Den 16 september släpper Behemoth sitt 12:e album, “Opvs Contra Natvram” I vårt samtal med Nergal pratar vi om allt från vad Metallica betytt för honom till Sveriges beslut att gå med i Nato och nya albumets betydelse:
– At times there are fucking agendas for Behemoth to be stopped, to be cancelled. I think it´s actually a middle finger to all those fucking cancel culture bullshit, political correctness agendas which I´m really strongly against. The initial idea might be good, but it´s definitely abused and used in a wrong way on most occasions.
Today (July 6) is actually the 40th anniversary of Metallica recording their demo “No life ´til leather” What has that band meant to you throughout the years?
Fucking hell, man! I mean, I remember when I was a kid, I wasn´t the biggest Metallica fan. I was more of a Maiden fan and Sodom or something else. I always followed Metallica and I listened to them, but surprisingly, which is quite unexpected, I became the biggest Metallica fan for the last 15 years. The longer I´m around and the longer I see Metallica going and how well they´re doing, I´m more and more filled with fucking adoration for those guys. I´m lucky enough to be friends with Lars and he´s an amazing human being. Super gentle and an amazing guy and every time I see Metallica… most of the times I´m in the pit and that´s amazing. I think the last record (Hardwired… to self-destruct, 2016)) is really a solid one. “Spit out the bone” must be one of their best songs ever. I´m one of those guys. “Kill ém all” is probably one of my favorites and “Master of puppets” and the last one. It´s a great record. I always say that Metallica is still around and they´re in really good shape. They´re not the youngest dudes around and I believe that they´ll go on for at least another decade, but I always tell everyone to fucking go and watch Metallica. Go and see Metallica because all those classic bands like Metallica, Maiden, Guns N´ Roses… all those bands are going to be around for only a little bit longer. It´s going to be the longest farewell. Make sure to catch their set and support those bands. Once they´re gone, they´re gone. Appreciate them while their still around and touring the world. I always go and see Metallica, Maiden, Guns N´ Roses…
The new album “Opvs Contra Natvram” is yet another brilliant album. As I understand it the title kind of means “going against the current” Has that kind of become your mantra in life?
Kind of, yes. It´s one of my maxims. Basically, it´s a very strong statement because “opus” means the work of art and “contra” is in contradiction to something and “natura” means nature basically. It can be interpreted in so many ways and everyone probably have different optics on it and I suggest that you just go through it yourself and just make your own interpretation. Basically what´s happening is that we´re releasing records and it´s never been an easy ride, you know. On a lot of occasions, it´s been a struggle. We release a record and we get banned… we release a song or a poster or a shirt and there´s a fucking lawsuit and another lawsuit and this and that. In retrospect when I look at it it´s like “Holy shit!” At times there are fucking agendas for Behemoth to be stopped, to be cancelled. I think it´s actually a middle finger to all those fucking cancel culture bullshit, political correctness agendas which I´m really strongly against. The initial idea might be good, but it´s definitely abused and used in a wrong way on most occasions.
As you mentioned, with the band and with you, there´s been lawsuits and that whole blasphemy thing in Poland. Have you ever felt that it just ain´t worth it? Not giving up, but more like “Well, I´m not going to do this anymore?”
Well, I do have my low moments like “Shit, why am I even bothering and struggling?”, but then again, I won´t let any asshole take away the fun from what I´m doing. On the other hand, when I come across obstacles and when I come across institutions or haters… you name it, I´m like “You know what? Maybe at some point when I´m bored with playing, I´ll still keep going because of you motherfuckers.” That is my nature and I´m going to fucking prove you that my persistence is fucking unstoppable and I´m going to outlive you all and I´m going to prove that basically I´m stronger. I´m 45 now, so I´m not the youngest. I´m still not the oldest, but I´m not the youngest anymore. This is Behemoth´s 12th record and we´ve maintained the same lineup for 20 years now, which is pretty fucking insane. We go even more radical and this record is not softer than the last two. It´s probably even more radical and more barbaric, so I think it really is a statement of who we are and how we cope with the world that is really bizarre and a really weird place, especially now.
You´ve also said that you want to spark that flame of rebellion in people. Do you feel you succeed in doing that?
Yes. I mean, I use music… don´t get me wrong, Behemoth is not a political band, but then again, everything is political these days, if you want it or not. I will use this platform to speak about things that I think are important and they need a shout out. Let´s say… we just toured the US two months ago and we´re in Europe and we´re at fucking Download with 60.000 people and I go in front of these people and I just shout out to the Ukraine because I think it´s important to do it and I think it´s the righteous thing to do. When I talk between songs and I have a chance to speak about freedom of speech and limitations and overcoming limitations and fighting with any kind of repression, I always try to make a statement and a shout out to women´s rights, because all these abortion laws they impose on us. I´m from Poland and we´re fucked when it comes to abortion laws and now what has just happened in the US, it´s the same story. I´m very sensitive to all these threats to our freedom and there´s a lot of threats coming from religious and state agendas. All kinds of stuff… Behemoth …I mean, like a lot of people, and rightfully, they´ll go see Behemoth being this anti-religious band and yes we are and a bigger part of that is very centered around religion, but we are this and beyond. I think Behemoth becomes way more universal just standing against a lot of restrictions that are being imposed on us. Especially this weird, dangerous fucking unstable world status that we´re hovering in these days. I think you can relate to a lot of things in that and you can relate to a lot of what is happening with Behemoth as well.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “The deathless sun” I think it´s pure coincidence, but there´s a tiny guitar part that made me think of In Solitude. You played with them, right?
