Revolver has teamed with Behemoth for an exclusive collector's bundle featuring our Summer 2021 issue with Nergal on the cover, and their new album, Opvs Contra Natvram, on limited-edition gold vinyl. Order yours at our shop.
Behemoth's Adam Nergal Darski is in high spirits when Revolver catches him in his hotel room in Denver. It's a day off from the Polish extreme-metal group's tour with Arch Enemy and Napalm Death and the vocalist-guitarist is still riding the endorphin rush of his morning gym routine. He's also psyched to see the Cult play in town later that night. But the biggest reason for Nergal's cheery mood is that he's just won another blasphemy-related legal battle against his home country of Poland.
Over the years, Nergal has been drawn into nonstop court cases for any-thing from tearing up a bible onstage to stepping on a painting of the Virgin Mary in an Instagram post. This time, it was over an eagle-and-upside-down-cross-emblazoned Behemoth T-shirt conservative groups claimed was a touch too close to Poland's own feathered-and-clawed coat of arms. Frustratingly for Nergal, it's not the first time he'd beaten the bad rap.
"My antagonists tried to prove that [the design] was sacrilege of the Polish national emblem. We were found innocent twice already, and this was the third time," he explains, adding of the most recent ruling in which his conviction was overturned. "Of course, they already said they're going to reapply [for another court case]. How many times do you want to do that: five, 10, 15 times?"
What's clear is that if Nergal's adversaries are going to be coming at him for the foreseeable future, he's not about to back down from the fight. Enter Opvs Contra Natvram, Behemoth's 12th full-length album since forming in the early Nineties. Blasphemous? Naturally. But Behemoth's latest blast-riddled foray into blackened-death brutality is Nergal's broader revolt against those "trying to control and infect our lives."
Musically, Nergal was aiming to make a more "aggressive and attack-y" album than 2018's I Loved You at Your Darkest. Thematically, Opvs Contra Natvram targets Christianity through songs like "Malaria Vulgata" (in part about vomiting "upon the book of hatred") and its cover art of four gold-plated skeletal Jesuses nailed to an inverted cross. It's also an album where Nergal positions himself as "the negative of the values and morals and ethics" he stands against — whether that's restrictive abortion laws, or his perceptions of cancel culture. Though Behemoth are pumped to be playing to their legion for the first time since the dawn of the pandemic, Nergal still contemplates the seriousness of it all while onstage.
"Even when I'm performing, I'm not getting lost in being high from the adrenaline of the show," he says. "I stay sane. I always find a moment during the [concert] to remind myself what's happening on the other side of the globe." His thoughts, of late, are often of his support for the people of Ukraine through the ongoing invasion from Russian armed forces, something he's likewise been vocal about on Instagram: "When I see freedom's been taken in such a violent way, I just can't stay indifferent to that."
He continues, "I get a lot of shit from people accusing me of ignorance: 'You are not so vocal about Syria or Afghanistan.' It's because the shirt is closer to my body than the jacket, that's why. These are the things that happen right by my border." With all of that in mind, it's telling that Behemoth's frontman hollers a determined, guttural "this war cry could never be silenced" on Opvs Contra Natvram's liberty-seeking first single, "Ov My Herculean Exile."
Here, Nergal discusses why Behemoth had to evolve beyond just "an anti-religious band," defends being a provocateur in the cancel culture era and explains why he needs haters "to feel that I'm alive."
SINCE OPVS CONTRA NATVRAM OFTEN CIRCLES AROUND THEMES OF LIBERTY AND FREEDOM, CAN YOU GET INTO WHY YOU IDENTIFY WITH THE FIGURE OF SPARTACUS ON THE RECORD'S "NEO-SPARTACUS"?
ADAM NERGAL DARSKI I use mythological figures as metaphors to express the sense of freedom that's rooted deeply in my nature. Spartacus, as you know, was one of the biggest rebellious figures — a big Roman rebel that [united the] slaves to raise a big fucking raid against their oppressors. It's a symbol, you can use it freely — I'll go to the [current] geopolitical situation: Ukraine, you must be like Spartacus. You have my support. Sometimes a small group of people can do serious damage and decimate a way bigger army.
That song could be a call to arms to all those people who have doubts. They want to free themselves from the shackles of agendas, systems, or any kind of slavery. It can be political, it could be religious. Behemoth has always been connected to religion, yes, but now it's broadening out.
