Interview by AnneMarie Bowman - www.metalgoddessamb.com
Keep up the great work Anne!! Thanx for the excellent support!!
Metal Maniacs Magazine -www.metalmaniacs.com
At the time I conducted this interview, Nergal had told me that Behemoth was negotiating for a tour of America. Well, lo and behold, right as I am ready to submit this article, the tour announcement comes in: Behemoth will share the stage with Deicide and Amon Amarth this spring, starting at the March Metal Meltdown in New Jersey on March 7th. My bets are on Behemoth giving Deicide a truly blasphemous and brutal run for the money. After all, in the live arena was where I first discovered Behemoth. And I knew, from the second I saw them they were something special. It was 1999, and coincidence, they were opening up in Europe for Deicide then, the first on the stage nightly of a killer package which included Aeternus, Rotting Christ and Ancient Rites. At the time they were just an obscure band from Poland, but with a very prophetic name. Spending five days on the road with Behemoth, I got to know the founder/frontman/guitarist and visionary of Behemoth, Nergal. Formed in Poland in 1991, Behemoth is destined to rise through the ranks of the extreme metal scene, mainly because of the fortitude and determination of its leader, Nergal. Injecting a bit of Polish death into its black metal, Behemoth's music exhibits sheer brutality mixed with atmosphere and evil grandeur. Quizzing Nergal about Behemoth's background, I also found out Nergal is intelligent, with a University degree. He studied history, but in his free time he has filled himself with knowledge of all magical and mythical subjects of the past and present, and uses his studies as subjects in his lyrics. Stories about their forefathers' pagan past and Satanism are presented in an intelligent and mature way in Behemoth's lyrics. Nergal hopes that everyone who listens to his music also reads his lyrics because a lot of thought and time go into them. Nergal is proud of Behemoth, and it shows. I once said [in the intro to my 1999 interview with Behemoth] " Behemoth takes the best of Morbid Angel and twists it with the icy coldness of Mayhem. The result is black metal that never becomes predictable." These days, Behemoth are leaning heavily over to the Morbid Angel side of things. Their new Album, Kia Zos Cultus, is a completely intense, death metal affair, but with their unique blackened, atmospheric approach. With this album, Behemoth is poised to be the newest most talked about extreme band. And with this American tour, you bet their name will now be on the lips of extreme metal fans everywhere, being spoken in the same breath as Nile, Hate Eternal and Immolation. Check them out on this upcoming tour, and see for yourself. See a band with such a burning passion for what they do, give the old masters a lesson in sincerity. Yeah, they're that intense.
by AnneMarie Bowman
Metal Maniacs: You just toured with Destroyer 666 and Diabolic in Europe, how did that go?
Nergal: It was really good! When it comes to bands, those bands were really great company on the tour. We had just met Diabolic for the first time and in no time it was like we were best friends for years. It worked out great as far as relations between the members and the crew. The tour itself was as expected, some places are great, some are average and a couple were bad. France, Norway and Portugal were great, London was cool, and Holland was surprisingly awesome! Holland blew us away. It was a great, solid package. We also did a Polish leg of the tour with a couple Polish bands, and then we went to Norway. We played in Trondheim, which is pretty far up north. We were the first non Scandinavian band to play there. It was very exotic for us, almost two days driving in the van, at minus 20 degrees. It was scary in a way. When we left Poland, ok, it was freezing, but there wasn't that much snow!
MM: You guys drove your self all the way to the north of Norway?
Nergal: Yeah well, the promoter couldn't afford the flight tickets. You have to take ferries, and then drive like fifteen hours. The ferry is ten hours itself! It's a hell trip, but it was worth it. When you see the crowd going crazy, and see them enjoying themselves, that's the best you can get. To tell you the truth, after the European tour, and after the Polish leg, we were tired, and just wanted to go home and rest. We had did like 36 shows altogether. But we had a deal, and we had to go to Trondheim. It was the most exhausting traveling in my life, but we did it for the people, the fans.
