Man, how times change. Indeed, Father Time has been kind to Poland’s Behemoth: From the modest and crusty Celtic Frostiness of the From the Pagan Wastelands demo (1993) to the epic and Morbidly Angelic Satanica (‘98) opus, Behemoth have been a work in progress, continually delivering the goods every step of the way yet always challenging themselves and, more so, the listener. Well, three years have passed since the critically lauded Satanica, and now Thelema.6, Nergal and crew’s fifth full-length thus far, finally finds its way to our American shores. While Behemoth are certainly still enamored with the mighty Morbid Angel, few death/black metal bands • save for newcomers Anata and the vastly improved Krisiun recently • focus on that band’s forward-thinking spirit instead of solely on the sound, and perhaps this is Behemoth’s key to success • that, and the relatively insular Polish metal scene (all the death metal bands ape forebears Vader while the black metal contingent mires itself in conflated National Socialism • weird country, perhaps bested in this aspect only by Finland). Much like the Norwegian Gehenna, Behemoth started out as a relatively trad black metal band but have increasingly worked deathlier idioms into the mix • most undeniably Morbid Angel, a band who’ve always straddled both genres, musically and lyrically • the shift starting with Grom, following through both Pandemonic Incantations and (more so) Satanica, and now coming to a (death) head with Thelema.6, Nergal and fellow six-stringer Havoc cycling hypnotic riff unto hypnotic riff atop across-the-board blastbeaten tempos, really blowing minds with deliberately mind-fried yet finely articulated leads and some generally unconventional tweaks ‘n’ twists of the axe, the whole thing moving fast but somewhere • namely, the caverns of the mind and of the occult, bewitching layout included. So, in a way, call Thelema.6 the lost black metal cousin of Morbid Angel’s enjoyably loopy Formulas Fatal to the Flesh, maintaining that quintessential blackened atmosphere (say, like pre-_At the Heart of Winter_ Immortal) but ram-rodding it into a non-obtuse death metal framework rife with memorable riffs and even a smattering of dark-hearted melody, the lyrics grappling with a similarly existential paganism like said Morbid Angel platter; with the lattermost element, credit Krysztof Azrewicz (“occultwise association, art of Obeah and Wanga”), who’s also helped out Vader and Dies Irae (a Vader side-project) recently, for such tripped-out lyrical grist. (Included on this domestic version are four bonus tracks, one a relatively modernized cover of Sarcofago’s selfsame song.) A real head-trip, but what else do you expect from the Poles?
Olympic, 1453-A 14th St. #324, Santa Monica, CA 90404; http://www.olympicrecordings.com