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Interview: Nergal(Behemoth)

Pure metal...interviews

Every music journalist gets pressure from the record labels so as to arrange interviews with the bands that currently have their new albums out in the market. Well, this time things happened the exact opposite way. I was the one to put pressure on my friend Karl (Demata, Regain Records) in order to arrange an interview for me. The Band: Behemoth. The reason: their amazing new release 'Demigod'. I found Nergal (guitars/vocals) waiting for me in 'The Worldís End', where the interview took place, and I must say that I enjoyed doing this interview as much as I enjoyed listening to the bandís new album.

Hi Nergal. It is good to see that the members of Behemoth are once again ready to unleash their fury on the "old" continent. This, if Iím not mistaken, is the fifth gig that youíll be making for the "Clash Of Demigods" European Tour 2004. How has the tour been so far?

Nergal: Yes, youíre right, this is our fifth gig so far, and everything is great. So far, weíve been having audiences of four to five hundred people. The reaction is really good and people seem to be having a good time, so everything is great!

Today you will be sharing the same stage with two well-established Death Metal bands - Incantation and Krisiun. How does it feel to have these two impressive outfits opening for your band? How is your relationship with them?

Nergal: Well, this is actually a co-headlining tour. We switch every night with Krisiun. It is an honour -weíve known these guys for years since we have toured Poland with them in the past. We also know and like Incantation very much. The idea of the line up for this tour was completely mine. I wanted to create an interesting package for the people who will attend our show, to give them a variety of different styles and sounds and I think that itís really good.

Do you see any similarities between Behemoth and these bands, and which would you name as the basic differences between them? Is there any hope of survival for the people who are going to attend tonightís gig in the Underworld?

Nergal: I actually used to joke about that. I said that when Ragnarok are on stage people will get a kick in the face. When Incantation are on stage people are staring to crumble and fall, then comes Krisiun to 'finish the job', and by the time Behemoth are on stage, there is no crowd left (laughs).

Well, the main reason why Behemoth is on tour at the moment is to promote your latest studio album "Demigod". Normally you come up with a new release every year, but this time you obviously decided to take things a bit slower. What was the reason that made you decide to take things a bit "slower" with this new release?

Nergal: Itís more like every two years that we release a new album. You cannot count our EPs, because they are not like our normal releases. We are mostly recording them between our full length albums in order to keep the band going. We keep ourselves busy -I like to work a lot you know. This band is my life. I have no every day job to support myself, so I put all my energy into Behemoth. Whenever I feel like playing, I grab my guitar and I write music, and after I finish an album I just want to go on tour -itís like a cycle, you know?

How different do you think is "Demigod" in comparison with your previous quite successful release "Zos Kia Cultus"? Do you believe that "Demigod" has all it takes to become the bandís most successful release?

Nergal: I think that 'Demigod' is a continuation of 'Zos Kia Cultus'. You can say that our new album is a bit faster and intense, more Thrashy in a way. Most people said that this is our best album so far, and then there are others that prefer our previous album and even some who are more in favour of our demo tapes! It depends where every person receives more satisfaction from. I respect all their opinions. The most important is for me to know that we did our very best with this release. We invested so much time, energy and money into this release, so it feels great to see that people are satisfied with it. As far as the second part of your question is concerned, I believe that 'Demigod' has everything that it takes to become our best release! Our song-writing is far more advanced, the production is by far the best we have achieved so far and it even has a better artwork, graphics and stuff. I am not saying that this album will transform us into the biggest Death Metal band, because that would be a really stupid statement, but we are, without doubt, one of the most hard-working bands on the planet, as we speak. We have already gone really far as a band, and Iím totally satisfied with what we have achieved. Weíre constantly going on tour, and there are people out there who are waiting patiently to see Behemoth on stage. This is a nice trip, and I will be glad to go wherever it will take us -letís see.

Behemoth originally started as an Extreme Black Metal outfit, yet with every release we were experiencing a slow but steady change in the musical direction of the band. How would you describe the bandís sound in "Demigod", and which were the main sources of influence for its creation?

Nergal: I really donít know man -I donít know what to say (laughs). For me it has always been the same. I become inspired by everything that surrounds me, from everyday life. There are many things that are happening in my life, like with every people, that I get both inspiration and experience from. I have never really analyzed that to be honest. For me, everything I do comes naturaly -I never have to think about it really.

Iíve been a fan of this music for the last eighteen years. One of the main conclusions that I have made is that itís very difficult to find a band nowadays that has the talent and the ability to release something new and inspiring, that would create and affect to the Metal world. How easy is it for Behemoth to come up with something that will keep the interest of their fans going with every release?

