The Lowdown: According to frontman Nergal, the title of the new album from Polish extreme metal lifers Behemoth is a Bible quote attributed to none other than Jesus Christ. “For [us] to use it as the basis of our record,” explained Nergal, “it’s sacrilege to the extreme.” If that seems like begging the point a little bit, you clearly have never listened to this band before. And on their 11th studio album, the trio goes perfectly over the top, bringing in a children’s choir and a 17-piece orchestra to drive their blasphemous point home.
The Good: Amid all the grandeur and the sheer force of the band’s collective incursion throughout, a remarkable tone of restraint that has crept in Behemoth’s work. It was present on the band’s highly acclaimed 2014 album, The Satanist, but it has taken root on I Loved You At Your Darkest with music that feels more direct and all the more powerful as a result. The demon invocation “Bartzabel”, for example, plays out like a particularly vicious power ballad, with its mid-tempo groove and Nergal’s arms akimbo pleas (“Come unto me, Bartzabel/ By the moon and stars, I swear!”). Elsewhere tracks like “Rom 5:8” and “Coagvia” pitch and yaw between a blastbeat-heavy overload and more measured passages that feel positively spacious by comparison.
The Bad: Subtlety has never been Behemoth’s raison d’être, but at times, the band appears to be straining to make their point about the hypocrisy of organized religion and their hatred of its icons. Saddling these songs with titles like “God = Dog” and “Havohej Pantocrator” may result in diluting the messages within.
The Verdict: I Loved You At Your Darkest is another strong addition to Behemoth’s remarkable run, which has now lasted more than a quarter century. It reveals some welcome growth within a subgenre of heavy music that has often been resistant to evolution. The trio doesn’t leave much to chance on this new album, but that’s only because they want to make sure their missives of impiety aren’t forgotten any time soon.
Essential Tracks: “Bartzabel”, “Coagvia”, “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica”, “Rom 5:8”, “Sabbath Mater”