It all comes down to the album title, Opvs Contra Natvram [which translates to "work against nature"]. If this is the nature of things these days — Russian invaders, political correctness, cancel culture, [restrictive] abortion laws — I'm not just talking about religion anymore. I'm talking about broader aspects trying to control and infect our lives. Art should be a middle finger to those agendas that try to enslave us.
CAN WE GET INTO THE ALBUM COVER? ITS USE OF A SNAKE COILING AROUND THE INVERTED CROSS FEELS LIKE A SUBVERSION OF THE CADUCEUS: THE SNAKES WRAPPING AROUND THE STAFF, STANDING AS A SYMBOL OF HEALTH AND MEDICINE. LAST YEAR YOU CRITIQUED THE POLISH GOVERNMENT FOR FURTHER RESTRICTING ABORTION. THERE'S ALSO THE LINE ABOUT "SHEDDING THE BONDAGE OF VULVIC SLAVERY" ON THE ALBUM'S OPENING "POST-GOD NIRVANA." ARE ALL OF THESE CONNECTED?
Absolutely, yeah, the pharmacy symbol with the snake coiling around the staff. You know, the snake is a symbol of evil and betrayal, in biblical code, but I'm converting those meanings. I'm playing with them. Let's invert the poles and use our brains [to] put our own definitions to those things. Of course, a snake can kill you if it bites you — but so can a dog.
I think [the cover is] a beautiful metaphor. You can see a snake just sucking the venom of religion out of the skeleton Christs that you see [on the artwork]. Usually it injects the venom, but you see the Christs are skeletal. They're lifeless. It's sucked out the venom of the true evil of this world.
Then again … I really tried to make it broader. I don't just want to be an anti-religion band. Behemoth is anti-establishment. It has a lot of anarchistic approaches, a lot of punk attitude. It's all about liberating yourself. So, yes, LGBTQ, abortion laws, cancel culture, all those things — when I talk about them, I start trembling because I'm so emotional about it. I'm ready for a fist fight with anyone who's willing to [assert] their rights against mine.
YOU'VE BROUGHT UP CANCEL CULTURE, WHICH COULD IN PART TIE TO YOUR COURT BATTLES — CONSERVATIVE AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS TROLLING YOUR INSTAGRAM FEED TO FIND THE VIRGIN MARY POST. WHAT'S YOUR GENERAL STANDPOINT ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
It's a double-edged sword. I'm a social media whore, but at the same time I'm withdrawing from it, as well. I try to find those tools that are useful, cool and intuitive— so far Instagram is the best one. With Facebook, I'm not present there anymore. My profile is there, but I deleted the app on my phone. I'm not scrolling.
I think I have this dysfunction: Sometimes I go to social media and I just troll my own account. Lately I've stopped doing that, but every now and then … I'll go there and deliberately do something to provoke discussion. I say things I don't really feel, to see how people would react. But lately, I'd rather read a book, workout, go for a walk or pet a dog. There are billions of better alternatives to sitting on social media.
When I scroll Instagram or see music videos from other bands, this is my question to the world out there: Where's the substance? Music videos are about the guys banging their heads and playing guitars. Boring! Drop that, not relevant … cringey stuff. I don't want to listen to music or watch videos of bands that have nothing to say. I don't want to watch movies that are just about bombs and fast cars. Feed me with something that's going to stay with me, and that I can learn from. Maybe I can be a better person afterwards. Or a smarter person. Or maybe it'll disturb me … maybe I'll revisit my views or change them. But fuck my brain! That's what I'm asking the world: Fuck my brain. When I read a book, I want it to stimulate me. I need a boner, and not just because it's Fifty Shades of Grey.
I really hope what Behemoth delivers is true substance. You may not like it. It may eat at you. It will probably disturb you. Maybe it's too aggressive for you, that's quite possible. But there's substance there, there's craftsmanship. That's something you cannot take away from Behemoth's new record.
