The interview below with Nergal of Behemoth first ran in Metal As Fuck back in February of this year. Much of the interview focuses on Nergal's trial for the crime of violating Article 196 of the Polish Criminal Code which prohibits actions that "offend religious feelings." In case you missed it, the charges against Nergal were dismissed just a couple of days ago.
Behemoth's Nergal takes time out of conquering the world to speak to MAF
It would be hard to find another band that keeps up a touring schedule like Behemoth. We talk to Nergal on one of his rare days off about touring and being the clergy's Enemy Number One.
The phone crackles into life, and despite the band's on stage presence, the fires of hell are not unleashed; instead Adam Darski a.k.a Nergal answers quietly – it is morning after all.
Behemoth have just finished a gruelling tour of Europe, doing 34 shows in 35 days. Being a co-headlining tour with Devildriver meant 60-minute shows for the band.
‘It was pretty rough to be honest, it’s pretty exhausting to perform that long and it’s physically very demanding. It’s very brutal, after a few weeks you feel exhaustion and it shows. While on the bus one would get the flu, and eventually everyone would get sick, so it was pretty rough. Other than that, it was a great tour – a crossover audience because Devildriver draws a pretty different group of fans, so it was very good and beneficial to both bands.’
For anyone who has seen a live Behemoth show, it’s no surprise that each band member gives everything they have on stage. Keeping up a touring schedule that sees the band play a show almost every night leaves very little room to recover and prepare for the next venue.
‘Now that we don’t have to worry about moving our own equipment because we have a professional crew,' Darski said. 'We can now chill and do whatever we want and in most cases it’s just generally talking with friends, talking to girlfriends. Usually after a show I’ll grab a cab, go downtown, do some shopping and just chill out and try to relax. If there is a day off, I’ll usually try and watch some movies, just to keep myself entertained. Nothing in the sense of heavy partying, because that’s not what I’m into anymore. I’d rather have a decent sleep and get ready for the next show, because our shows are so demanding. It would be a huge disrespect for the people who buy tickets if I was hungover and not capable of putting on the best show I can.’
The band’s latest release Evangelion has proven to be a massive success for the band. Even though extreme metal as a genre accounts for a very small proportion of albums, the new record has made people sit up and take notice. Recently in Poland, the album was listed as the Number 1 seller in a large mainstream chain store, outselling releases from the likes of Michael Jackson and U2. Could it be more than just the pride Polish people have for Behemoth?
‘It definitely is encouraging. Seeing music that is so extreme, so politically incorrect and so evil, and it’s just selling and people dig it and people start to understand it – and I’m not talking about the masses that dig our music. The Apostasy sold 8,000 records, while Evangelion sold 15,000 in the same time period – it’s a huge step up and a great feeling.’
Poland has a very rich history of extreme metal bands. Could the fact that it is a country that counts its population of Catholics as one of the highest in the world per capita be an influencing factor on this?
‘It’s probably frustration,' Darski laughs. 'I don’t know, I’m looking out the window right, and all I see on one side is rain and grey, and I see a huge cross from the church that is 50 metres from my home. I have many reasons to be pissed off and to be unhappy, and to try and release my anger and frustration.
'It’s something in the air in Poland – there must be a reason why the Polish people and musicians try to create music that is so extreme. There isn’t much power metal here, or other genres to be honest. It’s 80% death and black metal – it’s very brutal, yeah.’
Anyone with knowledge of European history will know that Poland is a country that has endured a lot of conflict and occupation by foreign powers. It could be that the prevalence of extreme metal – music that always speaks its mind and meets controversy head on – stems from the fact that you want people to have their own opinion; you don’t want things to be forced on them by the establishment. Darski is quick to agree.
‘The way I see Behemoth is that I like to think that we can be a tool to free people. And I’m not saying that were on some sort of mission and trying to change things on a big scale – no.
'It’s cool if I get to hear or see that people who listen to Behemoth get the same feeling. If they read the lyrics and say “oh shit – I’ve never seen things like this”, they kind of open their eyes and make up their own mind. And that’s cool you know – that’s one of the main reasons we make this music – we do it for ourselves but if there’s people who can use it as a tool, it’s awesome, it’s a good feeling.’
Behemoth's popularity has not gone unnoticed by the very people that the music warns you about. Poland’s strong Catholic community – or at least the public leaders, have been very outspoken about the Behemoth stage shows and extreme music in general. By law, it is illegal to desecrate a religious icon in Poland, or perform acts that could be considered as an offence to the church.
Political organisations groups such as the All-Polish Committee for Defence Against Sects act as a watchdog and publically go after people and bands who are, in their eyes, dangerous and promote murder and Satanism. This was just one of the attacks aimed directly at Behemoth – that their music entices their fans to commit murder.
Adam Darski is not one to be afraid of controversy, and ready to speak his mind. Back in December 2007 during a concert in his home city of Gdynia, the frontman was said to have pronounced the Catholic Church as “the most murderous cult on the planet”, then called the Bible a pack of lies and tore it up on stage.
This was when the All-Polish Committee for Defence Against Sects, as well as the conservative political party Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law and Justice) were required to make a very public denouncement of Behemoth. They even went so far as to call for Darski's arrest. All this despite bassist Orion (Tomasz Wróblewski) stating that the band had been doing this for two years prior. After a formal complaint was lodged with Polish authorities, the case was dismissed two months later.
