Behemoth’s ‘Nergal’ Details New Studio Album & The Unprecedented Realities Of Touring Post-Pandemic

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Apart from being one of the most popularized extreme metal bands in the genre, in many aspects Behemoth should be considered one of metal’s most forward thinking bands of this generation. Having moved beyond the strict confines of their black metal origins, Behemoth has cultivated a space within heavy music that reeks of atypical genre norms and sonic amalgamations. However, one might argue that Behemoth’s unrelenting musical ambition is only part of their unwavering success, only next to their persistent themes and messaging. Frontman and lead songwriter Adam Darski, a.k.a ‘Nergal,’ has time and again showcased himself to be the epitome of anti-establishment within modern metal, all the while stoking the flames of social and religious discourse.

To that end, over the years the Polish musician has faced a fair share of legal bouts with Polish authorities, specifically pertaining to religious blasphemy charges. While Poland is noted for having one of the highest number of blasphemy and insult laws, Behemoth have shown themselves resilient and have only gone on to become the massive force that they are today within rock and metal. After crafting one of this century’s magnum opuses with 2014’s The Satanist, Behemoth have continued their momentous stride after each subsequent album cycle. On their last album, I Loved You At Your Darkest (2018), the band showcased their immaculate live production which would go on to be fully realized in their 2020 live stream spectacle, In Absentia Dei. Now with the release of their 12th studio album, Opvs Contra Natvram, Behemoth appear dead set on taking their success and art to even further heights.

Nergal spoke with Forbes to discusses the band’s recent achievements and upcoming tour cycle, and most notably he shed some light on the ongoing financial crisis of touring in the post-pandemic landscape.

Where have things been for Behemoth recently with preparing for this upcoming album-tour cycle?

Well it’s very exciting but then again we really want to hit with full force. We’re still pushing hard but the world is not in the place where we left it — the world is in a weird spot and there are so many uncertainties. We did a U.S. tour recently and it was really good, it was our biggest headlining tour ever. It was a co-headlining tour with Arch Enemy and in some of the markets like Los Angeles we were headlining and we had like 3,500 tickets sold. That was by far the biggest Behemoth show in the U.S. ever, so it was a success in many fronts, but financially it wasn’t what we expected it to be. We’re still struggling, really, and I know we’re still coming out of this almost three year hiatus and I hope we’re getting there, but ask me this question in six months or twelve months and I’ll tell you if we got there. So far it’s a lot of percentages but I’m definitely dying to present new songs and old songs live and mix it up, we’re bringing the biggest production on this European tour with Carcass and Arch Enemy, so yeah, let’s do the best we can and see.

Like you said, the last North American tour which you co-headlined with Arch Enemy looked to be a huge success, but was there a misleading financial cost to this tour?

Yeah a lot of extra costs, especially now. Everything is just going up, the prices are just increasing drastically, I mean when I saw a few days ago that Anthrax is canceling their European tour due to logistics and unexpected costs, I know what they’re talking about and some people want to go “what!?” I mean they find it weird, I don’t find it weird, it’s becoming more and more of a struggle to deliver production quality, and sorry, even if the tour is packed you still need something extra to pull it off. Small sized bands that go to two-three or four cap rooms which is not that small, but it’s relatively small, they’re in the safest position nowadays because they hardly bring any production. With Behemoth we’re trying to make an Australian leg early next year and so far it doesn’t look like it’s happening due to economics, and we are flying 12 or 13 people, and the flight prices are in-f**king-sane. I don’t know maybe at some point we need to cut down the production, I would f**king hate doing that because obviously we have to continue touring or otherwise we won’t make any money, and if we don’t make any money then we can’t do this profession anymore.