MM: Well that is really commendable that you would do that.
Nergal: Last year we drove two days just to play two shows for 200 people in Portugal. Still, we do this from time to time. Maybe we are crazy, but it's our lives. Apart from music, there are no daily jobs. Music is our lives. The band is a full time job, and it's all we got. The fans are an essential part of our lives; we have to do it for them. We are here because of them. We are selling more and more records because of them so we have to pay our respects. Sometimes you have to work your ass off to get some satisfaction.
MM: That is a very good attitude to have. You are lucky you can make a living off the band, a lot of bands can't, and the members still have to have full time jobs to survive, and try to work out their touring during vacations and stuff.
Nergal: Well, it's also because of the Polish economics that we are able to do that. We are not in the European Union and prices are low. Rent is low. We get paid by European prices so we do ok. I wouldn't say we make pretty good money, its ok money. We don't really "make a living," I would describe it as "we manage." It's not easy, it's pretty hard sometimes. We go through difficult periods, and then some money will come in and we'll be ok. Then we'll have two or three months where nothing is coming in. We try to be smart, when we do have money we try to make it last. Put it aside for the future. I always tell the guys, make sure you keep some of this aside, don't buy liters of alcohol, don't go to the bordello, don't buy a new TV set or a new guitar, just keep it aside and see what happens. Try to be smart. I know a lot of bands let others control their business. I do all the management for the band. I book the tours; I deal with the agents, promoters and label people. It's not easy, because I am also to one who writes 99% of the music and half the lyrics. I do all the interviews and public relations. It's almost like my job. Sometimes it is really hard and I'm tired, and I get fed up with the business. But to tell you the truth there is nothing in life I could do aside of music. It is natural for me to take care of all this stuff, and not trust a manager who will rip you off. There is hardly anyone you can trust these days, it's better to keep within the band.
MM: You actually were very fortunate that you have had a pretty good education and attended the University for a while. Are you still going or have you graduated? What are you going to do with your education?
Nergal: I just finished. I went to the University of Gdansk and studied History for six years. I don't know how I did it along with doing the music also. Last year alone we did over a 100 shows. It was pretty difficult, but the school officials were pretty cool about it. I remember bringing them our albums just to prove to them that I was in this band. I had to give them proof I was a musician. They were very tolerant and open minded guys. They were "ok, music is your thing, go do your thing and when you come back, you think about exams."
MM: Have you studied anything which you can apply towards your music?
Nergal: I wouldn't say it was about the knowledge I got from books, it was more that the university gave me knowledge about life. Life wisdom I would call it, it taught me how to deal with people, etc. When you are 18 you know nothing about the world. It enriched me mentally. I was dealing with very clever guys. It opened my mind to many different people. I am very tolerant and have no problem communicating with different people. There were other good things about it also; I took a year of Latin. For sure college made me the person I am.
MM: Now if you didn't have the band, and the music, how would you apply your education to your life? You studied history, what would you're career be?
Nergal: Well, ha-ha, actually, I took a museum course, so I am qualified to be a museum curator. But to tell you the truth, I don't see myself as a guy standing all day in a museum turning into one of the statutes I am in charge of. Seems boring to me. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started school, I already had Behemoth, but we weren't a professional band yet, and I had to go to school so I did it. It turned out that the band happened. I would have to say if I didn't have the band, I would probably do something artistic, like painting or something. Or writing. One way or another I would express myself artistically.
MM: Now when did you find the time to study the things that pop up in the themes of your music and lyrics? It's obvious you studied occult sciences, ancient culture and mythology. You took the name of an ancient Babylonia demon, so you must have done some research on Mesopotamian mythology. Where did your knowledge of this come from?