Ah, cool! Yeah… yesterday someone at Gimme Radio asked me if I could mention 30 heavy metal songs that I think is worth mentioning and one of those songs was In Solitude´s “A buried sun” (Sister, 2013), which I think is a beautiful song from a beautiful and extremely underrated album. Sadly the band is not around. I´m friends with they guys and I´m happy to be one of the very few bands that toured with them. It was us, Watain and The Devil´s Blood and we did this European tour. Great guys and great music. Sadly they´re not around, but I really think and especially this record is an amazing album, so if you hear some reminiscence of In Solitude… and they were basically like a two, three album band… they were never big, but if you see some reminiscence and parallels, I´m definitely going to take it as a compliment because I really appreciate what they did. I´m happy to hear that kind of comparison instead of “You sound like Deicide!” or “You sound like Bathory!” Of course we do and of course they are my immortal inspirations, but if you say there´s some In Solitude vibe there it´s like “Holy shit that´s amazing!”
When you record an album like this one and especially when you record your vocals, do you have a certain ritual in the studio to try and create a certain atmosphere?
Yes. First of all… and it´s been years now… I do like a proper vocal warm up, so I don´t kill my voice right away. I kill it slowly later. (laughs) Usually I look at YouTube clips and it helps me. Usually I just create like a small booth around the microphone and sometimes I hang up some stuff, something inspirational and there´s candles around and dimmed lights. I like when it´s dark and candle lights and that´s how it goes. Usually for those vocal sessions I never go longer that two hours, because then my vocals are torn out, so I´d rather do an intense one or one and a half hour session and then go home for a few days, rest and then come back and sound fresh again three or four days later. That´s my vocal routine when it comes to recording.
You collaborated with Ghost´s Tobias Forge on the song “Under the spell” How would you describe Tobias?
Very focused and he´s very aware of what he´s doing and he knows exactly what he wants to achieve when he does, as in this case, his vocal performance. It was really cool to see him in the studio, how he works and I was surprised by the way he approached some stuff. I don´t want to reveal anything because maybe he wants to keep it a secret. It was really fun and we spent a whole day in the studio and then we went out for dinner and then we mixed the song. I´m very happy with the song and we open every set we play this summer with that song and it´s well received and people dig it. I´m super happy that we managed to collaborate. I know he´s super picky. He told me beforehand “Man, I did one collaboration before that didn´t go really well and I´m not very happy, so I´m very picky…” then he also told me, because we were in the middle of the pandemic “I don´t like to work and you´re in another country. I´d rather meet in the studio and see where we can take it.” I said ok and booked a flight in the middle of the pandemic and I flew to Stockholm and then we sat in the studio and took it from there. It was very organic work and I´m very proud of it. He told me that he was very happy with it.
A final thing. Tell me about the song “Off to war” on the new album.
If we wanted it or not, we became militant in the face of… I´m actually quoting “Off to war” lyrics… in the face of fatal tragedy. I´m talking about this disease, Putin´s Russia coming from the East trying to fucking infect the… like trying to spread their tentacles around the ex-Soviet countries. The reason why I feel so identified with the Ukraine is because we (Poland) were one of those countries and that´s why we´re so resilient and that´s why we are so supportive to the Ukraine. Of course I did this song before the war obviously and I came up with the title before the war started and then the war started and I was like “Oh shit!” I remember we were on the phone with Nuclear Blast and they told me “We just went through hell with Sabaton having their album called The great war.” There were just worries obviously. No one gives a fuck or I mean, people give a fuck, but it´s just a title of a song with some band from Poland, that´s it. On one hand you can relate that song to the situation that is happening in the East and if I can make people alert to what´s happening in the Ukraine… I´m very pro Ukraine and if I can wake people up to the problem… You´re from Sweden, right?
Ok, so you´re basically neighbors to Russia and I´m very happy that you guys are joining NATO. That is so amazing and it makes me so happy. Sweden being neutral for pretty much most of your existence, even during WWII you were neutral and this time it´s like “Ok, maybe it´s time to join forces.” It makes me very happy. You and Finland joining NATO made Putin probably super angry because he wanted to de-natonize Europe and he´s got like NATO all over fucking Russia, so I really hope it pissed him off a lot. Anyway. “Off to war” is the second single off the record with a beautiful video, which I personally call a fairytale for adults. It´s a very militant song. Go through the lyrics and make up your mind. I don´t want to spoil anything. With our songs and our lyrics, it´s hard to just describe them in just a few sentences. You really need to analyze them yourself and a lot of that is just metaphors and a lot of questions. I must say now that I think about the song, it has a lot of existential questions going on. Honestly, I still don´t have a lot of answers. I´m just throwing those questions… and I don´t know… maybe come up with some answers because I don´t have many of them. I´m still looking.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk