Extreme metal bands don’t get much bigger than Behemoth. In a genre whose music is overshadowed by the notoriety and controversy that’s engulfed its purveyors (something that even Behemoth themselves are no strangers to), they’ve ultimately reached a point where the typical shackles holding blackened death metal bands back have been broken off. Most recently, that came with the critical adulation received by their 2014 album The Satanist, an album that not only saw them at the peak of their powers but completing their transition into a full-blown worldwide phenomenon. That’s hardly insignificant either; the only similar case that immediately comes to mind is Cradle Of Filth, and even then, they’ve never had an album heralded as such a watershed moment for extreme music in the same way as The Satanist was.

And really, it would be foolish to believe that Behemoth could replicate that right off the bat; the fact that it took them as long as it did to get to that point in the first place is enough evidence for a being a tough ask. Therefore, I Loved You At Your Darkest is far less grand or opulent, pulled back down to more traditional blackened death metal in a way that ironically feels like the natural next step. After all, The Satanist may have brought a form of Behemoth to the masses, but this is, in some way, a purer representation of what Behemoth are at their core, and while it mightn’t be quite as good, it feels like the necessary direction for the band to go.

Sure, that enormous sense of spectacle and grandiosity is dearly missed, but even as a more straightforward album, it’s not as if Behemoth have abandoned that altogether, especially when this is an album that, for the most part, is underscored by Nergal’s love of AC/DC. The sonic DNA of both bands has virtually no crossover, but it’s hard to deny what are at least shreds of classic rock that seep through Bartzabel and Rom 5:8 in their stomping, mid-paced grooves and much more direct focus on riff-driven frameworks. Ultimately, it feels like the natural endpoint of the adage “rock ‘n’ roll is the devil’s music”, especially when the driving force of this album sees Nergal twisting and subverting modern theocratic discourse from a number of religions to denounce traditional monotheism and embrace Satanism to, on Wolves Ov Siberia, become the Übermensch and rise above humanity and religion.

It’s about as over-the-top and theatrical as it comes (an admission that will undoubtedly irk a number of more “serious” metal fans), but it’s not as though Behemoth can’t pull it off. The blackened miasma that swirls through Ecclesia Diabolical Catholics and If Crucifixion Was Not Enough is the ideal backdrop, and Nergal’s growls accompanied by choral swell and burning guitar passages accentuates the feeling of evil even further. It’s more or less the standard for this sort of thing – slightly muddy production and all – but in the oppressive, heavy execution, the mileage that Behemoth can get from this is definitely impressive.

And at this point, that’s what really matters the most. Behemoth have done virtually all they can with what they have at hand, so the fact that such a back-to-basics approach as this can still do enough to feel compelling is a testament to just what this band can achieve. That’s not to say that I Loved You At Your Darkest is essential listening within Behemoth’s canon, and coming off the back of an album like The Satanist it can feel like a step down, but as an independent entity, the ideas and presentation are hugely strong and rarely falter. It’s just more proof that Behemoth’s rise above extreme metal’s boundaries has been more than justified.

7/10

For fans of: Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Belphegor
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘I Loved You At Your Darkest’ by Behemoth is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.

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