Nergal: I don't really think I have any decent knowledge about any one thing. I am the kind of guy who reads a little of this, and little of that. I never really stayed with and studied one thing real hard. I like to find things that make sense to me, that fit in with my life. When it comes to my lyrics, I want it to work for me. So I borrow things from different cultures and mythologies that I can relate to. I wouldn't say I am an expert on Crowley, or Mesopotamia, but I have read about it and know some things about it. I try to take inspirations from different sources. Behemoth isn't about one thing; it's not just about Satanism, or the ancients. We are not one dimensional. We are a hundred things at the same time.
MM: Well, it seems that you enjoy knowledge. It seems that you like to find things that might relate to how you believe.
Nergal: Yes, exactly. With my lyrics, I want them to really express my inner self. I want them to be the key for others to really understand things in my life. I don't write words just for the sake of using a word. I want to make it sacred, special. I want them to be tools for me to use. What ever Behemoth lyric you are reading, the lyrics I wrote, is about something that happened in my life. In one way or another it deals with my life. Some of it is very symbolic, or metaphoric. Some of it waxes poetic in a way. It's about what is happening around us and inside of us.
MM: Your lyrics are very personal to you and have a lot of meaning.
Nergal: Oh yes, they are about real things happening in my life. But they are not straightforward, say like a Slayer lyric. If they say "I hate you," then that's just what they mean. I might take 10 words to say something, and use an ancient name. Ancient names could have ten meanings, and work so many different ways. My lyrics are allegorical, and sometimes you have to read between the lines.
MM: Do you want your fans to read between the lines and find out your meaning, or are you hoping maybe they came find different meanings, things that mean something to them?
Nergal: They are definitely open to interpretation. I want people to open up their minds. The same goes with the music; you know people ask me if Behemoth plays black metal or death metal. Who cares? Call it what you want. In 1994, we were a strict black metal band singing about the forest. Now we are a multi dimensional extreme metal band that sings about so many different topics and things. It's difficult to stick us into one label. I definitely do not what to be seen as a seer or messiah either. I don't want to preach. I meet people who say that they like my lyrics, and that they give them strength. When I hear that, it's the best thing you could ever hear. But I do not want to tell people how to live. Everyone has their own life. Think for yourself. Behemoth is a liberated band. Behemoth is about freedom. Free your mind, and go for your instincts. Use your brain, be intelligent, keep your eyes open and LEARN. And use these experiences. This is our message. Sometimes it is very easy to express myself. Some of the more simple lyrics I have written are on this album. When I say "No Sympathy for Fools," well that is pretty straightforward, and I mean that. I don't separate the band and my personal life. The one inspires the other. Behemoth is a very sincere band also. The song "Blackest Of The Black," that is about people who always what to label us as back metal or death metal, and then have arguments about it! That is my way of giving them the finger, and saying ok, well I am blackest of the black. We wear corspepaint, and leather and stuff. But we do it in our own way. But sometimes, when we perform, and I am having a great feeling from the crowd, you will see me smile. That is an emotion I cannot hide. Some people from other bands, they pose, they act. They wouldn't smile on stage, that's not black metal. I remember this one time I was wearing this Red hooded sweatshirt with the Lucifer logo on it. So many people gave me shit because it was RED, and not black. I think that is a much stagnated way of thinking. It was red, big deal. That is not how I am. If I want to wear a red hood, then I will.
MM: I get a hint of a spiritual side to you, you obviously have your own opinions and beliefs within you that are not the same as the common man on the street. I would almost say you are walking your own path. When did you realize that you were different from everyone else and that you were going to choose a different path?
Nergal: Pretty early. I formed the band when I was sixteen. When you are sixteen and wearing corpsepaint, and you are inspired by blasphemy and more interested in Samael and Beherit than playing football like the other kids your age, then you know you are different. I was learning guitar and forming the band, and doing all this crazy stuff, I was different from the beginning! But it came naturally for me. I started playing the guitar at eight years old, and bought my first electric guitar when I was nine. Of course I couldn't even handle it at first, and it took me a few years to learn it. Maybe at first I wasn't determined enough to learn to play really well. But it started getting more serious when I formed the band.
