In 2010, Behemoth’s Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski was diagnosed with leukemia; things were looking grim, even for a guy who, in "O Father O Satan O Son," sang to the demon Akephalos, requesting that he "Bring down the sun/Extinguish all the stars." In the real world, things were looking truly scary for the man: the odds that he would recover were low. Happily, he triumphantly overcame the disease and resurrected Behemoth with newfound power, resulting in a classic album, The Satanist.

Now, Behemoth begins the next chapter of their saga; it’s a chapter that many fans feared would never be written after Nergal publicly expressed doubts that the band would ever record another album. He was interested in sounds far outside the extreme metal realm, and he teamed with John Porter in the dark folk duo Me and That ManSongs of Love and Death was predicated on atmosphere, a familiar element of the Behemoth sound, but was void of sonic brutality as Nergal did the unthinkable — he sang… and it wouldn’t be the last time. The side-project, far from ringing Behemoth's death knell, seems to have influenced Nergal to take the band in a powerful and different direction.

Behemoth's I Loved You at Your Darkest comes from a place of raw honesty. It may not be the album fans wanted, whatever that is, but it’s the album Behemoth needed to make — it’s their South of Heaven. When an album is met with such instant and overwhelming acclaim like the masterpiece The Satanist, retreading those steps is dangerous (besides, there wasn't enough growth on the three album stretch from Demigod through Evangelion). When assessing the band’s catalog from the lo-fi black metal tremblings of Sventevith through the present, change is a mostly constant factor, which makes this slight stylistic departure a welcome one, not unlike Slayer’s modus operandi when following up the colossal Reign in Blood.

Opener “Solve” is a call to immediately abandon all preconceptions about I Loved You at Your Darkest. It’s a clever tool to help prepare listeners for the experimentation that’s to come and curries some favor early on because, really, who can hate on a children’s choir spewing blasphemies on a Behemoth record? This juxtaposition of innocence and youth alongside malevolent darkness magnifies the band’s message — one that scorns Catholic tyranny and finds power through rebellion —across the remaining tracks, essentially posing the question, “Is this really what we want for our children?”

I Loved You at Your Darkest is a jarring album, not just because of Behemoth’s musical sidesteps into dirgey, blast beat-free realms (the gloomy but hook-dominant “Bartzabel” and the offbeat “If Crucifixion Was Not Enough”), but in the flow of the album from start to finish. Part of the brilliance of The Satanist was its darkly cinematic arc, akin to the pacing of an action-thriller film. Here, the pace is uncomfortable and almost counter-intuitive, keeping the listener off-balance, leaving them to wonder what's coming next rather than taking the full plunge into sulfurous depths as they had so many times before.

Inevitably, the cleanly sung moments on “Bartzabel,” the hook of “Sabbath Matter” and the end times choir present on “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica” will be polarizing. But clean vocals worked for Quorthon and Bathory and, similarly, it works for Nergal and Behemoth. The reason for this is Inferno’s drumming, which eschews any notion that he’s just capable of blasts and fills. He has an excellent sense of space and restraint, using floor toms and tumbling fills to fuel moodier tracks (see the melodically malevolent “Havohej Pantocrator”) and when he redlines it on “Wolves of Siberia” and “Angelvs XIII,” it signifies that the core of Behemoth hasn’t dissipated amid the new sounds.

I Loved You at Your Darkest will test fans, especially those who are partial to their 21st-century material. It’s a bold move, but if the fans stick with them and understand and appreciate Nergal’s willingness to experiment, we’ve only begun to witness what the band is capable of.

Nergal Discusses I Loved You at Your Darkest

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