Nergal Speaks! The Behemoth Frontman Talks About His Battle With Leukemia, Part Two
Today, we conclude Revolver’s interview with Nergal. To review, early last August, Adam “Nergal” Darski—the frontman of the Polish extreme-metal group Behemoth—announced he had been diagnosed with leukemia, putting a stop to his band's tour for 2009's Evangelion album. Since then, fans of his band have followed his obstacles and progress. He desperately needed a bone marrow transplant by late August. His then-fiancée, Polish pop singer Doda, offered hers but wasn’t a match. Fans began organizing bone-marrow drives to raise leukemia awareness over the next couple of months. Nergal got a bone-marrow match by early November, and he underwent a transplant the next month. Nergal left the hospital in January, only to return the next month for a short time, and has been on the road to recovery ever since.
The timing couldn’t be better. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Behemoth, and the band plans to play its first concerts this October, as well as to release an authorized biography. Behemoth are also planning on touring the U.S. next spring. Nergal spoke with Revolver on Wednesday about everything he had gone through—from the initial stages of his illness to the first time he picked up a guitar again. Here, he talks about the recovery process.
REVOLVER How did your bandmates support you through this?
NERGAL We were on the phone every two or three days. We were putting together this DVD project when I was in the hospital, so I was talking to Orion every day about details. When I was in the hospital, I kept my band alive as much as I could. I was talking to managers, talking to labelmates and bandmates. Every time I was feeling OK, they’d come over to the hospital and visit me. I had great support from pretty much everyone out there involved in the band somehow. They were just ready to bring in help to me.
My bandmates, Inferno and Orion, would appear on national TV several times asking people to give blood and do tests for bone marrow. And it was good. It was really good to see that everyone was so much focused on that, and they really did care about me. That was really helpful and cool.
Also, the whole extreme metal scene, the whole community was out there standing behind my back. I was getting fucking thousands of emails. And I know there’s a lot of shows they organized just to raise the consciousness of what leukemia is all about. I’m really happy. I wouldn’t really expect that from these kind of people. I know they respect what we do as musicians, but at the end of the day I was happy to see these people do care about human beings. Not just their favorite artists or a guy in a band. They were like, OK, this guy is in need. He needs us to help him about. We don’t want to lose another musician that we respect and that we like. You can guess that I don’t really value human race that much. But I can tell you that this whole case brought back a lot of, how do you say, faith in human beings. It’s positive in the end of the day.
That’s great. Did your then-fiancée, pop-singer Doda, with whom you recently broke up, help you through all of this, too?
She was there for me. This whole DKMS [Blood Marrow Donor Center] organization—the biggest organization that collects bone marrow, in Poland—they had 50,000 donors before I went to the hospital. And they collected them within a few years period. When I went to the hospital, and we started the whole campaign in the media and everywhere, she was the one asking everyone to go for it. Within a few months we did even more than they did within years. It was a great success. It’s cool to see that my tragedy had an awesome effect, you know? It’s killer. I’m happy to help out other people, too. I know that my case helped out other people. It’s cool, it’s positive.
Yes, it is. How did going through all of this affect your relationship?
It was tough. It was really tough. We were apart from each other most of this time. There was no time for…you know, there was no sex. You’re not really close with this person physically, and you need that—and she needs that. We were apart for most of this time, and you [the person getting chemo treatment] change your shapes, and you look really ugly, and you’re not the same, and you have no hair. Both men and women, their ego is so much disturbed in these situations. I can tell you I didn’t really treat myself as a proper man. I lost a lot of it. But I know it’s just temporary, but it affects your relationship for sure. It’s not the same again. Yeah, so…
Are things better now?
Well, it’s picked up lately. I don’t really analyze it. Shit. I don’t know man, I really need some time to think it over and to treat it with distance. It’s a very fresh thing. But definitely this whole case complicates and affects our relationship in some way. It could have strengthened it, but there are some other things that happened aside from it. Then again, I don’t really…it’s a personal thing. I’m not really in the mood to talk about it.
I understand. Changing subjects, what music inspired you through that time?
There were times I’d be listening to no music. It depended on the mood. Sometimes I was in no mood for anything—to talk to people, to see people, to listen to music, to watch TV, anything. And then next week I’d be all over some band.
I remember when I went through the radiotherapy, I’d be listening to Filosofem by Burzum pretty much every single day. It was snowing outside, it was fucking freezing, and this music would be fitting this fucking whole circumstances perfectly. And I was so much into it. And I was listening to Belus, the last Burzum album, too. But that was just maybe two weeks, and I was just picking out different albums, different bands. I try to keep it varied.
Have you been able to play much music?
