“Live” Review: Behemoth’s ‘In Absentia Dei’

photo: Grzegorz Gołębiowski

When most bands do a quarantine livestream, they usually perform from their practice space or an empty club or something. Not Behemoth. For their contribution to the at-home concert experience, In Absentia Dei, Poland’s biggest black metal act rented out an ancient church, unleashed a fleet of drones, and fired off enough pyrotechnics to make Rammstein jealous. It really did put the viewer in the middle of the space and gave them eight of the best views in the house to choose from — with no tall assholes like me to block the view!

Starting with opening cinematic of skull-faced wraiths on horseback waving black flags (if we need to wear mandatory face coverings, the brain case of your enemy is a pretty damn metal way to go), the show delivered everything a Behemoth fan could possibly want: fire, costume changes, Nergal’s inimitable showmanship, quasi-fascistic imagery, and a setlist heavy on fan favorites. All of it combined with the impressive lighting rigs and drone swoops to create a decidedly sinister atmosphere. Even though you know it’s four dudes wearing makeup and stomping around some ruins, it tapped into something primal, something deep within the human reptile brain that recognized the presentation as a ritual devoted to the evil in mankind.

photo: Grzegorz Gołębiowski

The isolated space also allowed them to bring in some guest performers — most of them skilled manipulators of fire. At one point, there’s a drummer playing drums that were on fire with drumsticks that were also on fire. It only would’ve been cooler if the drummer himself were also on fire. The up-close-and-personal nature of the filming also allowed them to capture small moments you don’t normally get to see. You can even see the suspension artist they hired take deep, controlled breaths as her assistants pierced her flesh with metal hooks and then hoisted her in the air in a Jesus Christ pose.

“Pretty damn metal” is really the best way to describe the whole experience. Anyone who saw the band live in the Before Times can attest to the awesome nature of their shows. The livestream event took their already-impressive performance and cranked it to 11. Admittedly, Behemoth had the budget to do something this ambitious. Still, In Absentia Dei really is a game-changer for concert livestreams.