Don’t get wrong, I’m not sitting here complaining and whining, no I’m taking the bull by the horns and I’m going to make the best out of it obviously, but again it’s a lot of uncertainty so let’s just cross our fingers for the best. For example, in the U.S. we’re just crawling out of the whole COVID situation so we skipped doing VIPs on our last tour, just in case. Of course it wouldn’t prevent one of us or other bands who got sick but it would eventually spread. When we were on tour we decided ‘can you still stand? can you still function? Yeah, okay can you go on stage and perform? Okay, then we’re not canceling anything.’ We’re not announcing anything, why? Because we can’t afford it. Say we cancel tour for a week until person ‘x’ and ‘y’ gets well and then we continue but we’re buried financially. So if you’re not dropping on your face and you’re close to dying, just get medicine and we’re going to go through it, and that’s what happens and that’s what many bands won’t tell you they’re doing because they don’t want to get bashed by people like ‘it’s unreasonable’ or ‘it’s unsafe.’ No, we can’t afford to cancel the tour because someone got COVID. Arch Enemy was about to cancel but they didn’t, fortunately for the tour, and the person got well after three or four days and it all ended fine.

If they would have canceled? That’s it. So we had to be very careful with that and we decided to cut the VIP ticket option and now it’s also a message for all the people out there. Just keep in mind that sometimes the tour is a little over even or maybe a little plus, but if you guys buy VIPs sometimes it saves our ass on tour. VIP is a package, I mean we’re doing those in Europe, we still don’t know how we’re going to do it because people will meet us, probably it’s going to be no hugging and maybe we should just keep distance but we must f**king do it because we need to pay our bills. Just for me I’m single, I’m the only single one in the band, but all the rest have families, kids, mortgages, loans, bills, everything. We’re exactly the same as other people, we have the same kind of obligations, it’s no different, it’s not a glamorous life. It’s a struggle, and economically the whole world is f**ked nowadays with war and recession, but again, stop complaining, we have a massive tour 45 shows all together in Europe and South America with Arch Enemy. It’s a strong bill, if you can make it please do get a ticket and come down and enjoy the f**k out of this tour — the extreme metal tour of the year.

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It’s really an important aspect you bring up because many people aren’t aware of these new realities and backend financial costs to touring, and just how much they’ve increased since COVID.

I’m going to tell you a story, I don’t know if people are aware but this happens and it’s become a precedent. There’s an artist who’s supposed to support another big artist and he’s coming down from Europe to the U.S. and he’s got this bus booked for the tour. The bus company would then increase the bus cost, I think they almost doubled it, and the artist was on the verge of making it financially so he was like ‘holys**t what should I do? Okay, I’m going to do it regardless’ because of commitments, fans, etc., and then the bus company came back to him and said ‘hey, there’s another band that’s actually overpaying for your bus, do you want to compete or top that?’ And he was like ‘what!?’ To say ‘it’s mean’ is like to say nothing, but that’s what business has become.

It’s f**ked up, it’s completely unprecedented to see. There’s no crew, no staff, because people just fled after the pandemic and got regular jobs, and there’s no means, there’s no buses, there’s no equipment, there’s not a moment like that in history of music or the touring business ever. So we’re really confronting something here that is historical, I mean I really hope that maybe we’ll get on Zoom again in two years and we’ll be laughing at it, but today there’s nothing to laugh about. Another reflection that I have is three years ago and before you’d see a band cancel a show or cancel a tour, what was your reaction? I remember, including myself going “what!?” You’d almost be offended by that, I mean what’s the reason to cancel a tour? These days on festivals and tours, you see bands dropping, canceling, being replaced and people are like “okay, next one.” People don’t react anymore to that because it’s become the new standard.

Getting into this new Behemoth album…I’ve spoken to a lot of bands on the aspect of making music during the pandemic, specifically with having more time than ever to write and record. For many it’s been a double edged sword of ‘too much time can lead to too much questioning or unnecessary rewriting,’ but it also has the benefit in providing more opportunities for sonic and creative exploration.

