Behemoth’s Nergal: No Nation Is Better Than Another, ‘We’re Equally F–ked’
Behemoth frontman and visionary Nergal was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. He discussed the inspiration behind the band's new album, I Loved You at Your Darkest, where he got the idea to include a children's choir from, the effect traveling the world has on him and his Polish heritage.
Behemoth urge listeners to question morality and social norms. What makes music such a viable way to encourage free thinking?
I think of rock and roll... we are a part of that movement. It was born of rebellion — rock is a genre that is not there to bend their knees and pray and just be a slave to any system. It was made to be anti-establishment. Its more radical branches, like death metal, black metal, radical extreme metal, whatever you name it, they're amazing because of the aesthetics and because it's so striking and so empowering, so violent. They are the best vehicles to manifest those kinds of philosophies, the liberating philosophy, so to say. So, I don't know, to me, it feels like it's super-coherent that I just when I think of black metal, I think of metal, it equals freedom to me.
"God = Dog" features a children's choir. Talk about how that makes that song more intense for you?
I'm gonna try to make this long story as short as possible. I went away from heavy metal two or three years ago, and I did my Me and That Man project. It was more like a bluesy, folk, ambient, country — whatever. And one of my inspirations for that album was Ryan Gosling's band. I don't know if you're aware he's got a band. The band's name is Dead Man's Bones, and it's actually amazing music. People are not that aware how a great performer he is.
He's a great musician, a guitar player, and vocalist. It was one of my main influences for Me and That Man and is actually pretty similar music. But his whole record is that music and children's choir. I saw it and I just fell in love with it. What a brilliant idea. David Bowie said that we steal from each other. And, of course, I stole that idea because I was so in love with that. So, I stole it and I used it for Me and That Man. And it worked out just fine.
And I liked that. And then the next step for me was like, "How about bringing it to the next level?" Because I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, but I'd never heard of any extreme metal band doing that. I mean, kids you know, sing mostly religious songs. So how about just engaging a little kid's choir to sing absolutely like striking the sacrilegious works, you know? Because what excites me when it comes to music, and especially like within this genre, is when you confront the opposites. When they clash, when they collide — that's what triggers the sparks.
You got the kids on one hand that stands for innocence, right? Because that's what kids are, they're innocent. They are unaware and then make them sing "Jesus Christ I forgive thee not." It's like a mantra. It's like a prayer almost. But it's anti-prayer. It's anti-system.
I remember when I got that enlightenment in the studio, when I had the riff because we did the song and then when we finished the song I was like, "Holy fuck. I'm hearing it." And then I started calling up my friends. I've got some good friends with kids already and they're kids from 4 - 12 years old. We just invited them to the studio. The number was 6, so there are 6 kids singing it. We just multiplied the tracks and it was a lot of fun.
Behemoth tours globally. How do experiences in different countries inspire your music?
Yes, I do travel but you know what? I just - I think it just happens on some mental levels. That I cannot really intellectually explain. There's vibes and energies that I absorb and I engage and that I use but I cannot really say. I bet that when I'm in Russia, and then I'm in, I don't know, India. My philosophy says, "This coffee that I'm drinking here, influences me to do stuff. You know...It inspires me to do stuff." So if coffee inspires me to do stuff? What about confronting, I don't know, a culture like Indian culture? Or, I don't know...like you name it!
But it does affect you.
Absolutely, absolutely. Massively. But all the things that confound... I become these things. That's my philosophy. All the people we meet, we kind of become them. You know what I mean? It may sound weird, but that's exactly how I feel.
Have you been everywhere in the world at this point or are there opportunities when you tour that there are places you're going to for the first time?
I'm like that guy in the song, "I've Been Everywhere" by Johnny Cash. Yes, I mean, there are still places that are left to go, but, there's less and less of these places.
I'm all over the place. But then again, I go back somewhere, and I'm like, "Oh, I haven't been here yet." So, I don't know, I'm in Rome, and there are always places to visit in Rome that I haven't been before. It's not really like I'm a typical tourist. What I like doing when I am somewhere; I like getting lost.
