The guitarguitar Interview: Behemoth
Published on 07 February 2020
The Legions are here.
Over 300 hundred excited Behemoth fans are waiting, queued up outside the Glasgow guitarguitar store in a line that snakes along Trongate, around the corner, past the Purrple Cat Café and up High Street.
The Legions have answered the call and have taken over the entire area. Their heroes, Behemoth, are due to show up at our Glasgow store for a meet 'n' greet, and the queue outside the store is growing longer and longer by the minute.
I don’t know any of this first-hand, since I am, at this point in the story, sitting in the reception of a hotel in the city centre, waiting Nergal, Orion and Seth to appear from their rooms. At some point today, I’m to interview Nergal for our website, but before then, I’m tasked with getting these chaps ‘to the wedding on time’!
(Photo: Grzegorz Gotebiowski)
This is a new thing for me: I’m normally only responsible for getting myself to the right place at the right time for these interviews: I don’t normally factor in things like famous Polish Death Metal bands, nor their huge crowd of awaiting fans! On top of that, I’m lucky enough to be scheduled for a chat with Slipknot’s Jim Root later in the day, too! Frankly, this is not a normal day at the office. Certainly it’s a privilege, but let’s say it’s also a whole new world of challenges for me, this particular Saturday afternoon!
I’m a Behemoth fan myself, and have interviewed Nergal previously via email for guitarguitar, but we’ve never met in person. Therefore, there is a little more at stake here: what if the taxi drives off before the guys come downstairs? What if we get stuck in traffic for half an hour? What if they've had a late night and just flat-out cannot be bothered with me? These thoughts, and many others, pester me for a while before quickly sweeping themselves aside as Seth appears, followed a few minutes later by Orion and Nergal. Their movements are relatively slow and deliberate, like those of men who’d probably appreciate a few more hours’ sleep. I make a metal note to get a lid on my otherwise incessant chat-barrage. We enter the taxi (still there, phew!) and begin our journey through the city.
Luckily, although Orion and Seth are relatively quiet, Nergal makes a welcome effort at conversation, though his choice of topic – Brexit – is not something that’s easy for anyone to explain, especially to someone experiencing that particular circus from outside the UK. I do my best, and am quietly thankful to Nergal for filling our journey with opportunities for small talk. We arrive at the store, I deliver the band (after managing to talk over, and therefore spoil, a live social media video Nergal was making as we pulled into the lane next to the shop: nice one Ray!) and make vague plans to see them back at the Hydro.
The next part of the tale is taken up in a separate blog. Read about my interview with Slipknot’s Jim Root right here, and meet me back here when you’re done!
All up to speed with the Slipknot side of the day? Good, let’s continue!
After speaking with Mr Root, I exited the building and awaited Behemoth. Such was the security factor at the Hydro, I couldn’t remain in the venue and had to be re-admitted. No problem! Before long, Behemoth were back in the venue and their tour manager brought me back in. The signing had been a roaring success, with over 300 fans showing up at the store. Behemoth deserve the popularity for sure, but it is still a pleasant surprise to see quite so many people show up for what is really quite a heavy, controversial band!
Showtime was looming when I made it up to Behemoth’s dressing room. Nergal brought me in to chat whilst he warmed up on his brand new ESP guitar. We talked about that, of course, and also took in Aleister Crowley, Bloodstock festival, vocal warmups, Jesus and much more! Nergal’s energy is infectious, and his charisma is as obvious offstage as on.
Here, then, is our conversation, with nothing left out...
guitarguitar: Since you have it there, why don’t we start with the new guitar?
GG: So, this is your third Nergal signature after the 7 string and the Eclipse, is that right?
N: Yeah, it’s the third one and uh, yeah, I’m still... it’s still a fresh tool. I’m just trying to get familiar with it. It’s only the first tour I’ll be playing with it, but it seems pretty fuckin’ awesome!
