Behemoth’s Nergal: A Lot of Countries Are ‘Moving Backwards’
Behemoth's Nergal was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. Throughout their discussion, the black/death metal visionary touched on the group's visually stunning "In Absentia Dei" livestream concert from an abandoned church in Poland, the And the Forests Dream Eternally EP reissue, the pros and cons of lockdown as well as his outlook on the current state of the world.
Surprisingly, securing access to the church wasn't terribly problematic. The biggest hurdle in pulling off the show was staging the production as the band had to work within the confines of an atypical location and rethink the concept of live performance.
With touring off the table in 2020 and for the immediate future, the Behemoth guitarist and vocalist is embracing this sudden change and using it as an opportunity to soak in aspects of life off the road for an extended period of time — something he hasn't been able to do his entire adult life, which has been consumed by the band.
Speaking about his home country of Poland, and elsewhere around the world, Nergal questioned the idea of freedom and wondered aloud if anyone is truly free. He also felt that some countries are moving backward and unable to learn from past eras in history where authoritarian regimes killed their own people.
There's a lot with Behemoth as usual. First of all, let's talk about the livestream concert, 'In Absentia Dei,' which happened recently and was broadcast from a church. It was amazing. Which was more difficult, the logistics of staging a ticketed virtual event or actually getting access to the church?
The access wasn't really that challenging for us because the church is no longer in service, so it was bought out. Actually, I'm going to tell you how much. The guy was also a painter. So he's an artist. He paid for it — not even $20,000 for the church and the five acres of land. This is a 120-year old church and it's been off service since 1945 when the world war ended in Europe.
It was quite difficult to accommodate everything in the church and just make it work. Obviously, there was no stage — we placed the band in there where the alter used to be.
Other than that, you know, we were all using in-ear [monitors]. We weren't using wedges, which means we didn't really make as much noise on the regular show. Everything was in our ears. That's how we could play precisely and tight. It was a big challenge for our production company [Grupa 13].
It was two weeks or even the month prior to the show of work. Now, I'm so happy we did that because it really paid off on every level — seeing the reception to the show and seeing the feedback, I'm like, "Oh shit, I'm really, really fulfilled."
Behemoth, "In Absentia Dei" Trailer
Nergal, a new EP, A Forest, was released earlier this year and 1995's And the Forests Dream Eternally is being reissued. It's been two years since the last full Behemoth album. How is the current state of the world affecting your creative perspective?
First of all, I don't think it's very popular what I am thinking and actually publicly saying is that I'm quite thankful for the lockdown. I try to embrace and appreciate any change — I welcome any change in my life.
The fact that people are hurt or dying, there's no fun in that. I want everyone to be safe and live the longest life that is possible. But then again, plagues, [pandemics and things of that nature] have always been a part of a world landscape and we're actually confronting one of those plagues now.
We just need to re-learn how to deal with it and how to cope with life with earning money — with basically living our lives. For me, it's like, okay, cool, there's a lot of good.
Behemoth, And the Forests Dream Eternally EP (2020 reissue)
There's going to be no touring, so how can we reinvent ourselves? How can we deliver our art to people? So this situation, actually made us really stretch our brains that much to come up with this vision of a show... or I don't know what — [something] that's musical. Is it a long, two-hour clip? Or a movie or a show? What's that? I don't know. You tell me.
But we came up with this format that is pretty unprecedented and this would have never been possible if there were ongoing shows and tours — everything would be just the same.
On the one hand I would love the business to go on and I miss my traveling and I miss confronting fans.
But then on the other hand... I've been touring my whole life. How about I just sit on my ass and just pay more attention to details and try to come up with something absolutely outstanding creatively? Do you know what I mean? It has its advantages and disadvantages, but I always see the glass as half full rather than half empty.
Adam The Apostate is a new documentary about your life. Why is it important for people to be able to trace that path of who you are?
There are people who are interested in a character and in the nature of the band. They like to analyze things and go through details.
