I had been looking forward to April 11th, 2012 since late January. Do you know why? If you had guessed that it is the very first show of Behemoth‘s return to the United States since before Nergal was diagnosed with leukemia, then you would be right. The legendary black/death metal group has stepped onto North American soil once again to lay waste to whatever stage is in their way. Nothing would stop them from playing, let it be visa issues or religious controversies, Behemoth will still find a way to do what they do best: baptize their fans in blasphemy. I was one lucky soul who was given permission to sit down with Nergal a few hours before the show here in Columbus, Ohio, and I showed up with great anticipation. As soon as I grabbed my equipment from my car I could tell that today was going to be a day I would remember for the rest of my life. After having a brief conversation with the bands manager, Jon, he led me into the jet black tour bus. We walked to the back of the tour bus where Nergal was waiting patiently with music being played on his laptop. Once I began to listen to what was playing I could tell it was ‘Ring of Fire’ by Johnny Cash. I commented on how I hope I wasn’t making too much noise so as not to disturb Johnny, but Nergal laid a bombshell on me. It was him doing a cover of Johnny Cash. I’ll admit that I am not the most well-versed Johnny Cash fan, but his iconic voice is one that is legendary. To hear this piece of Americana being covered by the same man that brings us songs such as ‘Slaves Shall Serve’ and ‘Chant For Eschaton 2000’ was stunning. After making a bad joke of asking whether the band will bust out a Johnny Cash tune or two during the show, it was time for us to get the interview started.
Metal Blast: I am here with Nergal of the almighty Behemoth. How are you doing today, sir?
Nergal: I’m good, I’m good. I’m a little jet lagged, but I’m excited for the show. We are going through all the equipment and I just found out my amp is dead, so we are just trying to find a replacement, but the show will happen. That’s for sure.
MB: Excellent, I hope that you’ll be able to find a replacement in time and there won’t be too many hiccups [Note: There were none]. I hope you don’t mind me starting off with this, but it has been two years since you were diagnosed with Leukemia, which you soundly destroyed. Ever since then you guys have been picking it back up with recently finishing a tour in Europe. How does it feel to be back in North America where you are going to conquer yet another continent?
Nergal: It feels good to be alive, man. That’s the bottom line of all of this. It’s good to get out of the Grim Reaper’s hands and hopefully for good. We are definitely catching up and trying to reclaim our position and come back stronger than ever. Our tour with Cannibal Corpse proves that the band is in a different position, a different world. I’m also talking about our state-of-mind and when it comes to the commercial point of view, too, it’s great. These European dates were amazing, great turn-outs. It was good synergy coming from Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth. When you combine both forces together it gives a great result and we couldn’t have been happier. We are trying to repeat the same effect over here in the U.S. That’s why we are here with these amazing bands opening for us.
MB: I’m sure that ever since then you and the rest of the band have been able to dig deep and find something within yourselves that you might not have known was there.
Nergal: Yeah. It’s just this basic thing how much we appreciate things way more than you do before when you don’t have that kind of experience. I’m not sure if this is the right place to talk about my concert experiences, but the fact is pretty essential here. Hell fucking yeah. I am happy to be alive and I am happy to be on the road again, kicking ass, and I can’t wait to get on the stage tonight, tomorrow, and the next night to meet all these people and face the Behemoth legions in the U.S., and thank them personally for all the support and strength that we’ve gotten throughout all of these harsh times. We as a band, and I personally, do owe a lot to people because there has been massive support and feedback I have gotten ever since. I am so thankful and am happy to be back.
MB: We’re very happy for you to be back and you mentioned the legions of the Behemoth fans in the U.S., and in a way it’s kind of funny because the first time you guys come back, there has already been some controversy started because of your appearance at the older venue [The Brewmaster’s Gate] before this.
Nergal: Yeah, there are a couple things that make this show controversial. First thing is the fact that the show was originally booked by the promoter and owners who signed off on the contract for In Solitude, The Devil’s Blood, Watain, and Behemoth. Apparently they didn’t do any research or they are just not intelligent because the name Watain or The Devil’s Blood especially, it says it all, right?
A week before the show they just realized, “they are so Satanic. We can’t support this kind of philosophy, so we are out of here, and not going to do the show.” That was just weird to me. I have no problem with people having different opinions and philosophies, just stay the fuck away from what we do. We are back at this venue [Alrosa Villa], and it’s infamous. It has bad energy going, but maybe this is the right place for us to start a tour. I’m talking about the Dimebag [Darrel Abbott; Pantera] thing and there’s actually some dried out flowers just laying around. It just makes the whole atmosphere around here spooky and eerie. I’m still reflecting since I had never been to this place before. It just makes me think a lot about it today.
MB: Does it ever strike you and the rest of the band odd that things like this can still happen?