Nergal: I am pretty sure that Behemoth has their own individual sound as a band. I am not saying that weíre the most original band in the world, but we do have our own unique sound. I have never thought of Behemoth as the band that will bring revolution to Metal music. The only thing that Iím interested in is to play and record my music, and of course, to have people that are willing to buy our albums and attend our gigs. I enjoy really much what Iím doing right now -I am not the Metal messiah, and neither do I want to become one (laughs). I have quite recently listened to the new Mastodon album, and itís excellent. Now, that if you ask me is something really new, and even though they have some really obvious influences form bands like Voivod for instance, they combine them in such a way that it sounds fresh and new. I believe that bands like Mastodon are important for Metal, because they keep our music fresh and interesting. You are talking about originality in Extreme Metal music...what are you supposed to do that has not been done before? You cannot play heavier nor faster as far as Iím concerned. The only thing that you can really do is to focus into writing better songs, and to try to be sincere and honest with yourself.

Behemoth

We have once again witnessed a change in the bandís line up, to the point that everyone believes that Behemoth is more your own project rather than an actual band. Who are the new musicians that you are currently working with, and which were the criteria that you used in order to choose them?

Nergal: They have to be very dedicated to what they do, and that means no family life, no kids, no wives...basically, no personal life (laughs). They also have to be well skilled, and most importantly good looking (laughs)...thatís it! Really, I must be able to get along with them really good, and that means that they must be mentally similar to me. Why it happens? Changes, my friend, changes are part of life. We never stay the same, we change every day. I cannot force anyone into staying with this band. If they have lost their love and passion for this band, then they have to go. It may sound sad to you, but it is not to me. I just accept that this is something that is happening like in relationships -people come and go. You cannot force anyone to be with you just because you want it. People should not be controlled in such important issues, they have to think and decide for themselves.

When did you first start recording the material of "Demigod" and how much were the current members of the band involved in the creating process?

Nergal: The one thing thatís for sure is that 'Demigod' is a product of teamwork. We worked really hard for that album. The album was recorded in a short but very intense period of time. It took us three and a half months to rehearse the songs and then another three and a half months to complete the recordings of the album. This is definitely the longest production that we have made so far for a Behemoth album. It took me two and a half months just tracking down the songs in the studio, and then I flew over to Sweden and I did the mixing...it has been quite intense. We have spent something like sixteen hours a day in the studio believe it or not.

Ok, letís focus a bit more on "Demigod". One of the strongest points of the album is the quite impressive production, which was handled by Daniel Bergstrand in the Swedish Dug Out Studios. How did you manage to make the final result sound more American rather than Scandinavian that most of the people would expect?

Nergal: Well, I think that our sound is influenced by both these different scenes, but it is definitely Behemoth. I take what you just said as a compliment. Some people told me 'you spent so much money for the recordings and still your album sounds like Behemoth'...well, thatís good. It means that wherever we choose to record an album, you will always be able to tell that itís us playing. We will not sound like In Flames for example, just because we will record in the same studio with them. Thank you very much for saying that -it is quite a compliment.

I managed to detect, in my opinion, many influences in your current sound and style from bands like Morbid Angel and Deicide. Do you agree with what I just said? Which are the bands that in your opinion have influenced you, especially in the early stages of your career?

Nergal: Which bands...Morbid Angel and Deicide (laughs). I donít believe that you can find one Death Metal band nowadays that has not been influenced by either Morbid Angel or Deicide. There is really nothing new about it, so donít expect me to deny my roots like some bands that say 'we do not sound like anybody else, weíre original' -thatís bull***t. You are influenced by everything that you listen to. When I take my guitar I just play...there are some things that you just do subconsciously, and thatís how things work -very natural. If I record something that will remind you of these bands, well Iím sorry but there is nothing that I can do about it. Some things will probably remind you of Morbid Angel, because they are a part of me. I am a fan of this band, but I am also a fan of Jonny Cash. That means that some people will probably say that I wrote the acoustic parts of the album because I listen to and like his music! Thatís a different way of looking at things I suppose.

"Demigod" is an album that combines both fast and mid-tempo compositions. Why did you choose "Conquer All" as the soundtrack of the bandís latest video? Are we to understand that you are more in favour of heavy mid-tempo compositions after all?

Nergal: 'Conquer All' is a mid-tempo composition that German people can sing along to (laughs). No we, care about every single fan and not just about the German Metal market. It is supposed to be a joke, because Germans are pretty simple minded people. It only takes two simple riffs to make them like your band (laughs)...no, I am just joking here. This song sounds really great live, something that you will find out for yourself really soon. I guess that you can say that it is the most 'commercial' song of this album. The next song that weíre going to make a video for will be a fast composition for sure, and that way we will keep the necessary balance.