It is, I’m also mixed up about that. I have mixed feelings and I think at the end of the day it came out as a big advantage for us, and the result is the record doesn’t sound like any other records of ours, and it also sounds very different and against the sound of the market as well. This f**king compressed and ‘clicky’ sound with every snare and kick sound, you skip in the record and it’s all the same, it’s identical. I hate that. When you play live it’s never that, it fluctuates, music is alive unless you want to make it robotic, if you’re Rammstein cool, if you’re Ministry then that’s the way it should be. So I really wanted to make the record sound very organic and you have to spend a lot of money. You need a big budget because you need a guy who’s not just another heavy metal producer, you need a guy who’s got a different approach. That’s why we chose Joe Barresi, a guy known for doing Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Slipknot, a lot of mainstream rock bands. We really wanted that, something else, something unpredictable and we got that so I’m very happy with it.

And I did enjoy that because we were recording the record and there was no deadline, so I took forever doing vocals, and I can honestly say that this is my best vocal performance ever. When I go to the studio I push hard but I can kill my voice in like two hours, so rather then do that I would just scream for like 45 minutes on Monday and I would just go back to the studio a week later, or two weeks later. That was my regular routine, only for the vocal cords to relax and rest and get nourished again. Tour is different, it’s always like a crispy scratch and even if it’s not 100 percent and your voice is at 70 percent you still maintain for weeks and months, no problem. But if it’s a record you really want 100 percent every session. But that’s why I can’t imagine myself doing vocals within two weeks, day by day, every song every day. No, because I know on Monday my vocal is this, Tuesday this, etc. I could do that but my feeling would be ‘was it my best? No, so if it’s stretched out it’s for the benefit, but it took us seven to eight months just for tracking, and that’s forever but it’s all spread out. So next time, if we did this record within eight months, next time I want to do it within four or five tops, then I know it’s going to be perfect because maybe I want it a little more stressed, not too much stress but just more balanced.

Working with Joe Barresi was certainly an awesome choice, and I think it reflects on the record with the dynamics and nuances showcased.

You know when I listen to the new Megadeth I’m happy that everything is quite equal, or Rammstein, yeah that’s cool. But if I listen to Watain I like how they approach their sound, it’s alive and I think that’s cool and that’s what I hope our record has. I see kids f**king commenting “in this and this section I can’t hear the kicks, why do they sound loud later here?” And I’m like ‘because that’s how you f**king play drums!’ It’s never like this unless you’re a robot, and then when you play blast beats the snare goes down, it doesn’t f**king hit you like when you play slow and with a groove. They’re just used to the compressed Spotify sound when everything is just ‘boom’ banging your head, and then after an hour of listening to this music you don’t know what’s good or bad anymore because it’s all just ’srreeecch.’ But it’s a challenge and I think it’s worth taking. I’m happy with it, we spent a fortune on it but I’m the last one to say that we could have saved way more money from the big budget we got — thank you Nuclear Blast — and we spent all the money for videos.

Easily we could have done two videos, go with another producer that we liked twice less expensive, and I’d be home with my money in the bank like ‘oh, if s**t happens I can live off it for another year.’ I could have done that, I know it, but we didn’t. If you have money and you’re an artist, invest. Stage show invest, videos invest, don’t cheapen out, think big! I’m always trying to think bigger than I am. Usually my vision is way bigger than my imagination, it’s risky it’s like walking on ice and you’re not aware if it’s thin or if it’s going to carry you, but that’s the reason why I became an artist, to take a mother f**king risk. Playing it safe is not for me, I don’t want to do that. Speaking of, there are bands that play it safe and it’s cool, I never really complained when Motörhead pretty much delivered the same record every time, I was always happy and same goes with AC/DC. But every time I know the new Gojira is coming out, I know to expect something different. I know that Gojira definitely has this style and that’s why Behemoth and Gojira are similar. Yes, this is Gojira and this is Behemoth’s sound, but every time you’re going to get a different record, no matter what. And speaking of, the last Gojira record to me is their absolute best, and sound wise Andy Wallace is the master of soundscapes. I really want to follow those patterns, and I think Joe Duplantier is kind of similar, he’s being adventurous and I’m being adventurous.

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