There’s been a lot of good-will towards Behemoth in recent times. The Polish band have faced some very dark moments, most notably with front-man Nergal being diagnosed with leukaemia and placed on trial for tearing up a Bible on stage in the same year. Thankfully, everything came right in the end, and from this point, Behemoth have seemed unstoppable; 2014’s The Satanist marked the third stage of the band’s career; from their early black metal days; through to the pummeling death metal phase that began with Demigod; to something much grander, taking elements of both death and symphonic black metal to produce something as grandiose as it is vicious. And now, with I Loved You at Your Darkest, they seek to build upon that. The result is their largest, most epic offering yet, but also one that takes several listens to get a proper handle on.
From the off, it’s clear that Behemoth intends for I Loved You… to be a grand album. Opening track “Solve” begins with a children’s choir shouting anti-Christian sentiments (“Jesus Christ / I forgive you not”) atop a melodic, epic metal backdrop. It’s reminiscent of the way groups such as Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth would usher in their records, which makes the transition into the relatively straight-forward death metal of the first part of “Wolves ov Siberia” quite jarring. When the song introduces more grandiose, symphonic elements towards its end, it’s here that the true face of I Loved You… is revealed.
It should be noted that, when I described I Loved You… as Behemoth’s largest recording to date, it’s not due to duration, and “Wolves ov Siberia” is a fine example of this. It’s large in the sense that each track is so filled with ideas, with a host of different musical styles, aesthetics, and moods competing for dominance. This is not aided by the production, which often places the drums in a prominent position, especially when the band are playing at full-blast. The sense of ambition is clear right from the first listen, but it’s only as more time is spent withI Loved You… that its finer points become clear.
Sick your teeth into “Wolves ov Siberia” via the official video.
There are some songs which immediately stand out. Lead single “God = Dog”, despite its juvenile title, is a fine cut, including punishing death metal riffs, atmospheres of grandeur, and a solo rooted in classic rock and metal. Shades of the Behemoth of old are present, with a clear evolutionary line in the DNA of many of the riffs that can be traced back to Demigod, with Nergal’s vocals in as fine form as ever; but the atmosphere and sense of ambition is greater than ever, surpassing even that of The Satanist. Likewise, “If Crucifixion Was Not Enough…” stands out thanks to its spacious verses, featuring an atmospheric clean guitar line, that segue smoothly into more traditional death metal sections; and the solo beginning around the 1:45 mark is the best on the album.
Yet elsewhere, I Loved You… is as frustrating as it is ambitious as it is enjoyable. Even though the overall focus is very much on anti-Christianity, the way I Loved You… goes about it can feel too ambitious. With so many ideas put into each song, and so many of them having modest running times – seven of the twelve tracks are less than four minutes long – they rarely have time to expand upon their ideas. Melodies, riffs, and instruments are introduced before quickly being cast aside for the next one, and the suffocating production means that few elements have the opportunity to stand out. It is not as bad as it was on previous outings such as Evangelist or The Apostasy, where the drum production in particular robbed the albums of much of their power; but too often, the guitars on I Loved You… are buried beneath the drums and Nergal’s commanding vocals; and if I haven’t mentioned the bass, that’s because it’s almost anonymous within the mix. The end result is memorable because of its overall atmosphere and sense of conviction, yet short of memorable riffs.
Whatever you may think of the song title, you should hear “God=Dog” before judging.
That sense of conviction is a double-edged sword forI Loved You…, too. There’s no doubting that Behemoth is sincere in their beliefs, or that the album (as with all those preceding it) is coming from a place of honesty. Yet it is hard to look upon song titles such as “God = Dog”; the use of Havohej (“Jehovah” spelt backwards) in titles, or lyrics proclaiming to be the manifestation of Satan, without feeling that Behemoth has jumped the shark, embracing cliché without a sense of self-awareness.
All of this adds up to an album that, despite spending so much time with, I still have mixed feelings about. I Loved You… is certainly grandiose, yet feels bloated. It is a hard-hitting album of death metal; but too often, the metal elements are drowned out by extra elements. It is a record riddled with contradictions that mean it should not work; and yet somehow, it (mostly) does. I Loved You… is an album that intends to make a grand, serious anti-Christian statement, but ends up feeling like an album of harmless fun instead.
I Loved You at Your Darkest Track Listing:
02. Wolves ov Siberia
03. God = Dog
04. Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica
06. If Crucifixion Was Not Enough…
07. Angelvs XIII
08. Sabbath Mater
09. Havohej Pantocrator
10. Rom 5:8
11. We Are the Next 1000 Years
Run Time: 46:42
Release Date: October 5, 2018
Record Label: Metal Blade Records (North America) / Nuclear Blast (Europe)