No, I didn’t even touch my guitar in that time. I actually started playing guitar two months ago. I just didn’t feel like it, man. When I grabbed my guitar for the first time, I was terrified. I thought guitar playing was like bike riding? Once you do it, you never forget it. I was surprised seeing it was exactly the opposite. The more time you spend without an instrument, the more you lose. So I had to start over again and stretch my fingers, learn certain sections and parts and leads. You have to start over again basically. It’s going to take me two or three months to get back into the same shape, but the point is to be a better musician in the end of the day. I really hope that for the first shows we have planned in October in Poland for later this year, I really hope I’ll be at least as good as I was before I got sick.
That’s great. You recently made an appearance at the Musicollective music school. How was that?
No, that was tabloid bullshit, man. Don’t take it seriously. They just picked it up and blew it up. I was with a friend of mine just jamming; we just played different stuff. No metal stuff. I just treated it as an exercise. And we just took some pictures, and he put it on the school’s Facebook. And then, the next day, the Polish tabloids were all over it, and they picked up the pictures, and I had these big tabloid magazines calling me up trying to buy these pictures. Obviously, I tell all of them to fuck off. I won’t be fucking flirting with this kind of media.
That’s terrible. How does it feel to be the subject of this kind of weird tabloid culture?
It’s not my life. It’s not me. It’s mostly lies and rumors and gossip. It’s kind of upsetting in a way. I was more into it when I was fully healthy. Like now, when I left hospital and I’m like, Eh, I don’t have the same energy yet. And I’m like weak and stuff. My level of tolerance is much lower to this bullshit.
It’s terrible how they do that. Have you been able to write any music lately?
Not really, I did some riffs. I’m thinking maybe something cool will come out of it. Maybe not. We’ll see. I wrote a lot of stuff—not musically, but lyrics. I got a lot of ideas for lyrics, a lot of verses here and there. Some of them are really, really cool. I can’t wait to put them into the riffs. It was not like I was inactive artistically; I was. I just wasn’t playing the guitar. I was coming up with different ideas. Honestly, now, I was seeing my graphic designer two days ago, and we were talking about the cover for the next record. I know it’s two years until we fucking unleash it, but I always start working in the very early stages. And I just throw ideas at the table and just wait for them to grow. I want to make sure every idea is awesome and it’s very mature I want to make sure that the whole album, every aspect—music, graphics, lyrics—they’re going to pass the test of time. And it’s going to be timeless at the end of the time, and 10 years down the road people are going to be thinking, Fuck, this awesome record, it’s still fresh and it has a value to people.
Speaking of that, this is Behemoth’s 20th anniversary, and I just wanted to know how that makes you feel.
Yes, we’re talking to Metal Blade, and Metal Blade’s probably going to be releasing an official biography in English worldwide. It’s going to be a book, with lots of pictures, 300 or 400 pictures. It should be finished in May, so we really hope that we’re going to meet the deadlines because October is exactly when the 20th anniversary is happening. What’s a better way to celebrate the anniversary than to release a biography? I don’t see any. Some bands would do new versions of their old songs, and stuff that was pretty much every fucking band does it. We’re going to do some shows here in Poland, but I’m most excited about the book. It’s super exciting and I can’t fucking wait to read it. I hope metalheads will want to read it—I know they’re all about listening to the music, but it would be cool to have something like this. It’s going to be authorized by the band, and it’s a lot of cool stuff that you’ve never read in the interviews. A lot of pictures, a lot of rare pictures. So just wait and
see. It’s going to be awesome.
What do you have planned for your concerts in October?
Yeah, we just decided to play some so-called comeback shows in Poland just to warm up and see how we feel, just to be onstage again together. And I really hope that it’s going to turn out great and that it’s going to cause other tours and stuff. We have plans until the summer of next year. We already have some cool offers. We’re talking to our agents. There’s some really, really cool ideas. I don’t want to reveal anything yet, but once we’re done with October shows, and we feel good about it, and there’s chemistry onstage, we definitely want to continue the Evangelion touring cycle. There’s still some markets we didn’t even touch. We’ve done over 100 shows so far to Evangelion. We’re going to do another 100 at least, and then we can focus on the next record.
To be honest, we can’t wait to hit the stage again. I’m so fucking anxious. I’m so excited, so psyched about it. I have dreams about coming back onstage. I dream about Behemoth shows. It’s insane, I know, but I can’t tell you how much it’s a relief to the band and how much it means to us.
Absolutely, that’s awesome. Obviously all the fans want it, too.
Fuck yeah, man. I can’t wait to meet these people out there. I’ll be out there talking to everyone. And I’m happy that I’ll have a chance to shake their hands and say thank you for your support. And thank you for waiting for us.
I’m sure everyone will be happy to hear you’re doing better.
Yeah man, it’s cool to hear things like that. It keeps us motivated. It gives us a certain drive. We feel like the band is really needed and there is a demand for Behemoth, and without this we probably wouldn’t be here.
Read part one here.
Photo by Maciej Boryna