Album Review : Behemoth - I Loved You At Your Darkest (2018)
People like to give me shit for saying metal is a conservative musical genre. But it’s true. It is far more focused on aggression and technical mastery than it is on innovation. Bands will make little tweak and adjustment to their style and fans will invade social media like Ostrogoths to claim treason. This hasn’t been Behemoth’s problem earlier in their career, for they have been one of black/death metal’s most reliable band for over a decade. Their 2014 landmark release The Satanist was different, though. It announced a new, exciting and unpredictable era.
I’m happy to announce that four years later, the band is not backing down from their commitment to experimentation and that their new album I Loved You At You Darkest is an absolute freakin’ electroshock.
One detail about I Loved You At Your Darkest that might’ve eluded some listener is the title of the first and last songs: Solve and Coagvla. They’re both instrumentals, but they’re also the essence of alchemical process. This is basically what they’re doing to black metal on I Loved You At Your Darkest. They’re breaking it down and transmuting it. And it sounds… well, quite exciting, really. Perhaps it isn’t always as atmospheric and cohesive as it should be, but it’s as unpredictable as walking through a war zone with your eyes blindfolded. It’s wild.
But what the fuck am I talking about, exactly? Fair question. Do you know the Four Corners Monument in the United States, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico are touching? I Loved You At Your Darkest is like that. It’s a confluence of blackmetal, post-blackmetal/shoegazing, experimental rock and dark ambient. There’s a lot of moving pieces to it. Bartzabel is a good microcosm for the album. It starts with this spacey, almost Swans-like guitar/drum intro only to explode into a furious first verse and swap back to an eerie midtempo chorus with a chanted “Come to me Bartzabeeell”. You never know what direction it’s going to take.
Sometimes, Behemoth’s transgressions are more subtle, though. Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica (one of my favorite songs on the record) is a more conventional black metal song. But it’s full of weird little surprises. There’s a shoegaze intro, a guitar solo and then an acoustic guitar passage towards the end. Same for Angelvs XIII, which would not have such a strong identity without frontman Nergal’s theatrical performance. It’s not as exciting as it should be on every song, God = Dog, If Crucifixion was not Enough and a couple others are a little too encroached in the past for my own taste, but you have to respect Behemoth for forging their own path and not pandering to their own audience.
I Loved You At Your Darkest is an album that prioritizes atmosphere and creative vision over technicality, which is perhaps one of the greatest sins in metal. But metal is a blasphemous genre and Behemoth, who once cranked out reliable record over reliable record, are embracing transgression with refreshing gusto. I Loved You At Your Darkest is a little bit of a The Satanist II, but it’s a solid record nevertheless. And it's bound to become one of these records that confront other musicians and challenge them to break new boundaries. It’s good to hear an album like that in 2018 in a genre that needs somewhat of a creative overhaul. Not perfect, but daring as fuck.