Behemoth needs no introduction. Now about to publish their eleventh album, the Polish band has definitively stepped out of the underground world to play in the major league. We met guitarist, vocalist, mastermind, founder, illness-survivor, talent-judge and who-knows-what-else Nergal to talk about, well, everything.
Starting from his holiday in Sicily…
I fucking loved it. I need to go back there, I only explored a little bit of the north, Palermo and Cefalù, then I went down to Agrigento, so I missed Etna, Syracuse and all that. There’s so much to see there, I love the people, I love the food, I had an amazing time.
And what about the culture there? Sicily was part of the Magna Grecia, ancient Greece was the cradle of civilization in the Mediterranean sea, and Greeks were, of course, pagans…
It is astonishing how you can find so many different cultures that clash in such a small piece of land. Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and even Normans. It’s fucking insane, vikings came down there! And you can see the remains of all of them, temples and fortresses, it’s crazy, I love it. When I go to places I always do a little bit of research, in order to understand what I see. I graduated in history, so that’s part of me. I don’t read history books these days, but when I go somewhere I have to understand: I go, I see, I Google it and read about it in order to process what I see.
And don’t you find it weird that Rome, which was funded on a pantheon of gods, the Greek ones, which then became the Roman ones, eventually became the cornerstone of christianity?
That’s the destiny of every empire. To fall. This time it was christianity, next time it’s going to be something else, history repeats itself. Anyone who’s familiar with the history of civilization knows this, it just comes back and forth. It’s just fucking constant. Christians started to spread out the plague across the civilized world destroying or incorporating what was there first. I consider the Hellenic culture the original idea, the basis for the development of Europe, or at least what Europe should be. Just to give you an example: the concept of Dionysus, or the latin Bacchus, is at peace with our human nature.
You made your point quite clear saying «All hail Dionysus»…
Absolutely, that is a way to celebrate the vitality going through our bodies. What I’m saying here is that when this god that was nailed to the cross came the world became a very sad place. Ideas like self-pity, sadness, and committing not to yourself or to one another, but to a god started to sprout.
About this: in your book you stated «I don’t take it out on islamic culture». A few years passed, and now you can see the geopolitical situation all over the world…
It is changing, indeed, but then again, look at how we started this interview. We’ve been there! Europe was invaded by muslims, then we reacted and they were kicked out, and Europe survived, back in the day. King Sobieski defended Vienna against the Ottomans, he beat the shit out of them. We’re just in a different position now. I come from Poland, and I deal with the shit that I know. Let muslims deal with the shit they know. Honestly, if I want to piss of Catholics, a thing I will always gladly do, here’s what I say: I’ve met only few muslims in my life, and they were all nice, super cool, open-minded and respectful people, unlike you. And the reason why I know only few muslims is because they don’t come to Poland, they don’t want to, we are too conservative, too fascist.
Yeah, and you called for this: in 2016 Poland crowned Jesus Christ as king. What the fuck?
[Disconsolate sigh] How insane is that? What can I say about it? Let my art do the talking. [long pause, for the first time Behemoth leader is speechless] I’m kind of lost here, this thing is so insane, I don’t even know how to approach it. I’ll just deal with my garden, trying to keep it nice and clean.
Yet, you usually say your garden is Europe, as you introduce Behemoth as a band from Europe, when you play in different continents.
Lately I’ve been claiming Poland, actually. I think Poland needs Behemoth and Poland needs Nergal more than ever. By the time we are closing our borders, by the time we are closing our eyes, we’re narrowing our minds and becoming afraid, Behemoth should just raise a flag and say NO to all this. We are part of this culture and country, and they won’t take it away from us: we are Polish, which means we are Europeans, which means we are cosmopolitans. And I know these words will piss off a lot of conservative people, but I can’t help it. When I’m in Sicily I feel Sicilian, when I’m in Berlin I feel a Berliner. We are part of the same… Well, if I say race then they’re going to fuck me over, but it’s not a question of racism at all, if you understand what I mean.
Absolutely, and it’s funny because metal is always seen as this ghetto-genre, we’re considered freaks and outsiders more often than not, and yet every time I talk to artists they’re always talking about inclusion, open-mindness, tolerance and respect for each other. I think it’s natural, when you have fans from all over the world and see that borders have no meaning, that people bond regardless of their country of origin.
That is awesome. I was in Berlin to see Nick Cave, and there were these Palestinian guys saying: «Do not support Nick Cave, he’s going to play in Tel Aviv». But is Nick Cave doing a private show for the Jewish government? No, he is not. He’s playing for the people. And I hope for every Palestinian that one day their country will be able to welcome artists like Nick Cave, and maybe Behemoth, as I’m sure he will perform there. And we would, as well, we would love to play in Palestine, and I doubt there’s going to be any group of people protesting, at that point. And yes, I deeply believe in this metal language, if you want: I don’t care about your sexual orientation, skin color, religion, whatever, who gives a fuck? You do your thing, you have the right to choose what you want, to respect yourself and protect your autonomy. You as a human being, not you as an Italian, or French or whatever. You are a human being, your name is Andrea and that’s you, before you’re Italian or a metalhead or anything else. Everybody should protect their being autonomous humans. The fact that you were born here was a pure fucking accident, and a lucky one, because you could have been born in Palestine, or in Tel Aviv or in fucking Pyongyang. The moment you understand that, well, you also understand that you’ll never belong to some shitty political or religious agenda.
I see. And what is your take on NSBM? Poland is one of the countries where they emerged first.
I don’t know man. Art is art, and politics is politics. Art is freedom, and politics is anything but freedom. It just does not work, it’s bullshit. I mean: yeah, have your beliefs, just don’t fucking mix it with art and don’t bring your frustrations upon other people. Jerk off or go to the gym or whatever, that’s your problem and it’s your job to solve it within yourself, it’s not the people around who are a problem. That’s a simple human reaction: «I don’t like this, I don’t like that», and usually the problem is here [points at his head]. It’s there where most of the work has to be done. I’m vicious as well, I’m just another human being, with my own problems, and yet I start with myself, asking what can I do in order to make myself more comfortable in my life. I’m not going to put that responsibility on immigrants or any other group of people. Solve your own problem.
Let’s move on to your new album now: I Loved You At Your Darkest is due out on October 5th, what can you tell us about it?
This is our eleventh album, we’ve been around for almost three decades and I’d say it’s quite an achievement for a band like this to deliver such a strong statement. It’s not watered down, it’s fucking conquering, powerful, full-on Behemoth. It’s very adventurous and diverse, albeit radical and extreme, and we’re fucking ready to take the world by storm with this record, it’s fourty-seven minutes of Behemoth.
And… What about that title of that single? There’s been some buzz about it.
Yeah, totally, and I think we got a lot of positive reactions in Italy, for obvious reasons. [laughs] I never expected “God = Dog” would draw this much attention, but it’s a positive thing, there’s nothing wrong with any kind of attention. I don’t want to explain much, just go through the lyrics, suffice it to say it refers to Aleister Crowley’s quote that we actually use in the song: «Is a God to live in a dog? No! but the highest are of us», that’s what the kids sing in the choir. And then of course there is the most primitive level, that the word god reversed gives you dog. I think it’s a great title and gives a lot of opportunity. By the time this interview goes out we’ll have released the “God = Dog Food”.
The fuck? [I can’t but laugh here]
Fully vegan. Cross-shaped. If you’re a dog lover, I’m really proud to say that at least for once, crosses will do good to the world, because you can feed dogs with those and you’re not going to poison them.
Was this your idea?
Yeah. It’s surreal, but I think it’s awesome.
Moving to a totally different subject: you have a very strong, deep relationship with your body. You say you like staying healthy, you like to work out and everybody knows about your illness.
Yes, but it’s not just the body.
Mens sana in corpore sano?
Absolutely, that’s the point. When you have issues you realize how precious your body is, and how important the balance between mind and body is. Sadly most of us have to get to this point to really appreciate this. Not that I was raging on heroin or anything, before, I’ve always been the healthiest of the guys, leukemia just happened. But now I am more aware, I keep my regime, my discipline, and it makes me even more vital. I told the press not to start before noon, because in the morning I wake up, have breakfast, work out, have second breakfast. This starts my day and gets me ready to fucking bit the bullet with you people, to be empowered and motivated. Every day should start injecting something positive in your system, investing something in yourself, so you know that you’re ready to give it away. I would hate to wake up today in a hangover because I went out last night, because it’s Milan and of course there’s a wonderful nightlife and it’s packed with beautiful girls and all that. But then I’d have had four hours of sleep and I’d be shit for you now. I do wreck myself every now and then, I need that too, just to realize that I hate being in hangover again. But I hate wasting my life being unproductive and feeling like a piece of shit.
So what’s your take on drugs? They’ve always been associated to the music world, rock above all.
It’s the same view I have for coffee and wine and beer. You have your brain, use it. You like that stuff? Use it consciously. Not just because you have access to every drug you must get wasted and throw yourself away. There are different theories about this, anyway, as drugs can expand your perception, the important thing is that you must not get lost in it. They say that 26 espresso can kill you, and I am a coffee lover. Let’s put it this way: drugs were made by humans for humans, if you’re an adult, be wise. We’re just killing ourselves either way, with everything, even the air we breathe is polluted today. Just choose your weapon, but be aware of what you’re doing. I don’t eat meat, but I’d be the last one preaching «don’t eat meat», because maybe meat works for you, and your body accepts that, and you feel good with that. I just eat fish and a lot of veggies, and I’m perfect that way, but I’m not in a position to tell people what to do. If you are at peace with yourself, so be it. I think we are losing our inner voice, the ability to understand ourselves.
We are totally overwhelmed by inputs.
That’s too much! How can you hear what your body needs anymore? If someone asks for my advice, all I can say is: find the best possible balance, connect with your body, understand yourself and make any experience that works for yourself. That’s it. Know thyself. It’s a beautiful concept the Greeks had.
Γνῶθι σεαυτόν, gnothi seautón. Do you know it was written on the Delphi temple, for everybody to see before they met the oracle? Sounds like a warning, «you’ll not understand what the oracle will tell you if you do not understand yourself».
Man, if you know thyself you can do anything, it is so very inspiring. That’s awesome, I didn’t know about the temple, I shall have the phrase fucking tattooed on me somewhere.