Behemoth’s ‘Messe Noire’ Crowns Them Kings of Blasphemy – DVD Review
Behemoth’s 2014 album The Satanist is a masterpiece in the modern age of heavy metal extremity. Today, the mystique of black metal, whether it is genuine or gimmicky, has vanished. We’re no longer peering over zine pages wrapping our heads around who these anonymous corpse-painted are, and what darkness has corrupted their souls. Conveying a sense of absolute evil today is too often exposed as cheeky and insincere, which is what makes Behemoth’s achievements with The Satanist and celebratory tour, chronicled in the double concert live album / DVD, Messe Noire, so remarkable.
Nergal’s triumph over leukemia found him clinging to his convictions as a self-enlightened Satanist and he’s returned from the edge of death a stronger man in every way. The Satanist is an illuminating album that establishes a deeper connection and level of understanding between Nergal and his band’s followers, instilling a ritualistic effect over their concerts, uniting the room on the same front.
Two years after the album was unfurled, Behemoth took The Satanist on the road, performing it front to back with stunning theatricality, enveloping fans in Hell-ordained blackness. For this release, the live magick was immortalized in the form of two shows: one in the group’s home country of Poland and the other at the Brutal Assault festival in the Czech Republic, both in 2016.
Nightmarish ambient music suffocates the room, the mood shattered with each shrieking wail that comes pouring through the speakers, breaking up the droning dissonance. Nergal, cloaked in tattered, studded post-apocalyptic gear, serves as the only source of light, holding fire above his head before flames careen upward from two posts bookending Inferno’s drum kit. The doom-bringing chords of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” ring out and the fork-tongued opening line “I saw the virgin’s cunt spawn forth the snake” baptizes the night in blasphemy.
The true strength of The Satanist is revealed as the set moves forward at a brilliant pace that never surrenders its aggression, even during more atmospheric moments and theatrical breaks between songs. Much like a preacher conducting a mass, Nergal orchestrates ritualistic moments in the set and even serves communion to headbangers in the front row during the spoken word portion of “In the Absence ov Light.” His growling, often overdubbed in the studio, is barbaric and gravely when standing alone, though he's often complemented by with bassist Orion’s equally depth-finding growl. Shouted and clean sung parts with Quorthon-like confidence add to the live element, giving this material its own character away from the studio offerings.
Visually, this DVD takes multimedia clips that were often used onstage throughout the world tour and layers them over the performance footage with tactful precision, never relying too heavily on these added effects to drive the power of the clips.
The differences between the two performances (other than the set list with the Brutal Assault set coming in a couple songs short of what fans in Poland witnessed) are in the details. Event-specific camera angles establish a unique look to further distinguish the shows, with the Polish show setting the tone using angles shots looking up at the stage, making it feel much like the real-life experience of being at the show. Distance clips, roaming bits and looking out overhead behind the concussive combustion engine Inferno offers a view from the stage, while time-lapse bits embellish tempo shifts and chord progressions in the music.
The Brutal Assault footage places the viewer in the midst of the standing room crowd for an authentic experience, which even comes with a slightly obstructed view by way of an ever-waving flag in the sea of heads. This one has a bit more of a behind the scenes vibe, setting up views from behind Behemoth’s ornate and sinister die cut white eagles which hang on chains from a metal bar.
Issuing two performances of essentially the same set might seem a bit superfluous, but it goes to show that Behemoth convey a sense of dominance wherever they are and this release offers the perspective of two very different concerts. Whether it's playing a home country show packed with fans who have gone on to watch Nergal achieve unlikely mainstream stardom in a country largely living under religious code with blasphemous music as his vessel or as part of a festival lineup, Behemoth own the night.
Messe Noire is a testament to the transformative power of live music and irrefutable proof that Behemoth are their own gods and if there is a God in Heaven, this blackened death metal horde is a threatening adversary.
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