It’s been a hell of a year for Behemoth. Pun totally intended. Back in May, the band rolled through Michigan as part of Slayer’s farewell tour, and gallantly held their own amongst some of metal’s most respected royalty. Their set on that unusually sweltering May afternoon was phenomenal, but visually they were totally out of place performing in broad daylight. They’re a band much more suited to darkened concert halls, belching fog machines and sinister lighting.

Fast forward to November, and the return of Poland’s greatest export since Frederic Chopin. Riding the momentum of their critically-acclaimed new release, I Loved You At Your Darkest, frontman / mastermind Nergal (Adam Darski) and crew descended upon Detroit primed to deliver ninety minutes of blackened shock and awe.

The night began with an excellent set from Pacific Northwestern black metal heroes Wolves in the Throne Room, whose nuanced performance was both ambient and explosive. The Weaver brothers have covered a lot of sonic territory in a little over a decade, and their continual growth was evidenced by the intensifying depth of their musical output, and the fact the hall seemed filled to capacity before their early set even started.

The next band to take the stage was Swedish death metal pioneers At The Gates, who conjured such a reception from the crowd, you would have thought they were the headliners. With eyes hidden under the brim of his ball cap, Tomas Lindberg sounded as good as ever, and the band followed suit. Tearing through a set that went all the way back to their landmark album Slaughter of the Soul, ATG reminded everyone just how important they were, and are in the history of death metal.

Finally, the witching hour had arrived. As the new album’s opening instrumental Solve played over the PA speakers, Behemoth took the stage shrouded in cloaks, their faces hidden behind shadowy skull masks. They launched into a fierce rendition of Wolves ov Siberia, also from their latest. The set was chock full of songs from Darkest, including the world’s most blasphemous semordnilap, God = Dog. A number of blackened treasures from the past made their way into the show as well, notably a personal favorite Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel (although I’m probably biased, as my son’s name is Gabriel).

True to form, Nergal and his creepy, corpse-painted comrades turned in a mesmerizing performance. It’s that sort of intensity that has kept Behemoth among the most important bands in metal for well over a decade. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Darski seems like one of the coolest guys in the industry, clearly evidenced by a recent Instagram post showing him with a fan bound to a wheelchair, who is contending with a rare, debilitating disease. Nergal invited the young man and his father to attend their Chicago show and meet the entire band. If you’re not moved by a gesture like that, well, you’re fucked pal.

As I was walking out later in the evening, I overheard a kid telling his friend, “I wish I was from Poland. This country sucks.” Clearly, he’s unfamiliar with Behemoth’s ongoing struggles concerning free speech in their native land, or the criminal charges that were leveled against Nergal for destroying a bible onstage a few years back. When you read about governments like Poland’s genuflecting to the wishes of fanatical religious organizations, it’s a reminder that we need to be vigilant in protecting our own liberties. Granted, we’re only a heart attack away from having a religious zealot in the Oval Office, but when the Satanic Temple erects a giant statue of Baphomet in Detroit and no one is arrested or physically assaulted, it’s clear that our religious freedom is still mostly intact. So stick around, kid.

To summarize, Behemoth came. They saw. They conquered.

Todd Gilleland
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