Behemoth review – jolts of brutality from modern metal's kings of darkness

O2 Forum, London
Through fire and smoke, Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski and his roaring feral hell-bangers churn up elation and menace to prove the devil still has the best tunes

The next time some jaded old gasbag starts to decry the death of rock music and the disappearance of the rock star, kindly refer them to Adam “Nergal” Darski. Admittedly, the Polish heavy-metal polymath is unlikely to register on most rock radars, but Behemoth are enjoying the kind of momentum and widespread adoration that could propel them into the mainstream and Nergal is the charismatic key to their success. Tonight, both he and they demonstrate exactly how and why that situation has arisen.

The Forum is packed to capacity when openers Wolves in the Throne Room take to the stage. Very much a cult concern, the Olympia, Washington crew deliver three monolithic slabs of wildly atmospheric and ritualistic black metal, igniting an ecstatic response. Why can’t mainstream rock muster this level of imagination and verve? Similarly, Swedish death metal icons At the Gates get a heroes’ welcome: on imperious form since their 2010 reboot, they tear through songs from their two post-reunion records, but it’s the ageless fury of Slaughter of the Soul and Blinded By Fear that turn the Forum into a maelstrom of limbs and grins.

After the huge success of 2014’s The Satanist, which was released in the aftermath of Nergal’s battle with leukaemia, Behemoth have seemed unstoppable. Last year’s I Loved You at Your Darkest album won universal praise and Instagram-loving Nergal’s winning combination of mischievous charm and haughty self-belief has turned the Pole into modern metal’s most convincing star. Fittingly, when Behemoth emerge in a thick cloud of smoke and eye-blistering spotlights, wearing gasmasks and terrifying, the entire venue erupts with joy. The opening Wolves ov Siberia is a fearsome calling card: with jagged, jarring dynamics, Nergal’s feral roar and the exhilarating rush of drummer Zbigniew “Inferno” Promiński’s effortless blastbeats, it’s a near-perfect jolt of blackened brutality.

Watch the video for Behemoth: Bartzabel

Thereafter, the visceral thrills come thick and fast, but it’s songs from the latest album that seem to wield the most power. Nergal appears adorned with a gnarly looking mitre for brooding anti-hymn Bartzabel, visibly excited to be sharing such blasphemy with so many happy accomplices. Recent single God = Dog is even more startling; a surprisingly catchy little number, it already feels like a classic and the venue churns with cheery sympathetic menace.

As alien as this kind of music may seem to most fans, the sheer elation being shared has to be applauded. “Can you fucking believe this?” Nergal asks at one point. “This is fucking beautiful!” before commending us all on being “free-thinking, music-worshipping motherfuckers!”, then tearing into late-90s hell-banger Decade of Therion: proof that Nergal was writing weirdly accessible hymns to Satan 20 years ago. A magnificently bombastic Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel follows, before a devastating finale of Behemoth’s biggest “hit” – Slaves Shall Serve – and the eternally eerie Chant for Eschaton 2000, both performed amid staggering quantities of flames and smoke and a light show that borders on hostile. Encores of Lucifer and We Are the Next 1000 Years are barely necessary. Behemoth are modern metal’s rock’n’roll kings and tonight was invigorating proof that the devil still has the best tunes and can now add the best stage show to his repertoire.

• At Vicar Street, Dublin, 10 February; Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow, 11 February. This article was amended to correct the date of The Satanist, which was from 2014.


Dom Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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