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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Belgium Experience v.2018

With all the wonderful things life has to offer, travel resides on top of my list. In January, for instance, I had a chance to visit LS&Co. European offices to participate in interactive eCommerce workshops. This time, I actually got to experience some life besides work. All official (and confidential) things aside, here is my travel story from a person, forever in love with a tiny, beautiful country of Belgium.

Day 1 –> Ghent

Having arrived at the cozy and multi-functional Brussels airport (there’s a train station, parking garage, and a bus terminal all in one building!), I took a shuttle to my hotel (located 7 driving minutes away), and started getting ready for a busy, yet immeasurably exciting, week.

Quickly, because another enticing journey was already lined up: my friends from Germany were picking me up to travel to Ghent, located to the North-West of Zaventem (Brussels suburb, where our offices are located). I’ve organized my luggage, had some herbal tea with a snack, took a 30-min nap, and was ready for an adventure. Friends arrived with more snacks, as well as some sanitizing napkins due to my known cleaning OCD, and we left Zaventem in less than an hour. Ghent invited us to its festivities wholeheartedly:

After a short while, we enjoyed a Ferris wheel ride to capture the bird’s-eye view of the city:

The night’s arrival was somewhat sudden, leaving us in awe with all the medieval architecture Ghent has to offer. 

Day 2 –> Brussels, Sablon

The Sunday morning has started pretty early as coworker and I had brunch plans at Pain Quotidien in the welcoming, highly picturesque Brussels neighborhood – Sablon.

Pain Quotidien (in French, Daily bread – has nothing to do with pain 🙂 ), features this impressive cluster of Random lights from Moooi – one of my favorite Dutch design brands ever!):

And here’s what I got:

 LE BOTANISTE: houmous bio, lentilles, caviar de betteraves et tapenade épicée de noix de cajou, mini parfait au granola, assortiment de pain bio et flûte aux noisettes bio >>

In the same neighborhood, we couldn’t help but admire the Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon – a great example of Gothic architecture, constructed to replace its 14-century predecessor:

After brunch, we wandered the streets for a while, and, when my colleague had to go, I couldn’t say goodbye to Brussels’ center just yet. Instead, despite the freezing wind and gloominess, I proceeded to the Grand Place on foot – a place indeed so grand, it captivated my mind and heart at first glance:

Day 3 –> Zaventem (photos of Grand Place)

This was a Monday, aka Day 1 of the workshops… All-day, all-hands on deck workshops – a great and, in many ways an eye-opening experience. I didn’t have much time to take photos, however, here are some more from my trip to Grand place post-Sablone.

Royal galleries shopping center:

A beautiful corridor of fancy shops:

The Coffee shop that saved me (and my phone) from a near-death experience:

A remarkably well-decorated chocolate shop with a great selection of teas:

Day 4 –> Grand Place: night edition

After the second day of workshops, my colleagues and I felt exhausted however, nothing could stop us from getting a nice, steaming bowl of ramen. Once out of the office, we met near the hotel to proceed with getting the ramen dinner. Located about a mile away from the office, the restaurant was small but charming, and the food was rather authentic:

By approx. 9pm CET, our group split: two of my colleagues were ready to take off, while yours truly and our newest US team member felt up to more adventures. Having said daily goodbyes, we proceeded to the Zaventem train station and caught a night commuter train to downtown Brussels.

Thereafter, Brussels’ slightly rained-upon streets do not require further commentary:

Day 5 –> Company event; Zaventem

This Wednesday was an intense mix of all-day workshops and company dinner/event in PM; here is a coffee photo from another day as I don’t really have post-able material from that day:

Day 6 –> Antwerpen

After yet another day of workshops, the plan was to head out to downtown Brussels for a dinner, however, I didn’t think that joining a group of seven for a few extra hours was still in me. Even though an invitation was quite tempting, I declined and proceeded to my hotel, ordered room dinner service, inhaled it (as lunch was short and virtually calorie-free), and… realized the evening was still young for me to just roll in for the night.

Luckily, there was still that same hotel shuttle running to and from the airport, which transported me, very conveniently and free of charge, to the train station located directly under the airport building. Equipped with a few train schedule screenshots, I got a round-trip ticket to Antwerp, situated a 40-minute ride away. It was so much worth it!

Antwerp Train station: view from the lobby

And, here’s a view from the platform (all Bay Area commuters will understand my level of awe upon seeing this):

Day 6 –> Last Supper; packing

This Friday was the last day of workshops, filled with heated discussions, negotiations, and planning, which resulted in a great, small-group dinner at a neighborhood steakhouse Bovis.

While I don’t have a great photo backing up my super-meat dish from Spain, here’s another coffee shot (literally, an espresso shot), served with a unique, jelly-filled grape truffle at Bovis:

And, as a side note, a really cool confectionery, featuring life-size chocolate penguins:

Day 7 –> Flea Market

My return flight to the States same as, apparently, my coworker’s, wasn’t until 1pm on a Saturday. Cultivating an adventurer’s spirit, we ended up at a Marolles flea market in downtown Brussels. Even at 8am, the place was quite lively and worth exploring. After much-needed morning coffees, we made way through all the rows and, without feeling the urge to exactly buy something, had a chance to interact with both locals and tourists.

Although I have mixed feelings about vintage (meaning, “used”) clothing, I did check out a few tents’ offerings to see if they had some old Levi’s® jeans among the piles of seemingly never-worn pieces. There was indeed one, stacked away:

After a few more shots of the gorgeous neighborhood of Sablon with its cobbled pavements and picturesque alleys, I had to rush back to the hotel to pick up my suitcase and make it to the airport. The entire journey still feels surreal, and I am so glad it had a place to be.