It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should but every now and then you stumble upon a record that can only be described as special. Something that seems to resonate in the deepest of your core and give you such excitement when listening to it that it could be considered pure euphoria. This is where I found myself while listening to Behemoth’s 10th album in their storied 23 year career. On the brink of death both literally and figuratively, the extreme metal powerhouse is back with, without a doubt, their most complex and challenging outing to date in the form of The Satanist.

The driving force, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter, Adam “Nergal” Darski is on a scholar like level with his knowledge of cultures, specifically their demons. He’s so educated in history that he could serve as a museum curator. He is also a recent victor in a battle against Leukemia. While on, what would appear to be, his deathbed, Darksi was confronted with questions about his faith and had he changed his mind about God and the afterlife. Agitated, he responded to his critics and doubters of his personal belief structure with a proverbial “fuck you” and vowed to come back stronger and darker than before. If you dive into Behemoth’s back catalog you will find yourself listening to tales of demons from all corners of the world, cultures, religions, mythologies what have you. For The Satanist he has decided to speak only about the granddaddy of them all, the Devil. Some would call this a ballsy, spit in the face of Christianity; I would call it a declaration or reaffirmation of where he stands on the subject of religion.

Behemoth lets us know what we are in for right out of the gate, in the album’s first single, the colossal Blow Your Trumpets, Gabriel. A total mockery in lyrics describing that when Satan decides to claim the throne again, hell’s army will have to put up little effort as it will just be that easy. It’s track that plods along at a droning pace that maintains its course for almost the entire length of the track only giving the listener teases of going all in like a Behemoth opener we’d expect. It’s a pressure cooker of a song that pushes you to the limit and then finally when you can’t stand waiting anymore it bursts into a chaotic frenzy of a second half. The typical Behemoth style returns briefly in the albums second track, Furor Divinus, but the more punishing mid-tempo theme of the record quickly comes back in track 3’s, Messe Noire. When we finally arrive at track 4, we’re delivered what is chillingly the best Behemoth song I have ever heard in Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer. This is the answer to Demigod’s “hit”, Slaves Shall Serve. It’s definitely the easiest of the songs to gravitate towards because there aren’t a million layers like any of the other songs on the album. The chorus, which is a play on part of the Lord’s Prayer, is such a commanding section that grabs you at your center and goosebumps will engulf your skin. The next track, Amen, continues the theme of trying to stay true to Behemoth’s signature sound but dive right back into diversity in the title track which seems to serve as a satanic sermon of sorts. Once that’s complete we are dealt a war march like anthem in Ben Sahar and then there is a bit of a modern take on the Behemoth roots as In The Absence of Light is furious black metal coupled with tastefully injected acoustic guitars. On paper that’s a match that doesn’t sound like it would work, but boy did it ever here. The album concludes with the titanic O Father O Satan O Sun.

In the 23 years that Behemoth has been a band, they have never settled and lay complacent from record to record. It seems that the goal was to constantly challenge themselves to put out something bigger, better, more with the next release. Even in the days of Behemoth being a traditional black metal outing, they still experimented with atmospheric tones as to not get lost in the shuffle of all the Mayhem clones. In 1999 they added a significant helping of death metal into the fold and have ultimately never looked back. Each record to follow the change in direction noted on the Satanica record became more complex. Always adding new elements from both metal and classical styles, it appeared to pique with 2004’s Demigod. In the Apostasy we essentially Demigod part 2 but you could tell the band was really to find itself at this point of their career. 2009’s Evangelion was a game changer for the band. It took what we thought we knew about Behemoth and defecated all over them. Behemoth grew into their name with that album. It shot out of the cannon with Daimonos and never looked back. I really never thought that they could top that album in. In my mind it was total perfection. It seamlessly blended a multitude of genres while never sounding like a cheap version of any and with a pristine production, it just sounded BIG.

Admittedly, I was never a giant Behemoth fan. I was introduced to them right around the time Thelema.6 came out. I had always dug them and would check them out on any tour they were apart of and I even bought all the records to come after that one. But I wouldn’t dare have said they were a “favorite” of mine. That was all until I saw them play The Barge To Hell metal cruise in December of 2012. There was something absolutely magical about their second set, which occurred outside on the main deck. I wasn’t even on the cruise to see them; they were just an added bonus. I have seen over 1000 concerts to include many more thousands of individual band sets and I had never heard a band absolutely fucking nail it like Behemoth did that evening. I’m not even sure if the band thinks they did all that well but man did they get me to drink the Kool-Aid that night.

To say I had high expectations for the Satanist after that set would be an understatement. I’ve had the album for not quite 48 hours and I’ve listened to it straight through 6 times. Each time I keep finding something new about it and that excites me. I like when a band can challenge the listener in a positive way. It keeps it exciting. However, the one thing I noticed and I’m not sure if it’s intentional, is that the Satanist is best listened to in its entirety. It’s an invigorating journey from start to finish and doesn’t give the best experience when you start to pick and choose. That’s not to say that songs don’t individually stand out on their own, I just feel that it’s better listened to straight through. It’s this element, coupled with how non-straightforward the songs are that may lose the fringe fans. In the days of instant gratification listeners want to have something familiar and predictable. The Satanist, thankfully, is not that.

I understand that we aren’t even in February yet, well we will be when the record is officially released, but this has set the bar so insanely high that there isn’t a single metal band out there that I can think of that will even come remotely close to topping it. This, ladies and gentleman, is the best metal record of the year.