MM: You already stated you write most the music. What is the contribution of the other members?
Nergal: We do the arrangements together. I come up with most the riffs, and we arrange and work on them together. On this album Havoc wrote two riffs, but all the basic songwriting and riffs are mine. We do spend hours and hours working on them as a unit, putting all the pieces together. Inferno's contribution is essential, he is a very skilled drummer, and very good drummer! He's very easy going when it comes to making new songs also. We are a duo really, we always work together. It's always been like that, I don't think it will ever change.
MM: You also still use an outside lyricist. What is your relationship with him?
Nergal: He is my old friend. We have known each other for ten, twelve years. Metal was the thing that brought us together, but then came other interests, like the occult stuff. To be honest, Kristoffer was so much more into the occult than me. He started out with the LaVey stuff, but then he found Crowley and the ORDO TEMPLI ORIENTIS. This is based on the occult system of Austin Osman Spare, which I think is much more serious and complex stuff, and very difficult to understand. [note: Spare created the "Kia Zos Cultus" which is where Behemoth took their album title from. More info: http://www.hermetic.com/spare/ Kristoffer studied several different theories on the occult, and to be honest with you, he is the one who gave me my knowledge on the subjects. I borrowed a lot of my knowledge from him. He has inspired me in many ways. We talk a lot, for hours and hours about different things. I have learned so much from our conversations, and from him. When he writes lyrics for us, it is almost like it is coming from me, he can express my thoughts and feelings about thing so well. I am not able to write lyrics like him, he is much moiré skilled than me. He's more educated when it comes to the occult. I feel like I am more of an Observer, but he is really into it. I would say that I and he together really fit the Behemoth concept. I can hardly imagine the band without him! That might sound strange, but Behemoth is not just about the music, it's about the lyrics, the images, the messages, and the live performance. These are all the many dimensions of Behemoth. All parts are extremely important.
MM: So you feel very comfortable performing his lyrics.
Nergal: Oh yes, it is like they are my words, my thoughts.
MM: You were saying earlier how people keep asking you if you are a Black Metal band or a death metal band. I have always thought that Behemoth were a perfect blend of both styles, a blackened death metal sound if you'll indulge me here. The brutality of DM, and the atmosphere of BM. But definitely, on Kia Zos Cultus, you are now leaning more towards the death metal side of things. The new album blows me away by the way. From the first time I discovered Behemoth, back in 1999 when I saw you live in Europe, you blew me away. What I really liked was the fact that you had that blended sound, and weren't able to be pigeon holed into one category.
Nergal: In a way, it is as you see it. For me, I prefer to call it extreme metal. When it comes to styles, if you try to label it, yeah, there is a lot of death metal feeling to it now. But I would not call us a straight death metal band though, because we are not. We still have a lot of the black metal approach. There is a feeling in our music, an atmosphere, even though we are so damn brutal. I think that Kia Zos Cultus is our most brutal album we have ever recorded. It's so heavy, it's so metal, and it's so fast. It still has the feelings from the older days though. I did an experiment. Because people keep telling me "you're going more death metal, blah, blah, blah. But then everyone is telling me this album is the best we have ever done, and it's selling more than the others. Ok, so for the song "Here And Beyond," I took a riff from a song on our first rehearsal demo, one of the first songs I ever wrote for this band, titled "Cursed Angel Of Doom." It's somewhere on the Chaotica compilation. I wrote the riff in 1991, and I used it on this album. It's exactly the same riff, just arranged in a different way. So, we have kind of made a circle with our music. Of course we are much more experienced these days, and better skilled. By using this riff though, it proves that we are the same band. The determination, the passion and the love for the music is the same. We have a spiritual approach to our music. We are more like Morbid Angel and Mayhem, than Cannibal Corpse, if you understand what I mean. So I don't care about labeling. For me, music is either good or bad. Either you are a great musician and passionate and sincere about your music, or you are insincere and a bad musician. Behemoth are sincere.