I remember when I use to like jog every day. Every place I would just go. I would just jump, get my sneakers on and run across the city, and get lost, and then try to make my way back to the hotel. And I'm jogging across downtown Mexico. And it's a huge city, right? Usually, I have a really good sense of orientation. So I know my ways, but that day, I'm like, "How the fuck?" It's a maze of torment. I'm lost already, you know? And then I stop jogging, and I'm like, "Let me see where I am." And I'm looking up and I see the name of the street. And it says, Warsaw St. [laughs]
And I'm laughing at myself. You know it's like, "You know what; that's exactly what the universe does to you." When you're somewhere and the universe gives you a nod, like "Hey!" That's awesome. That's pretty magical.
Compared to other Behemoth albums the new one features an incredible sense of musical dynamics. What inspired more of that rock-based approach?
I think awareness. The more and more I learn about music, I keep my head open and I realize that everything comes from the same root; from the same source, which is blues. And that's why we just don't - we just try to open up and use different elements and just fearlessly explore new grounds. And yes, this is the most dynamic, the most diverse Behemoth album. Yet it's still very radical. It's still pretty extreme. Just a bit more atmospheric I'd say. There are different moods; there are just different flavors.
So you're happy with the way it came out?
I'm only at the very beginning of the excitement because once you release the record, it's not yours anymore. It starts living its own life. And then you are in that because you are performing it every night for another couple of years. But you are also an observer. You see what curves it's taking; how it's shaping art; how it's transgressing; how it's being perceived by people; how they respond to that; how they confirm that art. And you learn from that.
Music is an art form. As an artist yourself, what's changed most about your creative approach from album to album?
I think I pretty much stick to the same formula, which is just absorbing as much inspiration as I can. There are some nuances there that change but I don't think the creative formula does change from album to album. I'd say it's pretty similar. I just take this deep dive into the wold and process all there is — books, movies, traveling. You process that, you collect it and then it's finding it's way out of your system. You just need to grab the moment and then spit it out in the form of some violent music. That's how I see that.
Behemoth are a Polish metal band. You guys have had some issues in terms of the law in Poland and obviously, there isn't the same type of freedom we have here in terms of what you're able to do. How do you feel about what you've experienced due to what you do for a living, and where you're from?
I come from a place with a very dynamic history and very tragic history. Even if you see on a map how Poland - where it's placed, it's almost on the verge of two opposite civilizations. One is Asian with Russia as the main country and all the Asian countries, and then it's Germany. We're fucked. Being in the middle of that, we're always on the verge of something. That causes a lot of tension and I think it truly determines who you are as a person and how it influences your life. It's good and it's bad, it's both. It's negative and positive. It can bring a lot of dichotomy in your life. A lot of bipolar reactions and benevolence and that's how I feel about my own country. There's a lot of love, and there's a lot of hate. This country made me who I am.
You're proud of your Polish roots.
I don't want to sound nationalistic, because that's not my nature. I'm a pretty proud human being and Poland is part of that, so yes, in that sense I am proud. Are we better than other nations? No. We are equally fucked. Is there a nation that's amazing? Is America an amazing nation? Yes. As much as Russia, as much as Germany. We're equally fucked. I've never perceived one nation to be greater than the other.
I get a lot of people - there are people who think because of our position, and because of our status we should raise the flag real high and just stick it on top of the world. Like Russians or Americans when they landed on the moon. [laughs] I'm like, I'm proud of being Polish and when we perform here in a month, I'll say we're Behemoth from Poland, fuck yes. I think the fact that we come from there makes us stand out. What's surprising about awesome bands from Sweden? All of them are amazing. But not all Polish bands are amazing. So it's good to be an amazing band, I don’t know if we're amazing, but it's good to be an amazing band from Poland just getting that far in the music business.
The band is kicking off a tour with At The Gates and Wolves in the Throne Room. Tell us what is in store beyond this tour.
The same lineup is coming back to Europe in January and February. This is two tours that we have set up now and they are happening but there are some insane tours coming next year with us on the bill and unfortunately, all I can do now is tease.
'I Loved You at Your Darkest' is out now and can be purchased here. See Behemoth's upcoming tour dates and more by following the band on Facebook and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show here.
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