Album Review: Behemoth - "Demonica"

Behemoth. A name that carries a lot of weight, and a lot of stigma in metal circles. Considered the fathers of the Polish death/black/extreme metal scene, Behemoth has been both the center of celebration and consternation for over two decades. Cited on a 2007 list by Polish officials of artists who allegedly promote murder and Satanism, Behemoth is no stranger to controversy.

So, here we see “Demonica,” a box set collection of some of the band’s earliest material re-recorded, re-released and in some cases released for the first time. The collection mostly spans the first section of the band’s career, when they busied themselves with a more traditional blend of black metal.

What’s curious in these early, redone recordings is the direct correlation between the first cuts of Behemoth and their musical contemporaries of the decade before. The lineage of black metal beginning with Venom’s “Welcome to Hell” is stamped all over these songs. It’s rare in metal to see such a pure legacy go through so little change over the years, but Behemoth’s first demos, presented in full on “Demonica” are testament to the kind of influence that Venom had on early black metal bands like Behemoth and Darkthrone.

To that end, as a record of their progression through time, “Demonica” is a fine chronicle of where Behemoth began, and gives a window into the kind of musical and thematic ideology that Nergal started from. As such, the collection is raw and unfinished; it seems somewhat incomplete or tentative when compared with the band’s most recent works.

Yet, hearing the rough gallop and simple structures of the “…From the Pagan Vastlands” demo is a refreshing reminder that not only did Behemoth do much over the years to morph and shape the genre, but that even they began with clearly definable roots. It seems almost foreign now to hear the up-tempo, almost catchy pounding of “Thy Winter Kingdom” or the thin, varied, theatric construction of “From Hornedlands to Lindisframe” and associate it with the modern blackened death movement. Still, that’s where the origins lie, and as such “Demonica” is both a nostalgic journey and an important moment in the anthropology of those genres.

I guess the bottom line here, as odd as this is going to sound, is that I wasn’t nearly as offended as I hoped to be. The collection doesn’t drip with the same level of vicious, pointed ill will that Behemoth’s later albums are known for. “Demonica” is a stroll down memory lane (if blackened death metal bands can be said to do such things,) for a band that casts long shadows. Given Nergal’s condition and his continued recuperation, it’s probably fair to assume (and for fans, hope,) that “Demonica” represents a precursor to an album yet to come. For Behemoth completists and fans of those far gone early days of unmarketed black metal, “Demonica is worth a look. There are only 10,000 copies being released, so there’s a nice collect-ability angle as well.

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