N: Basically, the body is Mahogany, it’s a ‘Stream’ type: originally, it’s a bass body.
GG: Yeah, that’s right!
N: So, it’s a little smaller than the original. It looks almost like the (ESP) Phoenix, but the Phoenix is bigger.
GG: It’s a size bigger.
N: Yeah yeah! So, I tried to play the Phoenix a couple of times, but it was just too big for me, just optically: if you just look at me playing Phoenix a couple of times, it’s like ‘mmm...nah! This guitar is too big!’
GG: This is a better fit.
N: This is a perfect fit. It’s very handy, it’s very comfy to play when I’m sitting, it’s comfy to play when I’m standing obviously, so it did well live so far. But you know, switching from guitar to guitar, especially a different body type, like from a Les Paul type to this, you know, basically everything changes.
N: Of course!
GG: It shifts the neck away (I mime the guitar being out to my left, as Jim did earlier).
N: Yeah, yeah! So you basically have to get used to that. I remember going to the Gibson model, it was just the opposite: ‘Holy shit! I need to, like, re-learn how to play!’ Not so much learn, but you got to get used to it, you know? So, I’m at the point now where I’m like: ten years (of being with ESP), you know?
GG: Yeah, yeah!
N: And I’m happy with it!
GG: You getting it?
GG: And so (looking at Nergal’s guitar as he warms up on it) you’ve still got a pretty flat fretboard there.
GG: The one thing I noticed, from going from a Les Paul style guitar to another is the pitch of the neck. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I always feel like a Les Paul comes around you a little bit, whereas other guitars are more ‘straight’. Like, when you lie a Les Paul down, it doesn’t sit flat.
N: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! I haven’t thought about it that way! You’re right!
GG: It’s just a slightly different vibe. Also, you have Fishman Fluences for the first time.
GG: With the push/pull that gives you the tonal option?
N: Apparently. Hahaha! Apparently, there’s a passive option? (manipulates the guitar’s push/pull) Possibly? But, ahhh, I mean, you know, at some point I just switched to Fishman and I’ve stuck with them ever since. It just works for me.
GG: And for amps, is it still the Peavey 5150?
N: It’s still the Peavey. It’s just, man, the Peavey’s like the Kalashnikov of amps! (laughs) Trust me, you know, I always buy different amps, but I never use them anymore. At the stage of (Behemoth album) Evangelion, or Apostasy or some other records, I was like “Ah, fuckin’ Marshall", Bogner Uberschall...
N: It’s a pretty awesome amp. And of course, Mesa-Boogie and others. But now, sometimes I switch on a Mesa-Boogie, because that’s what’s been delivered by a promoter in, let’s say, Colombia...
N: And I play them, then I’m like: ‘Holy shit!’ I mean, no more!
GG: Missing something.
N: No, no, no, I’m missing it! So now, I mean, Peavey is the best.
GG: If it was good enough for Eddie Van Halen, right? Haha!
N: Haha, yeah yeah!
GG: So, what type of plectrums do you prefer using?
N: 1mm InTune. They do all the signature picks for us, and 1mm. It’s always been that.
GG: Awesome. So, last time we spoke, that was not long after (previous album) I Loved You at Your Darkest had been released. You were about to play at the QM Union (venue with a capacity of 900). Now, you’re laying at the Hydro and headlining Bloodstock festival.
GG: So that’s a trajectory that’s just up and up and up. Is that how it feels to you?
N: Ah, I mean, you missed one little fact. A few years ago, on our first run (of touring) after I was released from hospital after battling with Leukaemia, Bloodstock was one of the very first festivals who would put us as the main headliner. I mean, honestly, Bloodstock wasn’t of a size that it is now, but still, when I saw that one day it was Alice Cooper headlining, and the next day they made Behemoth headlining, it was a big deal for us, okay?
GG: Of course!
N: And I must say that it turned out great! We were warmly received by the UK audience, and for me, it was like ‘wow’. I mean, it’s a game-changer and maybe it was also a sign for other festivals to say: ‘hey, Behemoth is getting there’, eventually.
