As some of the scene gurus in Justin Norton’s 150th issue piece have already mentioned, Decibel Magazine’s aesthetic is both particular and inclusive. Mainstream, money-grabbing cock rockers (be they male or female) can go suck a fart while we make space for doom/death trailblazers and cassette-only atmospheric black metal releases; at the same time, we will excitedly cover any downcast folk, neoclassical, post-rock, hardcore, dub or progressive blend that tickles our antiestablishment funny boners. Our admiration for legacy acts falls well short of reverence, preferring human engagement to monolithic legend; our piqued interest in new bands is always meant as support for continued growth, never a momentary glance at castaway novelty.
When Albert Mudrian and Nick Storch decided to stamp a spring tour package with the Decibel name, it was clear that the tour should reflect the character that had defined the magazine. In the ensuing six years, the Decibel Magazine Tour has scratched exactly that itch. One of the most inflammatory bills, certainly, was the very first, when In Solitude, the Devil’s Blood and Watain joined Behemoth in a month-long North American tour that burned brightly in the eyes of the bands’ devotees and the magazine’s readership. It was a tour built to blacken the sun.
Now, we are fortunate enough to celebrate the first Decibel Magazine Tour alongside a multitude of other historically significant tours in our Top 100 Metal Tours of All Time Special Issue. We spoke with Behemoth’s prime abominator Nergal about what it meant to return to the stage after his devastating illness, and what he could recall about his tourmates during that time. Some of his remarks are exclusive to the Special Issue, but the remainder of that interview is here for you to check out right now.
Had you played shows with the other bands on the bill before this tour?
I believe we were part of the same festivals with Watain, if I’m correct. I think it was [our] first-ever tour with them. I might be wrong about that. I’ve done a lot of touring in my life, and we did a few tours with Watain… But I believe it was the first one.
Do you feel that the tour went smoothly?
I think it was a great tour. It was really smooth. There were no big problems that I can recall. There have been a lot of rumors, people talking about Watain being fucking savages… They are entertaining in their own sense. We always had a good time. We shared some solid wild parties together. I have massive respect for Watain, and I believe it’s mutual. I’m really happy to see them growing. It feels good.
How did it feel to get back on stage after having been hospitalized?
It wasn’t the first tour after, because the first tour was some select shows in Polish clubs. The first dates were pretty rough. I remember I lost my voice and I had to take this steroid injection to get my voice back, then I did the show, then I had to recover for the next two days. I was a wreck. It took me a while to get back into the drill. But it’s like riding a bicycle, you know. You’ve got it in your veins, it’s in your blood.
This experience [with leukemia], it was brutal and it could have ended up fatal to me, but it didn’t take the fire away. The flame was still burning. I was enormously ecstatic about redefining and rediscovering it for myself again. I realized how important it was for me to be a part of the stage, to be a part of the scene, to be rejoined with my band members, to be rejoined with my fans.
We had this crossover setlist and we had this new look as well, because obviously, first of all, I lost all my hair during chemotherapy, which is typical in that kind of situation. From then on, I decided there was really not that much left to grow back again, so I just decided to keep it short, and I honestly should have done this much earlier, because it just suits my face. I like it way more. It didn’t really take [away] much of the stage persona that I was and still am. It actually adds something extra to it. We’re talking about a little change in the look, but there’s some diehards who consider this a massive betrayal, which is stupid. People keep asking me, ‘You should grow your hair back! It’s not really metal, the way you look now! What is that?’ Well, it’s me. Take it or leave it, and fuck off.
It felt amazing to be back on stage again, just to be part of this whole circus again. I call it a circus, but obviously I’m super serious about what we do. There’s no question about that.
Was it important, after you left the hospital, that Behemoth tour again before returning to the studio?
When I came back from the hospital, there were two options: We either go back to the studio and start working on a new record and then come back to the stages, or we kept on continuing the tour that we paused for obvious reasons. Which to us was more like, okay, we had a gap, but we’re back again. There was no philosophy that we added to that, it was just that we had a gap, I’m happy to be alive, and we’re back. That’s it.
It might have been a little bit too early [to return to the studio]. I didn’t want to write with an affect, I didn’t want to be reactive. I just wanted to digest it first, to process this whole experience and eventually, when we really had the record… Because with music, it’s like you either have it or you don’t. If you don’t have it, you can force it, obviously, and then it’s not super sincere, but bands do it because they have contracts and they have mortgages, they have fucking debt, whatever. Behemoth is in this luxurious position, a super comfortable situation that we’ve never really been pushed by any manager or label to go to the studio because we’ve got to make some money. No. Every album that we’ve put out, it was an endeavor that we would stand behind 100% and we would die for it. When we write a record, we really get into the process of writing the record. There are no compromises. It’s us all the way.
Knowing that about Behemoth, you wouldn’t be asking that kind of question. If we go and write a record, it means it’s something really big in our heads. It’s an enormous, huge hulking beast that we are spawning. And then we release it and we support it like there’s no tomorrow. We tour and we’re there for our fans.
Do you recall any particularly memorable stories from that tour?
I remember that the first day, in Ohio, it felt kind of awkward because the first show of the tour we did in the venue that Dimebag was shot. I remember, I had this slight thought that rushed through my head. Fuck! I was processing the symbolic meaning behind it, or maybe there was none, but it was in my head. [The lineup] was super attractive for fans of all the bands, and starting the tour in this very venue with this fatal history, it felt weird.
Every day I would put my running gear on and would jog around, sightseeing the city, but at the same time just working out. That was my daily regime that I put on myself. When I got back, I washed my running clothes and I put them on the top of some fans to dry out. There was some wind or whatever, and one of the pieces fell on the ground. Erik was passing by and he noticed this piece of clothing on the [ground] so he picked it up, looked at the brand, and he goes, “Calvin Klein? It must be Adam’s.” People expect blood-freezing stories about Watain, but that’s actually one of my favorite little stories. It’s just hilarious because it’s so him and it’s so me.
You can purchase a copy of the Top 100 Metal Tours of All Time Special Issue right here.