Behemoth Live || Regency Ballroom, San Francisco || November 23 2018

A decade ago, I wouldn’t consider Behemoth to be one of my go-to bands. Perhaps, it was due to lack of band’s repertoire in-depth knowledge, Behemoth’s then-aesthetic, other influences – likely, a mix of all above; I would hear a song or two and switch to someone darker, or, in reverse, a more “melodic/poetic” metal band. It was around 2016 when I came across a book by Behemoth’s Nergal (Adam Nergal Darski), “Confessions Of A Heretic: The Sacred And The Profane: Behemoth And Beyond” somewhere on recommended reads (oh yes, even back then ecommerce machine learning was pretty good with its algorithms). I added the book to my cart, read an intro, and was not able to put it down. Ironically, that specific version was an ebook, so it promoted me reading it all the way through the night from a tablet, which fell on my face a few times when my brain demanded a quick nap. Though tablet was heavier than a phone and I was quite exhausted, I finished the book by the time my morning alarm went on about the upcoming day and its demands.

I will not tell you about the contents of the “Confessions…”, this is not a book review. Besides, the facts (although told from someone other than Nergal’s perspective) can be found online with a quick search. The main takeaway from this largely autobiographical work was this: Life is hard, it’s trying to kill you, what you do matters and how you do it determines whether you live or not. Not just survive, but actually live a full life, after battling a deadly case of leukemia and the corresponding difficulties in various aspects of life. Since then, I’ve done more research, acquainted myself with Nergal’s other work (if music alone wasn’t more than a 24/7 career), and found the San Francisco show at the Regency to be a perfect opportunity to witness the Behemoth live performance, soon after their eleventh studio album release, “I Loved You at Your Darkest”.

Prior to the Behemoth appearing on stage, there was a brilliant cut from the new album on speakers, “Solve”, unlike too-common in concerts re-mixes and covers of other bands, often unrelated to the upcoming performance. (The “Solve” itself is taken from one of the album’s anchors, God = Dog.) Although I don’t have decent HQ photos of the show, here’s one of the Ora Pro Nobis stills:

Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer

Remarkably, Nergal & Co. managed to change outfits after almost every song, while keeping the sets tight and well-paced. With one single backdrop (ILYAYD album cover), the atmosphere was adapted for each narration with lighting, revealed new props in the background, and smoke blasts (lots of blasts!) throughout the performance. The entire set felt wholesome, with no dull moments, all within an extremely hot, crowded environment with poor air conditioning (seriously, Regency). A relief to me personally was to see the band’s approach to the audience receptiveness: never a mosh instigation, always cheering back and supporting the fans by short stories and applause in between. While trying to capture every moment with a lense of an eye vs cellphone screen, I couldn’t help it once the opening cords of Bartzabel filled the ballroom:

There were moments when the entire stage seemed to be on fire, with a perfect music accompaniment (Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica was a stunning example), the red inverted crossed glared through the darkened backdrop; Nergal wearing a “pope-y” headpiece, driving many “fans” mad (thanks to the Ghost/Papa Emeritus aesthetic resemblance). To me, that is more of a natural, and logical, evolution: from where the band has begun their path, to where they are now — lyrically, and overall, artistically. With all the Behemoth-hosted art shows happening this summer in Europe (for they would not be able to roll it out in the US, due to “sensitivities”, yet), Nergal & Co. managed to secure a 2-month long tour in North America, bringing the new age of quality, intellectual, and controversial  metal.

Speaking of controversies, Behemoth goes far beyond the expected: while using Biblical themes and blasphemies in their text and visuals (a common/core theme in the black metal community), Nergal takes on other activities, often not entirely music-related, to express self and the “church of self”. Between the two bands (aside from Behemoth, Nergal is a frontman of Me and That Man), he is a public speaker, TV host in Poland, a spokesperson for animal welfare, as well as a barber shop owner, a Behemoth webstore influencer, and a coffee brand ambassador. Take that for multitasking.

To put a finishing mark in their SF chapter, the band has briefly left the stage to return with a dynamic drum solo of the “We Are the Next 1000 Years”, which has indeed proven once again that one’s life contributions only matter if they surpass the time of the living.

We Are the Next 1000 Years
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Solstafir Live || Elbo Room || Oakland CA || October 21 2018

I don’t remember discovering Solstafir. What I do remember is a quick and abrupt and all-over mind-bending experience with band’s energy; not even the music or lyrics, at first. I was likely working on one of those freelance projects where an agency sends you gigs of data, files and webpages to dig through and discover potentially decent content, when I came across one of Solstafir’s most prized videos, Fjara. Instantly, I was mesmerized by the stunning complexity and simultaneously, comforting relatability of the song. Having watched the entire video, I was no longer able to concentrate on work that day and had to sign off.

Later, other songs and albums have captured my attention. Their earlier, angrier riffs sound sincere and passionate, while Solstafir’s latest album, Berdreymin, is by far the dearest for its fascinating flow and rhymic philosophy.

The clip below, Köld of the eponymous album, captures the lyricism of a cold feeling quite incredibly:

The audio below does not have a corresponding image for two reasons:

  1. It would have been impolite to raise a phone during the speech
  2. The message was too personal to begin with

This referenced song here is Bláfjall, or Black Mountain, of Berdreymin, is a perfect example of how powerful music and performer’s energy can be. Even without translation (a loose version can be found here), this song kicks me right in the face.

With that, I’ll depart to listen to Solstafir and ponder upon the other side of the horizon.