GG: A bankable act.
(Photo: Grzegorz Gotebiowski)
N: So, yeah, it was a very remarkable experience for us to do that festival, which was...I’ll need to check the calendar, but it was around, mmmm, 7 years ago?
N: Six, seven years ago? Back then, we were not in a position to headline that size of festival, but they were the first ones to offer us the slot and we accepted it. It was a challenge, and we pulled it off, and I’m very thankful. Now, I feel, we rightfully, so to say, rightfully take that throne...
N: And uh, now, ok, now I know that we kinda earned that. Then, it was like ‘Holy shit!', you know? We got a lot of credit from the promoter to do it, so we cannot really fuck it up. But we were far from that, it was a very good show.
GG: Cool. Now, you’re like returning champions now.
GG: So, I read your book (Confessions of a Heretic: The Sacred and the Profane, Behemoth and Beyond) which came out maybe five years ago now?
N: My book? I little longer than that, I think. Maybe...seven?
GG: Okay. So that period since then is the era of Behemoth that I’m most familiar with.
N: Ah, maybe the English version is five years.
N: Yeah, and Polish is seven. Yeah.
GG: Okay. So, one of the songs off your newest record, Bartzabel, is, correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s directly related to an Aleister Crowley ritual?
GG: So, I’m relatively well-versed in Crowley-lore but I’m no authority. I’m interested in your opinion here: do you think that Aleister Crowley was genuinely onto something and it all just kind of went wrong for him, or was a lot of what he did just performance and spectacle for himself? What do you reckon?
N: Umm, I don’t think I get you?
GG: You know how, when his mum called him ‘the Wickedest Man in the World’...
N: Ahhh, yeah.
GG: ...and he quite liked it. And, you know how, when he was shocking the English Society, he quite liked it? But then, on the other side of it, he was amazing at feats of concentration, and he was an incredible mountaineer and so on, so there was something to this guy!
N: Yeah, I, uh, I think so. I think he was hugely ahead of his time. I’m not the person who would go ‘what if’...
N: But...if we take the scenario ‘if’ Aleister Crowley was born today, you know, no one would give a fuck. (laughs) Because it is so difficult to stand out, to make a statement and be heard. And to just create something that’s eventually gonna become a footprint for other people, you know what I mean?
N: Like, ideologically, or philosophically or whatever. It’s so difficult; these times are so chaotic, but I’d say the same for Jesus.
N: If there was a historical Jesus who made all of that impact, would he make that impact today? I seriously doubt it! They’d just fucking put him into a mental asylum, you know what I mean?
GG: He’d be a case study for someone.
N: Yeah, as a case study. Or, he’d just be completely ignored! Or, would he use Instagram? Or Facebook? Or would he be one of the terrorists, you know? For one of the terrorist groups, You know what I mean?
GG: I do!
N: It’s like, times are changing now, so, like, for some of the guys who made such a massive impact, I think they were born in the right times. And I bet that Crowley, with all his ideas, he was a game-changer, and he was very much needed for his times, and that’s why he’s one of the most inspiring figures - certainly one of the most controversial figures - in the modern age.
GG: This culture.
N: Yeah, this culture. And beyond, I’d say. On many levels.
GG: Certainly! He keeps popping up, a hundred years later. Here we are, still talking about Crowley, whereas someone like Austin Osman Spare is much more niche.
GG: So there’s something about his message that was hitting a bigger thing.
(Nergal then stops playing to turn his forearm towards me, revealing a large and quite excellent tattoo of Crowley. I burst out laughing: I had no idea he had such a thing)
GG: Haha, I didn’t even know that! When we’re done, can I get a picture of that for the article? That’s amazing!
N: Absolutely. Hahaha! You didn’t know?
GG: No, I didn’t realise!
GG: Amazing! Yeah, so, you studied History at university, and of course, Nergal is an ancient Babylonian god.
