have to fight a lot of obstacles here and there. We had shows being cancelled and all this kind of bullshit. It doesn’t even make us angry anymore. We’re like, “Yeah, if they don’t want us in Krakow or anywhere in Poland, there’s people everywhere.”
AC: Have you encountered anything like that in the United States? There’s a constant battle here between the religious right and the rest of us.
O: The Bible has been there for 2,000 years and it’s gonna be there for a lot longer. But, as I see it, the thinking people are strengthening this time, and the church is just going down. This new pope? He’s making some strange moves, and I don’t really know what he’s trying to do. But I feel people are getting smarter and smarter, and there’s a lot of them just rejecting religion, which I like – a lot, actually.
We’ve had some protests at shows, but we’ve never had the show cancelled because of this reason. You know, we remember this one time on a Dimmu Borgir tour. There was a lotta people protesting, so we went outside to talk to them and to see what’s their point and why are they doing this. They just didn’t want to talk to us at all. Like they didn’t know why they were doing this. There was someone who wanted to place them there and hold the exchange, but they couldn’t say a word, actually.
AC: Something else mentioned in the documentary was a general dissatisfaction with the state of extreme music. That you felt like the word doesn’t mean anything anymore.
O: There’s more and more bands everywhere in the world. They’re also starting to sound exactly the same. Even the older bands, it seems like they’re re-recording the same record again and again, and all these new metal things – I just don’t get it. I listen to all these bands, and... We have this saying in Polish, “It’s going through your left ear and going out of your right ear, and you don’t remember a single thing.” It seems that the thought in it, the idea, is just missing.
There’s a lot of great players. There’s a lot of great musicians, shredders. But they just race over the fretboard and there’s no heart to it. That’s what we basically think about metal music. There’s a lot of good bands these days that I do enjoy listening to, and we’re trying to keep up with what’s happening in metal music.
AC: You say there’s still a lot of good bands, but can “extreme” be infused with meaning again?
O: It’s hard to tell, you know? You’re looking for this X-factor in the arts, and in music, and it just needs to be there. It takes heart and a lot of dedication to make it happen, and to let it be felt within this music. I already know what the recipe for a good record is, but I also know what there is for a bad record. It’s when you’re not having chemistry with your bandmates. You’re not sharing your whole idea of what you wanna do, and then you’re entering the studio to write. Then it’s gonna be a bad record.