Polish metal titans Behemoth have spent 20 years bombarding the ears of listeners with an avalanche of thunderous death metal. The mastermind behind the blistering barrage of tortured growls, bludgeoning blast beats, and abrasive riffage is vocalist/guitarist Adam “Nergal” Darski.
Nergal is one of the more controversial figures in heavy metal. In a genre known for a strong disapproval of religion, Nergal has been outspoken to the point of facing prosecution –unsuccessfully – on blasphemy charges in his home country. A victory over a life-threatening leukemia diagnosis only resulted in Behemoth doubling-down on their ferocity with the album that followed, 2013’s The Satanist.
When asked about what keeps him motivated to continue making such powerful statements – musically and lyrically – Nergal isn’t fond of going down an introspective path. “I’ve always had a need to manifest my inner darkness,” Nergal says. “I just have a need to create that kind of music that’s always been in my system. We have embraced a dark art, but it happens very organically and naturally. I’ve never really analyzed it too much. It just happens.”
That sense of inner darkness manifests itself not only on record, but in the live setting as well. A Behemoth concert is more akin to witnessing a dark ritual as opposed to seeing a band play. Nergal stands at center stage operating as if he is a Satanic high priest, the aura around his demonic shouts and chants enhanced by his caustic guitar work, and the equally powerful efforts of drummer Inferno and bassist Orion.
But not all of Nergal’s musical endeavors share the same mission of noise-bombardment. Earlier this year, snippets of a solo record with an as-yet undetermined release date were posted online. These excerpts indicate that Nergal has been forging a path separate from Behemoth that sees him heading down dirt-covered country roads.
“It’s anything but metal but it’s still very dark and different,” Nergal says, referencing non-metal influences such as Neil Young and Johnny Cash. “[The solo album] is semi-acoustic and very stripped down in its instrumentation.”
Nergal is realistic about the fact that some of the more-devoted Behemoth fans may not be ready to follow him down this less caustic path.
“I’m not expecting Behemoth fans to like it,” Nergal says. “Some will like it because they are a little open-minded, but I’m doing this because I’m a free artist and I’m free to do whatever I want. That’s what freedom means to me and that’s what being an artist means to me.”
Nergal does reassure his fans though that the strain of country music he is working on isn’t giddying up over a love for pickup trucks, or similar pop-country fare.
“For some reason, everything I write is about the devil or love,” Nergal says, adding that “at times they are both the same.”
But for now, Behemoth remains the primary focus, at least until the band’s current U.S. tour ends this Saturday at the Observatory in Santa Ana. Opening the show will be rising female-fronted Danish black metal act Myrkur, whose more eclectic take on the extreme metal sound has courted controversy amongst genre purists.
“All I look for in music is sincerity and honesty,” Nergal says. “I don’t care about definitions or what’s considered ‘true’ black metal. What the hell is ‘true’ anyway? At the end of the day, we’re facing some real talent here with Myrkur. She knows how to use her voice, but she does it in two completely opposite ways. She can release a hell of a scream from her lungs. But she can also nail every single beautiful note she sings.”
Though acknowledging the more diverse path Myrkur is walking down with their music, Nergal is coy when pressed for details of what he has planned for new music with Behemoth down the road. “There are some ideas,” Nergal says. “Let’s see how they progress.”
Behemoth performs with Myrkur at the Observatory 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600, www.observatoryoc.com, $25, all ages.