GG: And I’m assuming that Seth (Behemoth’s live guitarist) is from the Egyptian deity?
GG: And Orion (Behemoth bassist) as a constellation seems to be important for many ancient civilisations and spiritual beliefs. Did that time at university help shape the way you think and affect how you see the world? And lyric-writing?
N: Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. I always try to keep my mind open, and my eyes open. And I read a lot. I’m a much bigger reader these past ten years that I’ve been before.
N: Yeah. I think, these days, I’m just catching up on lost years, you know, when I was like (dismissively) ‘ahh!’, I was so impatient with books, you know? I was more into just music: only music! I would read, but, like, occasionally, and now I’m a reader. So, but yeah, I mean, the universe is just full of all kinds of intellectual stimulation. I’m all about processing, and the most inspiring ones, hopefully some of that will leave a mark.
GG: Yeah, that’s it!
N: It’s gonna impact my lyrics. And I must say that, even if I read random books, I make a note. Even if there’s some inspiring vocabulary, I’m like: ‘Oh shit, that word is awesome! I wanna use it in my lyrics.’ ‘Oh, that verse!’ It can be fuckin’ anything, you know? I can read an adventure book and there can be a line where I’m like ‘Holy shit!’ If I just tweak this and tweak that, you know, it would make a perfect line for a Behemoth lyric! I do that all the time: I steal. I’m one of the biggest thieves in the scene.
GG: 'Talent borrows, Genius steals', right?
GG: So, I was thinking, with the sound of Behemoth, I always think that two of the most prominent elements are the vocals and the drums. Your voice is a force of nature: how do you look after it on tours night after night?
N: Mmmm, I just learned to, I think like, organically learn how to use it to do things that are not damaging my vocal chords any more, which I used to do back in the day. Even say, ten years and beyond, you know, which is still relatively lately...
N: There were moments that were close to just killing my vocal chords, you know? But back then, we were using only wedges (for on-stage monitoring – Ray) and for a few years now, we’re using an in-ear system.
GG: Making a big difference?
N: Immense! That’s a game-changer, completely. Basically, it puts you in control of what you’re emitting, what you’re hearing.
GG: You’re not competing against stuff.
N: And honestly, I was already like...I had a cold and I could still pull of shows easily.
N: Easily. So, yeah. If there’s anyone looking for tips...I had this talk with Jeff Janiak from Discharge the other day. He was like ‘You are doing, like, 29 shows, how are you not killing your voice?’ I went: ‘Jan, it’s this ear system.’ ‘What’s that’?
N: He’s from the Punk Rock scene. I’m like, ‘Jan, you’re in the Punk Rock scene, I’ve never seen a punk guy using an in-ear system. Maybe it’ll kill your credibility!’
GG: Ah! Hahaha!
N: And people will think you’re a cissy or something, you know, because it’s Punk Rock, you know? Probably Die Toten Hosen uses it, but Die Toten Hosen isn’t really Punk Rock or...you know what I mean?
GG: Yeah, yeah!
N: You can’t really like...you are there to fuckin’ bleed your chords for people! And to just wear it out for them! And I need to be in control! But that’s the secret.
GG: So, is your growl more coming from the top of the head.
N: Yeah, it must! MMMMMMAAAA-MMMEEEEEHHHH (makes a brilliant, loud noise whilst pointing down his nose towards his nostrils to indicate the flow of energy) Nasally. It goes nasally.
GG: Not from back here? (points to back of throat)
N: I mean I used to...sometimes, when I tire, or like, there’s a room full of people and it’s noisy, I can usually hear when my voice is lowering down just a little bit, these levels (gestures around cheeks and down nose) and then down my throat. And when I talk, talk, talk, I can ‘Ah’, ‘Ah’, and then the itching starts. And I go ‘shit!’ and then I go NNNNNNN (hums a vocal warmup). Somehow, you need to train yourself, and discipline yourself, to use your voice to go through your upper channels.
