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I Loved You At Your Darkest Josh Gray , October 9th, 2018 15:21

The Polish metal titans’ 11th album is an ambitious, and strangely accessible shadowy package

To any band whose career has seen grown a little with each increasingly well-liked, decently reviewed album until they reach the status of ‘mid-tier’, the sudden arrival of a record that gets lauded as ‘game-changing’, ‘unit-shifting’ and ‘genre-defining’ can be something of a curse. The venues swell to Academy levels, hitherto unvisited lands open up, and the lucrative album tour rolls on and on until, finally, you have to think about following it up.

There is a compelling argument that the recent implosion of Machine Head can be traced back to their decision to incessantly tour 2007 masterpiece The Blackening, milking it so vigorously that it overshadowed the entire next decade of their career. Fans had to wait until 2011 for the underwhelming Unto The Locust, and never again were the band discussed as future Download headliners.

As 2018 dawned there looked to be a real danger of a similar thing happening to Behemoth as they prepared to release a live album consisting solely of songs from a record they’d released four years earlier and had been touring non-stop ever since. Though Nergal and co had been something of an extreme metal institution for over 20 years, they had never known success on the level The Satanist brought them.

Thankfully the four horsemen haven’t been blinded by their success. I Loved You At Your Darkest is, in many ways, an even more impressive release. The Satanist saw the band, aided by a newly ambitious approach to production, accentuate the dynamics in their sound to bring out the varying shades of darkness and reveal an unexpectedly accessible (or, at the very least, bewitching) canvas beneath.

Having successfully trialled this approach, Behemoth are now free to explore it more ambitiously as one body of work. Using the The Satanist’s foreboding title track as a starting point, they mix a palette of distinctive darkness, creating a work of remarkable richness and thematic consistency. While there are still full-throttle assaults that recall the face-chewing passages of The Apostacy (‘Angelvus XIII’ packs particular bite), vast swathes of the album exude a more sinister magnificence.

The gallowsman guitar heard on the outro to ‘God = Dog’ stalks across the record like a giant arachnid. It’s especially effective on ‘Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica’ and ‘If Crucifixion Was Not Enough’, where Seth’s decision to lower his distortion levels and let each plucked note ring out across the void brings a stately gothicness that suits this new arena-straddling Behemoth. These guitar lines also act as the anchor for the album, each song beginning with a riff that mirrors the end of the one before, weaving a narrative through-line of shadow motifs that helps make this more than just a collection of top-notch songs.

Add this sterling riff work to drummer Inferno’s new love for rototom fills and Nergal’s increasing mastery of deceptively sing-able choruses (Gregorian chant anthem ‘Bartzabel’ is a thing of evil beauty) and the result is an album that should draw in the uninitiated like a death cult dispensing sweets outside a nursery. Extreme metal has never had this much mass appeal, long may Behemoth’s dark reign continue.