Nergal: No. I’m not surprised at all. I face so much bullshit in my home country of Poland. I’m facing two court trials and one is about to be finalized within the next few weeks, and hopefully it will go positively for me. When this one is done there is another that starts, so it’s pretty complicated. I face a lot of shit. There are a lot of people that want to ban us from playing live and being active in any way. Things like that can only put a smile on my face. I don’t give a fuck. Why should anyone give a fuck? We do our own thing. Even if they want to ban us in Columbus then we are going to San Francisco and are going to complete the show anyway. It was only a matter of time until we were able to switch places.
MB: Do you think that the mindset of people wanting to ban something because they don’t like it hurts human progress in a certain way?
Nergal: A wise man said “every evolution started as a blasphemy,” and I love that saying for a certain fact. A lot of our topics, lyrics, and messages we are trying to spread are considered blasphemous. They aren’t blasphemous to myself, but human beings in general who are narrow-minded and limited in many ways, that’s how they see things. Black and white shades only. They aren’t able to see the many shades in between, and I would say that Behemoth’s philosophy has always been about the shades.
MB: That’s a very good way to put it. Speaking of what you or other people consider to be blasphemous, one defining trait that all the bands on this tour share is maybe criticism—
Nergal: Peace and love [laughs]. Just for my own purposes I call this the ‘Peace and Love Tour’. Not just music-wise, but all together this has to be one of the most extreme packages that has ever come to the U.S., and it just makes this tour fucking amazing. I am so happy that we were able to put it all together. This time we wanted to have my favorite bands on the bill. It took me a while to put this tour together and I was just throwing out names. I only wanted to have European band is the first thing. The second thing is that I only wanted to have evil stuff on the bill. No core, no deathcore, no new death metal stuff that I don’t dig at all, I don’t buy this shit. I wanted old continent, black metal-influenced, heavy, and Satanic music to invade the U.S. this time. It’s a very strong package that has a lot of variety. No band sounds like each other, so it’s very special and I couldn’t be happier about this tour.
I have always wanted to tour with The Devil’s Blood and Watain. We were supposed to come over with Watain before I went to the hospital, but for obvious reasons we couldn’t make it. I had never come across In Solitude before, but someone from Metal Blade said, “well, how about this band? Check them out.” I was blown away; these were just kids. They were only 17 or 18 and they were kicking ass. I have always been a huge Mercyful Fate fan and it seemed like they have inherited some traditions and culture within the genre. I am a huge supporter of that.
MB: Speaking of Watain, obviously you know that they weren’t able to make it.
Nergal: Yeah, we almost made the same mistake because there was this long weekend in Europe for Easter. When we first called up the embassy they said “no, you won’t make it in time.” What the fuck? We got scared at first, but thankfully we talked to more people and the embassy became more flexible with schedules and stuff, but we managed to do it. I really wasn’t surprised that Watain couldn’t do it. It was just the wrong timing; they should have started the procedure maybe five days earlier. Shit happens, but they will be joining us soon.
MB: Since you have been touring, has there been any chance for the band to come up with new material?
Nergal: Slowly. We want to take our time and not rush ourselves in any way. There are a lot of projects going on. Behemoth is doing a lot of stuff and I am doing things on my own. I am completing a biography right now, and I will be coming up with my own book in October. It’s all in Polish already, but we will see later on about doing more translations.
There are a lot of things happening, so there is no space for us to just sit and write new material. But, I can tell you that there are at least three or four rough sketches of songs, just ideas. Main riffs, main themes. We will be building around these ideas, so about one-third of the album is underway. We just need to get into the creative mode again and start working on it. No rush. When it’s out it’s out, and it is going to be fucking supreme.
MB: This is basically going to be considered as the Behemoth “comeback” album…
Nergal: It looks like it might be the most important album in our career. I don’t really want to stretch my ass that much. I want to make the most honest record and I won’t be bending to anyone’s rules or expectations, including Metal Blade or Nuclear Blast. They never try to give us rules since they have so much trust in what we do. When we are done recording and get the albums in their hands they will say, “This is Behemoth. They have made us. They have educated us.” Every next Behemoth album is a surprise and is never the same. The release date will probably be in the middle of 2013.
We are going to tour as much as we can since there are more places and territories that we need to go in order to spread our message. Get into the vibe, get into the drill, and get into the chemistry again. The chemistry is already there, which is shown by the Full of Hate tour with Cannibal Corpse was already great, so I expect nothing less from this one.
MB: You mention that you want to make an album that is meaningful to you. Do you think that the state of music today has put meaning by the wayside and looked to be made with profits or other ideas in mind?
Nergal: Yeah, you might be right. As I said, we don’t want to stress ourselves because the music business and the direction it takes is not as I would like it to be. That means we will be going against the current again and just do as we will and please. Whatever we do is going to be Behemoth, 100%. It is the state of our will and nobody can deny it. I can tell you that we aren’t going to come out with a reggae or country album; it’s going to be Behemoth, it’s going to be extreme. But don’t be surprised if people listened to it and said, “Fuck, they did it. It’s so amazing.” [Laughs] That’s what I like to say when I listen to my own music. I love to surprise myself. I hate things that are predictable. I want to surprise myself and surprise other people, as well.