GG: Like, you visualise it?
N: Yes, I do! When we do warmup every day, all three of us - which is weird too because we’re not really signing, it’s like semi-signing - but all three of us, just because of the discipline, we do 15-20 minutes warm up with the tape. (makes luh-luh-luh warm up sounds) and all these BRRRRRRRRRR, just doing all the classic stuff. But it’s all just to bring back the discipline, you know. It’s all about the discipline, really.
GG: Get it right in your mind and your body will follow?
N: Yeah! So, whenever I do the warmup, I visualise, and I even do the hand gestures (‘points’ with his right hand up over an imaginary audience to a certain defined point above them). You have to think that the voice is coming from here, (louder) and it goes (yelling) beyond the wall, it’s there! So it just opens up the upper parts, you know? That’s where the voice is. Like, imagine you have that third eye here.
GG: The pineal gland.
N: Which you do: everyone has. But imagine it’s also vocal. Shhhhhhhhh! (gestures from his forehead out)
GG: That’s really helpful.
N: Visualising can be very...
N: It can be magical. And powerful.
GG: Which takes us back to Crowley.
N: Yeah, haha!
GG: So, I don’t want to keep you too long, but I did want to ask about your other band, Me and That Man. Obviously, it’s pretty different from Behemoth, but that makes sense to me: everybody likes a variety of things! Was this project something that had to happen for you?
N: Yeah. Yes, it was a need, an urge to get more kind of mellow, less extreme, at least sonically. There was just a need, and I wanted to do it. Yeah, it was a need and I had it for years! I just felt that I didn’t have the balls, and then it was always the wrong timing. So, when I came across John (Porter, the other ‘Man’), it was a very spontaneous decision. I just grabbed a phone, called him up - he didn’t know me - and I was like, ‘hey man, do you mind to meet up and maybe we talk?’ ‘Yeah, sure’. So, we started talking and then we started, you know, we put the words into action and the next thing was the first songs that we did. So that kinda opened me up.
N: And then, when he left, he originally kicked himself out of the band (laughs) before I made that decision. I had a vision of the band incorporating these guests and I had that in my head: it was evolving, so that’s what we’re dealing with now. We’re all waiting for the record full of really cool guys contributing. Trust me, there’s some really cool shit there!
With show time swiftly approaching, I thanked Nergal and the band for my dressing room invasion, got a swift pic of Nergal’s fantastic Aleister Crowley tattoo, and headed back out. Crowds were already pouring into the venue as I mooched out the side gate. Black-clad metal fans bearing both Slipknot and Behemoth shirts crowded the ‘exhibition campus’, along with more than a few Maggots (Slipknot’s affectionate term for their fans) dressed in home-made masks and red boiler suits. There was a real air of ‘event’ about the gig: Metal’s conquering heroes from the US and Extreme Metal’s dark European overlords in one place, both at the very top of their game.
Behemoth, live, are quite the proposition. Taking no prisoners, their elaborate stage setup and full use of pyro are necessary additions to match the epic ferocity of their performance. Behemoth may have been on first, but they are a ‘big’ band in every sense. If they are sonically too extreme for a few people, their visual delivery would surely tilt them back in favour. Costumes, theatre and delivery all play a big part in Behemoth’s live message. They truly are masters of their art and are clearly relishing the opportunities made available from this tour to play to their biggest non-festival audiences yet. For those with a taste for the dramatic in their music, Behemoth are as good as it gets.
Behemoth are currently on tour with Slipknot. Catch up with them at the official Behemoth website. Nergal’s other band, Me and That Man, release their new record, New Songs Same Shit Vol.1 on March 27th. Find tour dates and more on the Me and That Man website.
I’d like to thank Nergal for making time for me during a hectic schedule, and for sharing some good advice! I’d also like to thank Jojo and Michelle for all of their help, both on the day and on the run up to it.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time.