If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Behemoth must really love 2014’s The Satanist. And with good reason – you couldn’t write a a better story if you made it up: coming off their best album to date, leader of prominent anti-Christian death metal band gets hit with leukemia, refuses to compromise his beliefs, bounces back and crafts a massive “comeback” album that tweaks the formula and invites just enough to turn another great album into their masterpiece. Is it any wonder they’d want to mine that vein again? Unfortunately, I Loved You At Your Darkest feels like imitation, hitting all the touch points the previous album did but without the sincerity to push the album past its limitations.
In full disclosure Behemoth is a band that despite being really good never quite pulled me into their web. I came into the fold with 2000’s Thelma 6, and was taken with their image as much as their music, a slick and percussive death metal rage with devilish lyrics that didn’t jump out as overtly silly. 2003’s Zos Kia Cultes was even better, tracks like “Horns ov Baphomet” and “As Above So Below” being punishing examples of how the band could bring overwhelming power without sounding fatigued. The packaging was just as evocative, with beautiful layouts and lyrics that pulled you into mailman Nergal’s black philosophy.
Then came seven years that felt like a holding pattern. 2004’s Demigod and 2007’s The Apostasy didn’t deliver anything new except more song titles where every “f” was replaced by a “v” and a mix that started to compress everything into a narrow battering ram. The tunes got faster and faster as well, and although there were certainly standouts (“Sculpting the Throne ov Seth” and “XUL” off Demigod, “At the Left Hand ov God” from Apostasy) as full albums they never really left an impression. Evangelion changed all that, presenting a furious statement that began playing with structure even as things became more compressed. Minor quibbles with the drum sound aside, it’s a monster of a record that also serves to shine a light on how The Satanist brought the band to another level.
So where does that leave I Loved You At Your Darkest? After the trifling introduction “Solve” things seem pretty good with “Wolves ov Siberia” crashing forth with some slamming guitars, a chorus with vocal layers bringing some added depth to the track, and some dynamics that really make it feel like the lessons in space and pacing on The Satanist were taken to heart. Sadly, “God = Dog” undoes that. Ridiculously silly title aside, the song feels it doesn’t know what it wants to be, moving from style to style without a sense of cohesion or a foundation to ground everything in. The mix doesn’t help, with everything getting lost in a gauze-like flurry that detracts from the ferocity the track might possess. By the time the kid chanting comes in I’m pretty much lost, a rockstar guitar solo doing nothing to bring me back. “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica” suffers almost the same fate, doing nothing to distinguish itself beyond its occasional slower moments, which ties it even more firmly to “God = Dog.”
Both “Bartzebel” and “Angelvs XIII” fare better, their distance from the more typical Behemoth sound feeling coherent, even if “Bartzebel” feels like a Ghost song minus the draw of Tobias Forge’s vocals. “Angelvs XIII” is just a killer metal song, taking the best components of classic Behemoth and injecting it with thrash riffs and a killer solo section that almost hits classic rock territory. The amount of solos on this track is almost too much, but it works great in the context of the song.
Your mileage may vary on the remaining tunes. “If Crucifixion Wasn’t Enough…” is just another terrible title, and its harder rocking hybrid take on Nergal’s Me And That Man project just doesn’t work. “Sabbath Mater” might work, if only I could get past the line “Love me / orgasmically / Fuck me / ecstatically!” It takes roughly four minutes for anything interesting to happen on the acoustic tinged “Havohej Pantocrator” which in turn hurts the remaining tracks, all of which play with the same flourishes that work on The Satanist but here feel a little more worn and tired.
I don’t know if any of this will matter: the band has such a devoted fanbase I suspect I Loved You At Your Darkest will do just fine. But after the majesty and true darkness of The Satanist I was hoping for more than a shallow retread from Behemoth. Whether this means I have to wait another seven years for the holding pattern to end remains to be seen. In the meantime, never forget:
GOD = DOG