Nergal (Behemoth) interviewed

** Behemoth frontman Nergal and Decibel have a long history. From Behemoth’s first cover in August 2007 [HERE], to the group’s covers thereafter [HERE and HERE] to headlining the first Decibel tour in 2012, the Poles have occupied a special place in our dark hearts. And let’s face it. They belong there [in our dark hearts]. From the group’s humble beginnings as a Mayhem and Root cover band–more or less–to the stupendous The Satanist album, Behemoth have come a long way from the alleys of Gdansk to the top of extreme metal’s global heap. Decibel caught up with Nergal on the group’s The Satanist tour, where we asked the single most important question there is to ask.

Explain the urge, musical or otherwise, between Behemoth and your non-metal interests?
Nergal: If you ask me if I’m just happy living through the day, well, the day needs the night as much as the night needs the day. There’s balance. If I don’t have balance, I’ll probably choke myself. I’m fascinated with different music, different genres. To some, I’m particularly attracted to. I can develop the music I’m interested in. I’m not just a fan—well, I’m a fan—I’m a performer. It’s a just a need to keep my life in balance.

Behemoth fans shouldn’t be surprised by your willingness to explore music outside extreme metal. Behemoth, in fact, has a long history of non-metal covers, such as covers of David Bowie, Killing Joke, Ramones, and Nefilim songs.
Nergal: When Bowie died, I almost forgot the fact that we covered “Hallo Spaceboy”. I was digging through Bowie’s discography and I came across that track. I then went to our version, which is not that bad after all. There are good moments and there are ah… shit. [Laughs] We were experimenting. I’m not sure we were educating our fans to expect the unexpected from Behemoth, but we weren’t afraid of doing things differently, a little bit at a time. We won’t be doing a techno record with Behemoth. We’re a metal band. The stuff I do on the side isn’t metal, but it comes from the same root. It comes from blues.

It’s also from the same corner of the mind. The dark corner.
Nergal: It’s not fun music. I got this darkness and sadness in my soul that I need to spit out, somehow. It’s a very good platform to do this. It’s stripped down, a few chords, acoustic instruments. I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, there’s some The Swans in there.

You also have some other ventures. You have a barbershop. Where’s this coming from?
Nergal: Two days ago, I was in New York City. I spent a week just cruising across the city getting ideas for my projects. I was taking pictures of graffiti, going to galleries, meeting people, going to shows, and going to the theater. I was taking all this in. So, I wrote on my Facebook page—and I think it was Picasso who said this—, “Good artists, they copy. The geniuses, they steal.” I’m a pocket thief. [Laughs] I stole a lot while I was in New York City. I never know how I’m going to channel this. Watch out, I think. To me, whether it’s art or business, it’s all energy. I get so much from the universe that if I were to keep it within myself, I’d intoxicate myself. So, it’s all about passing the torch. If I see something I’ll process it, digest it, and spit it out. It’s all about recycling. [Laughs] So, getting to your question, I love the barbershop culture. I really do. It sounds strange, but I think it’s great. So, I set out to make my barbershop the biggest brand [Barberian Academy & Barber Shop] in Poland, and that’s what it is now.

I think it’s interesting that you’re in all these divergent businesses. As a person, you’re different from what I would call the stock extreme metaller. There’s something else behind the mask.
Nergal: That’s cool. A lot of people have told me that they don’t like my music, but they like my attitude and freedom behind it. I’m happy to inspired people in one way or another. I’m not just a death metal guy. I’m happy to not be one. But I’m a huge fan of radical and extreme music, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The last time we talked, we discussed your travels. Any new places?
Nergal: Uh, usually when I travel with the band I stay in a place for like a week. That’s what I did in South Africa. I went to Cape Town, just traveling around. Cape Town is powerful. I loved it.

Back to Behemoth. There was a lot of conjecture, some from your side, that The Satanist would be the last Behemoth record.
Nergal: I was blank for a long time. I think that’s where I was at. But after exploring Cape Town, I started to get new ideas. For example, instead of warming up before the shows in South Africa, we’d try to write a new song. It’s exciting again. We’ll definitely be doing some creative rehearsals in the future, to see where we are. What I meant about I don’t know what the future brings is this: we’re not a band to squeeze out an album because a contract demands it. We’ve worked very hard to make sure we had the freedom so that this wouldn’t be the case. We don’t want to put demands on ourselves because something, like a contract, tells us to. I make music only if I have something to say or if I have something to share with the universe. That’s why I kept saying, “I have nothing to offer. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the future.” We want to create music that has value. We want to give our music space. We want to bring in other genres to Behemoth. Genres that helped black metal but weren’t black metal, like post-punk and post-goth. Not cheesy stuff either. The real stuff. The dark stuff.

OK, personal question. Cancer. How are we doing?
Nergal: What cancer?! [Laughs]

** Behemoth has a cornucopia of killer products in Metal Blade’s online store. Music, clothing, and, yes, Nergal’s killer tome, Devil’s Conquistadors. Do the dark lord a favor by checking it all out HERE.