Behemoth, a name synonymous with the most influential metal bands in the world, has captured the attention of top music magazines and enjoys a global following, including fans in the United States, Great Britain, and Japan. The Gdańsk-based band was formed in 1991 and quickly gained popularity with their successful English releases.
I need to say that Behemoth’s international career, led by Nergal, truly took off in 2007 with the release of „The Apostasy,” which made history as the first Polish popular music album to debut on the American Billboard 200 chart, securing 145th place in its first week of sales.
Behemoth’s Early Days and Rapid Growth
Of course, the band wasn’t completely unknown before then. Between 1995 and 2004, Behemoth released seven full-length albums that garnered recognition in Poland and among dedicated fans of black-, pagan-, and death metal worldwide.
However, the band’s music was too controversial for mainstream success at the time. As perceptions of metal music shifted and mainstream media began to take notice, Behemoth was able to showcase their work and expand their global audience.
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Seemingly overnight, Behemoth became one of the most popular extreme metal bands in the world. Nergal, alongside Inferno (drums) and Orion (bass), capitalized on their newfound fame, leveraging controversies to generate buzz and consistently releasing exceptional, cohesive, and thought-provoking albums.
The 2009 album „Evangelion” surpassed „The Apostasy” in commercial success, reaching number 1 on the OLiS chart in Poland (and achieving gold status) while also making its mark in countries like the USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Finland, and France. The albums „The Satanist” (2014) and „I Loved You at Your Darkest” (2018) followed suit, and with a new release expected in 2022, there’s no doubt it will continue Behemoth’s legacy of success.
Behemoth’s Anti-Christian Metal Themes
Throughout their career, Behemoth’s music has primarily revolved around black and death metal, with brief flirtations with pagan metal in the mid-1990s. Early on, the band was rumored to have ties to the NSBM movement due to their collaboration with Robert Fudali, who is associated with that trend.
However, the lyrics of their songs didn’t support this theory. As time went on, it became evident that black and death metal were the dominant genres in Behemoth’s work, often compared to bands like Nile and Morbid Angel.
Behemoth’s current music incorporates anti-Christian and occult symbols, as well as Middle Eastern mythology. During performances, the musicians don elaborate costumes, and the stage design complements the overarching themes. The themes and mythological characters have evolved over time, but the core message remains consistent, reflecting the beliefs of the musicians and their lyricist, Krzysztof Azarewicz, a self-proclaimed occultist.
You may also want to read this article I wrote: Behind the Music – The Story of Polish Metal Bands
Controversies Surrounding Behemoth
As Behemoth gained fame in the 21st century, legal battles ensued, often centered around accusations of promoting Satanism and the occult. Nergal, the band’s leader, has been known to provoke with his words and behavior, resulting in court appearances. In recent years, numerous lawsuits have been filed against him, with most ending in acquittal, though some are still ongoing.
During Behemoth’s concert tours in Poland over the past fifteen years, spontaneous social protests have occasionally occurred, involving representatives from the National Committee for Defense Against Sects and politicians. Though the concerts were never canceled, they were often accompanied by varying degrees of controversy. From the start, Nergal viewed these incidents as promotional opportunities and didn’t shy away from admitting his satisfaction when such events unfolded before his band’s performances.
The Symbolism in Behemoth’s Performances
Behemoth is known for incorporating anti-Christian, occult symbols, and Middle Eastern mythology in their music and live performances. During their concerts, part of the stage design includes Aleister Crowley’s Hexagram of Thelema, which represents the macrocosm and has six arms corresponding to Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, the Sun, and the Moon. This symbol is also present on the slipcase cover of „The Apostasy”.
The „The Apostasy” album also features Pazuzu, a demon from Sumerian mythology, with a song of the same name dedicated to the character. The album’s cover is a reference to the Hindu goddess of time and death, Kali, with a sculpture created by Tomasz „GRAAL” Daniłowicz based on Nergal’s concept.
The logo of the New Aeon Musick agency, which handles Behemoth’s promotion and merchandise, includes the Chaos Star and a mystical phoenix bird at its top. The band also briefly performed under the name Baphomet, an anti-Christian deity, which is featured on the cover of the album „Zos Kia Cultus (Here and Beyond)”.
Behemoth’s Anti-Catholic Messages
Since 2008, legal battles have been waged against Adam Darski, the band’s leader, for allegedly committing the crime of offending religious feelings by destroying a copy of the Bible during a concert. In 2012, Ryszard Nowak, chairman of the National Committee for Defense Against Sects, filed a rape report against Darski and other Behemoth members based on the content of Darski’s 2012 book „Confession of a Heretic: Sacrum Profanum”.
Social protests against Behemoth’s concerts have been organized by various religious and political organizations. Concerts have been canceled or met with protests in cities like Poznań, Gdańsk, and Columbus, Ohio, due to religious conflicts.
Critics, such as Jerzy Wasiukiewicz, argue that since Krzysztof Azarewicz, a known occultist, is Behemoth’s lyricist, the band actively promotes Satanism. However, Behemoth’s use of symbolism and controversial themes has only fueled their success and notoriety, making them a significant force within the metal scene.
Behemoth’s Unwavering Influence
Despite the controversies and challenges, Behemoth has continued to make waves in the metal music scene. Their dedication to pushing boundaries and creating thought-provoking music has cemented their place as one of the most influential bands in the genre. As they continue to release new material and tour the world, it’s clear that their impact is far from over.
Behemoth’s journey from a small band in Gdańsk to one of the most famous Polish metal bands abroad is a testament to their talent, resilience, and ability to adapt. As they continue to evolve and explore new themes in their music, they’ll undoubtedly continue to inspire and challenge both their fans and the metal community as a whole.
So, if you’re a fan of metal music, it’s worth taking the time to explore Behemoth’s extensive discography and experience their powerful live performances. As the band gears up for their next release, there’s no better time to immerse yourself in the world of Behemoth and discover what makes them such a unique and captivating force in the metal scene.