What should we expect to find in this video? What in your opinion is the ideal visual presentation for a Behemoth song?

Nergal: Our video is not complicated at all. You will see there four really ugly guys and one really good looking girl. It is really just what Heavy Metal is all about (laughs). It is a very good video that was done in analog technology -no digital bulls**t like some bands that go and spend $10,000 for. Letís face it man - most of the Metal videos nowadays sucks. Low budget efforts with not any great ideas behind them. I wanted our effort to be more like the ones they make in Rock or even Pop music, but of course more obscure and evil. I am only talking about good quality here. These videos have very good quality, and so have ours. There are some very interesting band shots in it, and it will be out really soon, so you can judge for yourself.

Do you believe in the use of videos in order to promote a bandís work? I have been talking with a lot of musicians lately, and most of them seem to believe that it is really a waste of time and money -what do you think?

Nergal: Most of the bands that youíre referring to are the kind of band that like to sit home and do nothing. They do small tours and then complain about the fact that the market is going down. Well, the only thing that I want to say to them is f**k you! Behemoth are going on tour for one and a half year, we work our as**s off, and we also made a very professional video. People who are going to see us live or see our video on TV will probably go and buy our album too. I feel sorry for all those bands that do nothing but complain. Come on guys, take some responsibility for what youíre doing here!

I take full responsibility for the music that I create, and Iím trying to make it the best possible. I can become a real pain in the a** when it comes to things like that, but this is the only way to achieve something good. I am a perfectionist and that can be really tiring...sometimes I am even tired of myself. I cannot change myself though, thatís how I am and I have to live with it. You know what our label told me? 'Why do you want to do a fifth mastering of the album, it already sounds great. Why are you spending three months in the studio and spending 20,000 euros for the production? People will never notice the difference anyway'. That is true -people will never notice the difference, but I will and I will probably lose my sleep over it, you know? If I donít do that I will be unhappy with my album, and believe me you do not want to see me unhappy (laughs).

Since weíre talking about labels, how is your relationship with Regain Records? Is it true that the person who brought you in contact with them was Glenn Danzig?

Nergal: No, Glenn did not do such a thing. The guy sent me an e-mail a couple of years ago, telling me how much he liked our music. He tried to get us into signing a contract with him, but we had other obligations at the time and we had to reject his offer. Regain Records came up with a great offer, and un-refusable offer you could say. I got in touch with a guy from Sweden who was explaining to me what he wanted to do with the band, and it all sounded really good so I told him: 'if you can write all those things that you say to me in a contract, then we have a deal'. We have a really good contract and the guys are doing a really good job for us so far, so we have no reason to worry for the time being.

The promo that Regain records sent to the music press has a picture of the band rather than a proper artwork. Was the decision of the album cover a last minute thing? Who was the artist who created it, and how much does it reflect the albumís vibe?

Nergal: No, Thatís not true! I never leave anything for the very last minute. I started talking about how I would like the front cover to look like half a year ago, but it took the artist quite a long time to prepare it. I look at Behemoth like a very complex thing, and that means that I would never say: 'ok, letís put a picture as an album cover and get it over with'. All the bands nowadays choose pictures for album covers, and they really suck man. Then they sit down and think 'who doesnít anyone want to buy our albums'? Not us man -we prefer to spend some more money. You see the outfit that Iím wearing in the photo of the promo? Well, I actually bought that one from Greece! I just wanted to get something special for that photo session, so as to make things better for the band. I couldn't allow people to think that weíre a clichť band -I hate clichťs, man. I wanted the album cover to be symbolic and strong, the kind of album that will hit you straight in the face, you know? The final result is great, so I believe that all the delays are excused.

I am really glad to see you so passionate and focused on the band, and I think that it pays off really. I know quite a few people who believe that 'Demigod' is the best Extreme Metal release for 2004.

Nergal: When people come and say to me that my music sucks, I do not really mind, and that works the opposite way too. If people think that my new album is great, then it is also ok and I thank them for that. I want to be able to give myself some distance from what I have created so as to see things more clearly. After the album is recorded, there is nothing more that I can do with it. I then have to focus my thoughts on how the next album is going to be. I appreciate both the bad and the good comments that I receive from people, but I do not take them so much into consideration. If, hypothetically, 'Demigod' sells 200,000 records I will still have the same opinion about it as I did right after I had finished recording it. In two years time I will have the same problem with the bands next studio album. I guess that I will always be looking to do something that I will never manage to achieve. As I told you before, I am a big pain in the a** because I never seem to manage to satisfy myself 100%. The album is one thing though -when I go on the road and I play these songs live, then they sound totally different. It is like a totally different dimension to them.

