Saturday, May 15, 2010

Behemoth - Satanica

Behemoth - Satanica
2000, Avantgarde/Dwell Records

I've always felt that this band was eminently qualified to lead a charge from their "shores", going back to their earliest material, which seemed to contain, if nothing else, a germ of potential that the rest of the Polish bands did not share. Whether that potential was based on idiosyncratic circumstances or the true talent lurking beneath the black metal stylistics of their earlier releases, I am not sure - but until they took a step to differentiate themselves from the Eastern European hordes with 'Satanica' Behemoth was always, for me, a hit-or-miss affair: their albums were listenable, to be sure, but noted by me mainly for their character as documents of a 'band-in-waiting', a group that had not found their own particular style yet, and most of all, for their interesting take on Emperor's musical language. In the swelling tide of sound-alike bands emerging from all the different countries of Europe after the first strikes of Emperor and the rest of the Norwegian black metal scene - a tide that threated to engulf the listening public in a maelstrom of mediocrity and unoriginality - Behemoth at least stood out as a band that could play their instruments well, if nothing else. But with this release the group finds themselves in a strange position: a new sound, a new look, a new label, and a new chance to make an impact upon the post-black metal scene. Interesting, then, that they chose to go back to what is surely their roots (as it is equally the foundation of almost every black metal band from the second wave): death metal. Other reviews of this album have placed their new sound and style as being close to Morbid Angel, but I don't really hear that at all. It is now a standard or cliche to compare a death metal band to Morbid Angel when they are difficult to describe in another way: this both because Morbid Angel's stylistics are so broad and all-inclusive, and could be referenced by bands of completely different styles, but also because they are still the leading death metal band and thus a nod in their direction ensures a readily-recognizeable identity ready to be 'borrowed'. I would say that this is actually much closer to Deicide (as well as their nation-mates Vader, no surprise there), if they wanted to compare the music to protypical death metal, as it is comparatively simple, brutally rhythmic, and extremely fast. Behemoth forgo much of their earlier attempts at atmosphere or lyrical effusiveness and instead just blast away at light-speed for much of this album, which seems to work equally well for them: I didn't really miss their earlier style when listening to this album...no, this suits them just fine, and in actuality they sound more original now that they have dropped all the 'atmospheric' black metal pretenses and streamlined their sound. Don't get me wrong: this isn't a 'typical' death metal release, not by a long shot, as the music is not afraid to explore avenues left neglected by the mainstream death bands, and there is still enough of the 'De Mysteriis' cold black metal influence in here to justify the claim that their bio makes that they are trying to combine death metal with early Mayhem. Behemoth have started something here that I think they would be well-advised to continue in the future - but neither is this truly ground-breaking or strikingly novel, so I would have to temper my enthusiasm with a few words of caution: seek this out if you attracted to former black metal bands changing back to death metal (Gehenna constantly comes to mind when listening this album), but also be aware that this is just the 'first strike' of their new style, and I'm sure their next album will be more confident as well as better constructed.