At the recent Behemoth/Cannibal Corpse concert last February, my associate and personal photographer Sterling Peck and I arrive outside the The Complex and are welcomed by Behemoth’s American tour manager, Michael “Sid” Macdonald, an insanely pleasant and chipper fellow who shakes our hands. He enthusiastically inquires if I’m ready for the interview. “I hope so,” I reply. Still smiling, he gives me a look that is somehow confused and encouraging at once. “I mean … Hell yes, I’m ready,” I correct myself with a heightened level of confidence.
We are then led to the Behemoth tour bus. Inside, it seems like we walk through an impossibly long, well-kept gallery. I am reminded of the train in Snowpiercer except being on the Behemoth tour bus kicks ass, whereas watching Snowpiercer was equivalent to having genital surgery sans anesthesia. On our journey, we see bassist Orion on his laptop and guitarist Seth sleeping soundly on one of the beds. When we could go no further, the final door stood like a temple gate. I look at Sterling, take a deep breath and open the door. In the back lounge Nergal looks up from his computer and greets us with a smile. He is composed and calm like a Zen master. I’m put at ease, recalling Sid’s encouragement moments before: Hell yes, I’m ready.
Nergal is genuinely excited about this show being the biggest Behemoth has played in Salt Lake City: He expects approximately a thousand people in attendance. “Every time we come back overseas, every tour is bigger and better it seems,” he says. “It’s a good step up from where we started off.” He even recalls the drastically different circumstances on the first Behemoth tour through SLC. “I believe we played a show with Black Dahlia Murder. It was the Demigod run. Shitty venue, 150 people … pretty wild,” says Nergal. I remember the show well as it was also my first time seeing Behemoth. Back then, the band was a three-piece traveling in a modest-sized van rather than the somewhat lavish bus we were sitting in. The band has come indeed come a long way since then. It’s a completely different world on the road for the band now. “The comfort of touring nowadays is incomparable with what we had even seven years ago. Nowadays it’s just pure pleasure to be on tour,” says Nergal. He also realizes the band has traversed universes as far as their sound and style. Speaking about how the band has progressed musically, he posits a hypothetical situation: “If you put on the first demo and then The Satanist, even my mother would recognize there is a massive gap there.”
Much of Behemoth’s music and lyrics have a mystical, occult .., magickal quality, if you will. I ask Nergal how this aspect of the band has changed and what he has learned since forming the band. “I’ve always been interested in these kinds of things because of Krzysztof [Azarewicz],” says Nergal. “I wouldn’t call myself an expert. Not at all. I’m just a drifter. If there’s stuff out there that may enrich me in any way, I just grab it. I don’t try to define things. I just go for the gut feeling and intuition. If things complete me, in any sense, that’s really [valuable],” says Nergal. The individual he spoke of earlier, Krzysztof Azarewicz, is a friend and magickal consultant for Behemoth. He has written lyrics to several of Behemoth’s songs and has even performed vocals for the band (“Inner Sanctum” being the standout one for me). “He’s an expert,” Nergal says of Azarewicz. “Occasionally I just grab some stuff from him, learn from it and get some inspiration.”
As Behemoth is playing in the LDS headquarters of the world, one may wonder what he knows about the religion. “Not much, to be honest,” says Nergal. “We don’t have too many [Mormons] in Poland. So this subdivision of Christianity—let’s call it that way—seems pretty exotic to me.” The little he does know, he says, comes from what he’s heard, read or seen on TV. From his understanding, the LDS Church is “pretty radical and not that liberal, so these are enough reasons for a band like Behemoth to come down here and spread some doubts, [to] just make people confused at least.” He says, “It makes more sense to come to places that are so conservative, than, let’s say, [places like] Vegas—‘Modern Babylons’ as I like to call [them]. There are places that are aiming to be ‘pure’ in the religious sense, [where] you need some disturbance. That’s why we’re here.”
Nergal’s “disturbance” was more like “kicking ass without worrying about taking names later.” Along with Cannibal Corpse, Aeon and Tribulation, Behemoth put on one of the best shows in recent memory. Now, do yourself a favor and listen to the entire Behemoth discography on repeat, lest you risk missing out on some of the best music ever created.