Creating an artistic masterpiece is both a blessing and a curse for most extreme metal bands. In a musical genre with minimal radio play and limited monetary income, the accolades and adoration received from creating a legendary album is an electrifying ego boost akin to attaching jumper cables to one’s nipples. The critical acclaim acts as an affirming reward for many death metal artists attempting to justify being a musician who delivers pizzas between gigs as a legit career choice, and when those said musicians barely scrape by while doing what they love most, the attention is validating.
However, this well deserved self-congratulatory circle jerk rarely lasts too long. Fans and phallic-cigar chomping record label execs are impatient when it comes to demanding new material. Due to the demand, bands must strike while the metal is still hot to ensure they can remain relevant lest they be replaced by the latest trend from hot topic, and the pressure is on for acts to repeat the same chart-topping success.
Polish blackened death metal band Behemoth understands this perilous predicament all too well. Merely four years ago, the extreme metal outfit released their masterpiece The Satanist which was an album inspired by lead vocalist Nergal’s battle with cancer and how he achieved salvation through his devout religious belief in the beloved deity known as Satan. Brutal, vicious, hypnotic, and even beautiful, one need not worship at the altar of Baphomet to recognize The Satanist’s stature as a raw and powerful artistic piece.
Good luck following that.
Still, never let it be said that Behemoth would avoid making the attempt to outdo perfection. After all, Behemoth are an adventurous group willing to tackle any challenge, and the prospective insurmountable feat of crafting an album on par with The Satanist was a task they approached with vigor.
The end result is Behemoth’s 11th studio album I Loved You At Your Darkest which is among their best works due to how it showcases the band at their most experimental. Despite containing the band’s more traditional death metal guitar riffs and vocal delivery, ILYaYD showcases the group toying with progressive and melodic elements that deviate from their traditional skull crushing death metal values that permeated their earlier material. While Tracks such as the rip-roaringly ferocious “Wolves Ov Siberia” or “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica” hit the listener with sonic death metal haymakers, lead single “God = Dog” showcases the band embracing hints of menacing melody combined with a Mediterranean tinged guitar sound.
The disparate musical elements mesh together in a cohesive manner. Tracks such as “Havohej Pantocrator” simultaneously slaps the listener with crunchy death metal riffs all while making music that is quite self reflective in its melody. The back half of ILYaYD in particular sounds almost as if it were a religious experience that presents the listener with an alternative way to purvey life’s struggles. For example: tracks like “We Are The Next 1000 Years” are at times chaotic, but they also contain calm moments that present that said chaos in a beautiful light. It is simply mesmerizing.
Admittedly, the album is not necessarily perfect. While ILYaYD is a great listen from front to back, the LP lacks the same anti-puritanical fire power that made The Satanist such a awe inspiring piece. Both thematically and musically, ILYaYD just is not the same achievement as its quaker-oats roasting predecessor. The album lacks the emotional heft of Nergal’s battle with cancer that imbued The Satanist with a more impactful punch. While that is not the fault of ILYaYD, The Satanist had a bit more of a “this is personal” vibe than the most recent LP.
Still, ILYaYD is a great album. The fact that the album’s greatest flaw is that it isn’t the Satanist is a victory in and of itself and is a testament to Behemoth’s ingenuity and creativity. The guitar work is on point, the melody is catchy, it’s terrifically well paced, and it is musically a very impressive listen.
Simply put: it is delightfully sinful.