One man in particular has taken a very vocal interest in Darski: Ryszard Nowak, who is the leader of the All-Polish Committee for Defense Against Sects. After calling Nergal a criminal in a public interview, though, it seems that the Babylonian god from whom Darski takes his stage name had had enough. He took Nowak to court over his statements and won. The court ruled that Nowak had to make a public apology for his remarks, and pay Darski an undisclosed sum – one which he directed be made to a local dog shelter. It must have been a surprise for Darski when the courts ruled in his favour.
‘It was surprising on one hand, but you know what, the whole thing with Ryszard Nowak – the way I see it, and the way the majority of people who use their brains,' DArski laughs, 'see it. It is no longer a clash of different religious sides – it’s not a religious conflict – it’s a war between stupidity and narrow mindedness and backwards thinking against the opposite. Obviously I represent the open mindedness and liberation. So that’s the way the people saw that, that I’m not necessarily satanic, they don’t like the music – but I’m right.' He laughs again. 'You know, things change and I think that were on the right track to get to the right spot.’
This wasn’t the end of the attack on Behemoth however, with the case being reopened (this time by Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc) in January of this year, to investigate whether the tearing up of a bible constitutes a crime.
Darski recently won the Gdansk Young Culture Creators award, which recognises young people for their contribution to a country’s culture - a far cry from the allegations that keep following Behemoth.
‘It’s funny – it’s a big contradiction. On one hand there’s all these accusations of us being Public Enemy Number 1, we should be prison, we should be stabbed and burned. And then on the other hand we are winning everything on the way. It’s crazy and awesome at the same time. On one hand we are doing something very artistic and it’s always recognised and respected by a renowned group of people – the Behemoth fans. And now it seems like the big people in the mainstream media recognise that there is a band that does something for this country and it's good and quality – and it's art, and it's recognised in the world. And that’s a good feeling; it’s something that is in a way humorous.
'In one of the biggest polish magazines, The Activist, we picked up the award for the best band, and we picked up awards with all these big pop artists. It’s awesome, it’s good.’
Extreme metal is not what anyone outside the metal fanbase would consider a popular genre, yet this clearly shows that the talent in creating the music is being recognised for its artistic merit, despite the fact that it is not considered mainstream.
‘I see this as a very positive thing, and it seems to be a very European way of thinking. People’s minds are open to hearing new stuff, things they are not used to.’
Fans of Behemoth know that their live shows are a very intense experience. The band has always been known for their elaborate stage costumes and make up – and bucking the trend of where some black metal musicians take their corpsepaint make up skills to comedic levels – sometimes intentionally and other times not.
During the interview, Darski comes across as a quietly spoken person, a far cry from the brutal visage of Nergal (named after a Babylonian god) on stage. If a Behemoth show doesn’t leave you with the hair on your neck standing up, you may want to check your pulse rate to see if you are alive.
It must be a difficult task to separate the beast Nergal from Adam Darski and go back to everyday life, considering the punishing tour schedules.
‘Not really,' Darski laughs. 'People can’t see me smiling a lot. When I’m on stage, wearing the mask and makeup – I can’t stop laughing and smiling when I see the energy and see the people going completely crazy for us. I think wow, that’s awesome, it’s killer and I just can’t stop smiling.
'It’s not like there is someone completely different there, but then again it’s like two different sides of one coin – it’s still one coin. It’s just a different attitude.’
Something not widely known, at least not outside the Polish gossip press, is Darski’s relationship with Polish pop star Doda (Dorota Rabaczewska). It may seem odd that the leader of what is arguably one of the biggest extreme metal bands and enemy number one for religious conservatives is dating a pop star. What it has led to, however, is the fact that even regular weekly press, normally full of articles and badly photoshopped images of actors and starlets, now features photos of the frontman. Darski is quick to dismiss the notion.
‘You know... it is what it is, I don’t really care about it. I’m in it for my relationship, I’m not in it for the public relations – it is great PR, but I just don’t analyse it.’
Finishing the European tour in late December, the band only had a few weeks to relax before starting a new tour of the US in January, to be followed by shows in Greece and Turkey in March. Darski happily reveals that Australian fans are about to be treated to another round of Behemoth after that – a (recently announced) combined tour with Goatwhore and Job for a Cowboy.
Behemoth are also confirmed for the Summer Breeze 2010 festival in Germany, and are doing a 12-week festival tour, with both festival and side shows. Playing big festivals, in front of tens of thousands of fans must be a very different feeling to playing a club gig with a more intimate setting.
‘Obviously it is different, it’s more open – it’s crazier in many ways. I enjoy both though. To me though, a club with a 1,000-person capacity totally packed and sold out – that is the best.’
Being involved in a genre like extreme metal would lead people to believe that most musicians would only listen to metal. Darski reveals that it is not only pounding drum blasts and piercing guitars that help him enjoy his days.
‘Oh wow, I listen to a variety of stuff that I enjoy like electro new wave gothic stuff which is awesome. I don’t think most Behemoth would dig it,' he laughs, 'because it's odd stuff. The new Alice In Chains is fucking awesome and other bands like Catharsis are absolutely amazing. So, yeah, there’s definitely a lot of killer metal music too.’
A constant touring schedule means Behemoth gets to share the stage with many bands. You could play the six degrees of separation game with Behemoth and come up with almost every extreme and heavy metal band in the world.
‘We’ve toured with most of the big bands, but we still haven’t played with Metallica. If one day we stand on the same stage as Metallica it would be a huge thing for us,' Darski laughs.
Coming to the end of the interview, Darski has a simple message for the Aussie fans.
‘I know the new album is out on Riot, I just hope you all grab a copy and enjoy the record. I can’t wait to come back; I have nothing but great memories from Australia. Come down to the show if you have a chance.’
We wouldn’t miss it for anything.