MB: Yeah, that’s definitely what you guys have been doing. The past three albums has been one transformation after another.
Nergal: That’s the nature of things. That’s the constant transformations. We are just trying to get away from the label, from the definition. The definition is transformation itself, the constant change of things. If you think that way that nothing ever stays the same, every next heartbeat, every next minute, every next experience is different. If you realize that it’s so much easier to adapt to changes, let it go, and appreciate them. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge AC/DC fan and I expect AC/DC to be AC/DC, but don’t expect Behemoth to put out another “The Apostasy”, “Demigod”, or “Evangelion” album because that will not happen.
MB: Putting it pretty bluntly. That’s what I like. You guys have recently signed with Metal Blade Records. Has Metal Blade done anything for the band that you are not accustomed to?
Nergal: No. Actually, they put out one record already [“Ezkaton”], but there are some extras they did, as well. They have been very helpful. When I was in the hospital, they wanted to know what they could do to help me. It’s good to deal with people who are good at business. They aren’t kamikaze, they are smart. There is always something I can learn from this relationship. Good people, good friends, good business. I really hope that when you ask me the same question five years down the road I can give you the same answer. The same thing goes with our European partner, Nuclear Blast. We also have a Polish partner that we have been bound to for years, Mystic Productions. Michael is a great guy and friend. They make great partners for sure.
MB: I know I am not the only one wondering this, but what kind of gear are you guys lugging around on this tour?
Nergal: We are using some Mesa Boogie, ESP for sure. Those are the best guitars out there, a great company. Anything we need ESP has our backs; they will send us guitars, anything. Fucking hail ESP, best guitars on Earth. I’m using a variety of pedals, and my guitar tech, Peter, is messing around with all of that stuff right now. I’m not really in position to deal with all of that. I’m stupid, you know, I just can’t deal with that. I just want to grab my guitar and fucking hit it, that’s what I’m interested in. I’m not really interested in all of the technical sides. As long as the guitar is fucking crushing that’s all I care about. Ignorant, I know.
MB: [Laughs] Well, that’s what makes the shows so good anyway.
Nergal: Yeah, to me it’s all about energy, you know? I have seen bands that don’t really sound that great. I just saw this Electric Wizard show in London, and I was there with my friend who is really into power metal and he was disgusted with how awful the sound was. He couldn’t accept the fact that that kind of sound is the whole fucking point. It just sounded fucking rusty, creepy, and offensive. There is definitely a future in this kind of sound, this kind of approach. I really appreciate it and get the whole philosophy of it. To me it’s all about energy. If the energy and attitude isn’t right then you will sound like crap and it makes sense.
MB: Speaking of the energies there are two kinds. Obviously you have one where you are you playing the shows, and the other is when you are travelling around the countries that you are in. I know it can really beat up your body and immune systems. Is there anything you guys try to do to stay healthy?
Nergal: Oh yeah, totally. It’s not very “metal” I guess, but I try to stay fit, even if I am on tour. Yesterday we arrived to the U.S. and I have already done 8 kilometers of running today. I will be doing some stretching and exercises before I go on stage. My neck is fat and the lower back, I just do some stretching to strengthen my muscles around the neck to keep it in the right position. I really need to watch my health. I don’t drink hard liquors anymore. I still do occasionally, but my tastes have changed and I am more of a wine guy these days. I don’t drink myself to death anymore. I never did, but now it’s just smoother. I need decent sleep and do exercises before the show then I can move mountains.
MB: Last night you posted on Facebook that you had some junk food before you were going to bed.
Nergal: Yeah, some of the other guys got greasy burgers and fries and stuff. Normally I would never eat that, but I will have a bite here or a bite there.
MB: If there is one thing we know how to do in America it is fry food.
Nergal: I know, you are the best at that. All of the barbecue stuff, you are the masters of that. It’s actually not that unhealthy, barbecue is good. I’m not here to preach obviously, but I rather like to eat small portions quite often rather than huge meals during the day. That’s how I stay in shape and be fit. It’s important. When I go on stage everyday people expect the best out of me, and I better give them the best or I retire.
MB: That’s pretty much how it goes. Do you have any last words for your fans here and in places you will be going to in the future?
Nergal: That’s easy. Hail Satan.
We would like to thank Nergal for taking the time to sit down with us, as well as to his manager, Jon and Metal Blade Records for setting up the interview, and Decibel Magazine for bringing this stellar tour to my city.
You can currently catch Behemoth at their dates on The Decibel Magazine Tour with In Solitude, The Devil’s Blood, and Watain.
Thumbnail photo by Vassil