Behemoth

"Demigod" is quite a strong name for an album. Is there a special meaning behind it? What are the lyrics of the album about?

Nergal: I named this album 'Demigod'...because I donít like God (laughs). I would like people to give their own interpretation to it...anyway! 'Demigod' is a very strong statement. Band nowadays use titles like 'Book of Death' or 'Shadows of the Past' and all these titles sound so 'cheesy'. I always go for a title that will fu**ing hit you in the face! The album title speaks for itself -itís Demi-fu**ing God, you know? I do not believe in God, I believe in the human strength. Each and every one of us is a God. It is everything about us and the potential that we have to achieve great things -even to challenge God and show him the little finger, you know? The more successful we become, the more aggressive and provocative we want to be. Most of the people out there are lunatics and they live in a dream world. I want to f***ing wake them up with my lyrics and my music, man. I want them to look around them and realise of all the things that theyíre really capable of doing. Just read the lyrics of the album, and you will understand exactly what I mean.

Behemoth is a member of the ever-growing Polish Extreme Metal scene. How do you explain the fact that the majority of the Metal Bands that come from your country are attracted to the Extreme sound?

Nergal: Maybe itís because weíre living in a very extreme country, man. It seems that thereís a big tradition as far as Death Metal music is concerned, although there are also quite a lot of Goth Metal bands nowadays. There are definitely no Power Metal bands though, weíre not pu****s (laughs). You will either listen to Death Metal or Goth music in Poland. Vader started everything, and most of the young musicians at the time wanted to become like them. The truth though is that most of the Polish Metal bands are quite professional and consist of really skilful musicians. Most of them have signed with really good labels and the only thing that they need is some good promotion.

How difficult was it for you to play this kind of music in a country that is so religious and "traditional" as Poland? Do you remember any incidents to name when you had to face real difficulties in order to play this kind of music, and if yes, what was it that kept you going?

Nergal: We had no problem at all. We are quite popular in my country at the moment. I have just received a phone call which informed me that 'Demigod' is at number fifteen in the general Polish Music Charts, and that includes all types of music. Robbie Williams is in number thirty, and Behemoth is in number fifteen! But who cares really? I am not in competition with this guy -Behemoth is not a Pop band! We play Extreme Metal my friend! Unfortunately, people in Poland are still quite narrow-minded when it comes to many things -we still have a long way to go, man. Most of my countrymen will buy something that is 'happy' and popular. They are not looking to find real music, but they choose to buy all that commercial shi**! I think that it will take at least twenty years for them to stop having this village attitude and to manage to progress as people.

You asked me about good and band experiences: In the period before we released 'Satanica' things were really bad for the band, to the point when we even considered quitting making music. We were not even talking to each other, and that's awful. It was because of my personal efforts that we managed to finish the recordings of the album. It is true that people started to notice our existence during that era, but there was actually no band at that time believe it or not! We hardly ever talk about that now -you will read more in my auto-biography (laughs). Many good things have also happened to the band, like our very first visit to the US.

Even the studio sessions that are a real pain in the a** become good memories after every album is recorded and done with. Now Iím sitting here with you, getting ready to play my new material for people that have come to see us live, and that makes me really happy. These people here today are the reason why I do this! I have left everything behind for this band -I do not have a personal life and I spend most of my time on tour. I donít want to complain, but I am giving everything that I have to this band. I do not have kids and a wife, even though I would like to, because believe it or not I do not have enough free time to do that. Behemoth is my family, and Iím happy about that -something that you will definitely see when weíre on stage. When Behemoth are on stage, you will see four really angry motherf*****s -no question about it!

You will once again going to tour extensively for the promotion of "Demigod". Is there a specific country where you feel more welcomed than anywhere else, and that you prefer to play in?

Nergal: When weíre done with the Suffocation tour, we will come back to Europe for a Polish tour. There is a possibility to play at the 'No Mercy' festival, but it is not yet confirmed. Then we will travel to the US for a tour with King Diamond and Nile. We will also try to play as may European summer festivals as possible, and the following September will once again find us on the road touring once again in the States and in our own Country. Hopefully, we will finish touring round the end of 2005! What we plan on doing after that is to take a long break from each other, just to chill out and look to find some more inspiration for our next album.

A message to your fans and the subscribers of Get Ready to Rock.

Nergal: Keep listening to fu**ing Metal, and never give in to anything else. Listen to sincere and good music. Support our band, if you believe that we deserve it, and buy our new album -I believe that you will not regret it! We will be around the world playing shows, so please come and see us live. Thank you for all your time and support!


Interview © 2004 John Stefanis


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