- SPIN Rating:8 of 10
Label: Metal Blade
The return of Polish metal lifers Behemoth is nothing short of miraculous when you consider the hand they've been dealt: The Satanist is the band's first new studio album since charismatic frontman Nergal was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2010. Thanks to a successful bone-marrow transplant, he's in full recovery, but his brush with death makes this album feels like a rebirth.
In fact, Behemoth's tenth full-length sounds fresher and more interesting than anything they've done in years. It's also the most extreme thing they've produced since their early days as a pagan black metal band, with far more of that old cold, macabre atmosphere settling in, and a certain feral intensity deliberately tarnishing the band's more recent penchant for polish.
By their ninth effort, 2009's Evangelion, Behemoth had worked their way up to the upper echelons of the metal world; unfortunately, having churned out rote black/death-metal-by-numbers since 2004's watershed Demigod, they'd also gotten predictable. The sheer level of talent involved insures that the quartet will never make a bad album (despite an unhealthy addiction to vocal effects), but they've seriously stepped up their game with this one. There's a visceral complexity to guitarist Seth's riffs, underscored by Orion's murky, dominating bass lines; Nergal's roar is as strong as ever, and Inferno proves himself once again to be one of metal's most frighteningly unflappable human metronomes. They're career musicians active since the '90s, but here, they actually sound excited again.
From classic heavy-metal riffage and horn sections to acoustic spoken-word passages and doomy, down-tempo detours, The Satanist flaunts the band's newfound interest in dynamics and presents nine very different — and very sinister — compositions. The common thread is, of course, Satan and the bliss of profanation, but there's nuance to be had as well: Nergal presents himself as more conqueror than cretin. The album eases in with the apocalyptic dirge of "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel," whose biblical, bloodthirsty lyrics serve pay thinly veiled homage to Nergal himself: When he bellows, "Hail my return!" it's hard not to heed the command. This is a comeback from a band that refused to consider defeat, and their strongest offering yet.