YOU'RE SPEAKING OF HUMAN RIGHTS — YOUR SUPPORT FOR THE PEOPLE OF UKRAINE, REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, THE LGBTQIA2S COMMUNITY. BUT YOU'RE ALSO TROLLING YOUR OWN SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS TO PROVOKE PEOPLE, SOME OF WHOM HAVE BEEN CRITICAL OF WHAT YOU POST. YOU SHARED A "FUCK ANTIFA" SHIRT ON INSTAGRAM. A FACEBOOK POST HAD YOU CHALLENGING ALGORITHM CENSORSHIP OVER A PHOTO OF YOUR BURZUM SHIRT. SOME PEOPLE QUESTION THE NATURE OF THOSE, FIND CONCERN IN THEM — SOME ARE PISSED OFF ABOUT IT. AS SOMEONE WHO IS OBVIOUSLY COGNIZANT OF SYMBOLISM WITHIN YOUR ART, HOW ARE PEOPLE SUPPOSED TO INTERPRET THE POLITICS YOU'RE SIGNALING IN THOSE POSTS?
That's good. It's healthy to question it. Please do. My message is: Be critical of whatever you see. Don't treat me as I'm some sort of oracle, god or role model. I'm quite the opposite. I make mistakes. I admit my mistakes if I know that I made one. But what I'm struggling with — and what I hate about today's world — is that you make a mistake and there's a bunch of anonymous nobodies who say, "Oh, there we go … let's go after that guy. Cancel him." That is what's happening. A bunch of stupid, mindless kids throwing accusations without getting deeper into topics. Do something positive, because throwing judgmental comments about something [online] is not bringing any good to this world. That's it. Amen.
HOW DOES STIRRING UP THEMES IN YOUR WORK WITH BEHEMOTH ADVANCE THE DIALOGUE BETTER THAN SOCIAL MEDIA, THEN? DO YOU FEEL IT BRINGS ISSUES TO LIGHT IN A MORE CONSTRUCTIVE WAY?
I always say that I come across Catholics and Christians that are part of our legion — people that are open and vocal about their beliefs, like, "I'm Catholic, but somehow what you do resonates with me." That's amazing! Like, how is that possible? I do have massive respect for that because I can be stubborn with my views [too]. I could be a little more relaxed, but I'm not. But this proves that the art that I make is metaphysical. It goes beyond who's right and who's wrong. There's something more — atoms and energy that connect people beyond boundaries. To me, that is revolutionary. So why should I question their liking of Behemoth?
With the things I enjoy, they're not 99 percent satanic, dangerous and evil. I shed a tear when I listen to Johnny Cash singing about Jesus. Many times, I've cried to his songs — it resonates with me, even though it doesn't represent who I am. That's the beauty of art and music, that it's [its own] language. Our minds are limited at the end of the day. There are things bigger than our intelligence.
SPEAKING OF COUNTRY MUSIC, HOW HAS THE DIRECTION OF YOUR BLUES-INSPIRED ME AND THAT MAN PROJECT IMPACTED HOW YOU WANT TO PRESENT THE METAL SIDE OF YOURSELF THROUGH BEHEMOTH?
One of my friends told me, "You made so many catchy, sing-along tracks with Me and That Man that you reapproached Behemoth in a more radical way." This is what Behemoth is supposed to be: relentless, dangerous and extremely radical.
ON "OV MY HERCULEAN EXILE," YOU GROWL THE LINE: "I DO NOT POSSESS THE PROWESS OV MIGHTY BARDS AND POETS … /YET THERE'S POETRY IN MY BLASFEMIA TO BE FREED." CAN YOU SPEAK TO WHERE YOU THINK YOU'RE AT WITH CONVEYING THE THEMES OF BEHEMOTH, 30 YEARS IN?
I'm just a bard with a guitar, you know. I'm not the smartest person on earth … I'm aware of that. I know where I stand. As much as I can be an arrogant fucking dickhead, I know where my place is. I'm far from being the greatest, but I'm still struggling to … come through with my message. I'm just trying to say, "hear me, see me," because I have something I hope is very important to say. That's what this verse means to me. I hope that's how it'll be perceived by people.
BEHEMOTH HAS A DEDICATED FAN BASE, BUT ALSO PLENTY OF CRITICS ON MULTIPLE PLANES OF THE POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS SPECTRUMS. IS IT IMPORTANT TO YOU THAT THOSE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND WHERE YOU'RE COMING FROM?
I don't think I care anymore. Plus, you know, there's always haters. You need them. Just imagine if everyone loved you. That'd be the most fucking suspicious thing. That would mean you're full of shit.
If you're a public persona, you go out there and you create some content that expresses who you are, and you must count in all the love and all the hate. The more of both, the better. So, please, all the Behemoth lovers and all the Nergal haters: Never cease in your fight. Never cease in your agenda. Go for it! I need both sides to feel that I'm alive.
Photography assistant: Sammi Chichester