Earlier today I was, I was showing me on the phone with my friend, Niklas [Kvarforth] from Shining. He's like, "Hey man, I'm disappointed because my diaries..." — or whatever he put out, he was selling so well — "And now I just put some horror stories and people are not that much interested."
And to me, it's obvious people are interested if you give them a personal experience in your activity rather than your creation. I don't know if it's cool or not, I just know that it's a fact.
Adam the Apostate Trailer
For example, Rob Halford is releasing a new book. I'll be the first reader of that book. I'm purchasing it because I love Judas Priest and I want to know the mindset behind Judas Priest. I want to know the details — that's me as a fan. If this is my attitude toward Judas Priest and Rob Halford, maybe someone has exactly the same interests.
It's the same interests in my character, in my life, my philosophy and stuff. I guess people will find it interesting — or maybe not. I don't know. The books sold really well. I don't know how many — [estimates] in Poland, 40,000 copies, Europe and the world English version around 15,000 copies. For a book it's a lot.
It's pretty popular and there's a lot of really good feedback. I'm curious with sharing my experience — my stories are a universe. Let's see what the feedback is going to be on that documentary...
Behemoth's first EP And the Forests Dream Eternally is being reissued. Based on the nature of your music and how it's presented, some people call it heresy, but it's really about freedom. What instills such a passion for freedom?
It's hard to say. It's probably a subject for another three hour interview. Are you ready for that, Jackie?
Hey, I'm free! [ laughs]
At some point we'll do that. We'll get there!
Different factors have come together as a fact where I come from — It's Poland, it's a regime. It's one regime that I, you know, I was born into, which is communism mixed up with another black regime. Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about like the metal regime. I'm talking about Catholic conservative regime. It's just unrelenting when it comes to fight with the oppression of Catholic system and their mindset and how limiting it is.
It's hard to self-actualize but it's just something that is in my DNA to fight for that — there's a lot of lawsuits that came along the way that just tried to censor me and especially in my homeland.
At the very root of what metal is or what black metal is is the whole rebellious spirit of the genre. There would be no point if there was no freedom within the art. So especially if there are any forces or authorities to try to put us down or censor our art, I mean loudly, we say "No. Bring it on because we're not giving up on our freedom."
I know it sounds very cliche to think that everyone is crying for freedom and it's all about the interpretation. That is a philosophical question that I'm just gonna throw into that ether now — are we really free in this world?
Polish or a U.S. citizen or British — we're never free. We're never free. But today within certain borders, I think we can fight for our freedom. And that's what I do through my actions.
Music was a pathway for your own free thinking. How important is it to you to provide the same course for people through your own music, especially now?
We see what's happening in the world now and it's going crazy. You have it in the U.S. People all over Europe and Hungry and in Turkey and a lot of countries — it feels like we're just moving backwards. We're not really learning from our mistakes — past mistakes — I'm talking about the totalitarian regimes that would take over and eventually they would just kill millions and millions of Europeans.
It's pretty crucial to bring that out and have an open discussion. Sometimes using fists, sometimes not, but it's, it's pretty essential.
Thank you so much for being on the show and I hope you stay safe out there.
Absolutely. You too.
And don't get me wrong. What I said before, I have all fingers crossed for the regular touring life to come back so we can see each other.
Just stay safe, just follow the protocol. It's important. Obviously, we have to engage somehow and we eventually have to get sick, but it's all about the proportions and we just [need to be] smart and intelligent about everything.
It's not happening within three months, but within a year-and-a-half maybe, it should go off smoothly and hopefully sooner than later, we'll be back on track and we can enjoy touring gigs and traveling because I miss that.
Thanks to Nergal for the interview. Get your copy of Behemoth's 'And the Forests Dream Eternally' EP reissue here (as Amazon affiliates we earn on qualifying purchases) and follow Behemoth on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
See Behemoth in 25 Legendary Metal Albums With No Weak Songs