Behemoth – ‘Opvs Contra Natvram’

By Ash Bebbington

Behemoth is one of metal’s most unlikely success stories. They’re a band that’s found success and crossover appeal that extends well beyond the black and death metal underground while being unflinchingly extreme in their creative approach. They have reached heights that are unprecedented for the genre in recent years, especially considering that even straight-ahead rock music struggles to gain traction these days.

Behemoth shot to prominence – or at least as prominent as an underground extreme metal band can become – with ‘The Satanist’ in 2014, a career-best album that detailed singer Adam Darski’s successful battle with blood cancer. Since then they’ve played to bigger audiences and on bigger stages than ever before, including a world tour with metal titans Slipknot in January and February 2020.

Having been back in their native Poland for less than a month after the Slipknot tour, the world ground to a halt as the severity of the coronavirus pandemic started to become clear. Darski – also known by his stage name Nergal – found his suddenly empty calendar to be a blessing, and used the time to work on the songs that would eventually become ‘Opvs Contra Natvram’.

Behemoth’s musical style has evolved over the years but tends to centre around a blend of black and death metal, with a smattering of bombastic backup instrumentation and gruff, dirty vocals. Sonically, many parts of Behemoth’s sound are quite palatable even to non-metal fans, though the vocals can be offputting to the uninitiated. This has made them something of a gateway band in recent years for metalheads wanting to dip their toes in the world of extreme metal. While the music is undeniably heavy, Behemoth has a real knack for writing vocal and musical melodies that help the songs land instantly.

The sound of ‘Opvs Contra Natvram’ is quintessentially Behemoth, with all of the above elements present and correct. It’s the extra bells and whistles, however, that really make this album stand out, including synths, trumpets, string sections and choirs just to name a few. These add a real sense of theatre to the record and achieve a feeling that many extreme metal bands struggle to – fun.

Intro track ‘Post-God Nirvana’ is a perfect example of this, featuring brooding chanted vocals and trumpets, overlaid with Nergal’s anguished vocals. Follow-up track ‘Malaria Vulgata’ eschews these flashier elements and opts for pure fury. The track is a two-minute tremolo-picked, blast-beated rager.

Lead single ‘The Deathless Sun’ is the album’s stand-out moment. Built around an earworm of a chorus, it is typical of the sort of song that’s made the band so big in recent years, while the group chanting at the end adds a real sense of grandiosity.

Make no mistake, this is a heavy record but ‘Thy Becoming Eternal’ is perhaps the most evil-sounding track of the lot. As well as relentless blast beats and riffs executed at breakneck speed, you can also expect creepy choral vocals and demonic backing vocals that sound like they were recorded in the seventh circle of hell itself.

Behemoth knows how to end a record with a flair for the dramatic, and they certainly pull that off with closer ‘Versus Christus’. The track starts out with a piano and whispered low-end vocals, almost in the style of Type O-Negative’s Peter Steele. The six-minute song is a real journey as it builds towards a crushingly heavy fast section at the end, ending the album in fittingly brutal style.

Behemoth may have more people listening to their records now than they did 10 years ago, but the pressure of expectation doesn’t appear to have got to them at all. ‘Opvs Contra Natvram’ is the sound of a band that is confident and unwavering in its creative vision, adding yet another stellar record to its back catalogue in the process. There’s no other band on the planet that does extreme metal quite like Behemoth does it, so if this type of music is to your taste then this record is a must-listen.

ASH BEBBINGTON

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