Nergal: “In addition of being an entertainer, I also consider myself as being a missionary, a man on a mission, and the mission is to use my platforms: album, stage, videos… to make statements that are relevant, important, maybe even crucial these days.”
Onlangs bracht het Poolse blackened death instituut Behemoth een volgend blasfemisch manifest uit, genaamd ‘Opvs Contra Natvram’. Hun oproep tot vrijheid heeft de tand des tijd doorstaan, vandaar dat we ruim de tijd namen om met mastermind Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski een licht te werpen op de huidige wereld en bronnen van inspiratie voor de nieuwe rebelse kunst die we kunnen terugvinden op dit album.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 28 november 2022
The last album Behemoth released, was ‘I Loved You At Your Darkest’, which goes back to 2018 already. Of course everything was still normal at that time, but when the pandemic broke out, what did it do to you? How did you face this?
Well, in the first place I was very happy and I was relieved. I was coming back from a tour with Behemoth and I was done, I was so tired. According to the plans that we had, I was supposed to work very hard. Basically I had to run into Me And That Man and then do shows with Me And That Man and then Behemoth. Right after that I was supposed to do Behemoth, a new album again, but then the pandemic happened. It was a relief for me. I decided to take some time off, recharge the batteries, regroup. Then, when I got to the point when I thought ‘okay, now I think I am finally able and stand up and start working on things’ I did. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I don’t know where I would be now. I probably would be recording the 14th Behemoth album now or maybe I would be in a mental institute, I don’t know. For some reason I was thankful for this situation and happy for that, but then after six to twelve months, I started to get more and more nervous and I saw that the solution was not coming any soon and we were supposed to record the record with no guarantee what would happen with it, or in what format we could tour with this. So it created a lot of extra stress that would basically bring you down, you know. Mentally I was not in the best spot, but eventually we did that, we spent most of the time in isolation. Isolation brought a lot of frustration obviously, but then we kind of channelled that into the songs on the new record, so that is why we came up with a record that is maybe the most existentially driven album that we have ever done. And now I am telling the new story.
When I listen to the new album ‘Opvs Contra Natvram’ it goes very deep, you do not only excel in fury, but you reflect on things as well… that struck me…
I think that you are right. Probably what you mean is that we are not only entertainers. I mean, we are and I am aware of that, because we play music and we want people to have fun and enjoy life when they listen to the record. That is one thing, but on the other hand, in addition of being an entertainer, I also consider myself as being a missionary, a man on a mission, and the mission is to use my platforms: album, stage, videos… to make statements that are relevant, important, maybe even crucial these days. It was easy back in the days and I still do it of course, I know exactly what I mean when I say ‘hail Satan’, because Satan is always representing a manifest in metal of freedoms and liberties of the men to me. And I always stood for those, but this time, I might as well go on stage and say: Slava Ukraine, support Ukraine or just support women’s rights. What’s happening with the abortion laws and stuff, that is fucking evil and everyone should be aware of that and everyone should support women all over the world. I come from a country where these rights have been censored violently massively. I know what I am talking about. On the spot, I am a neighbour from Ukraine and these bombs land fucking ten kilometres from Polish border, so these are threads to my freedom as well. I am not talking about some illusionary world, okay? It is all very Satanic, it is all very rebellious. So, for example ‘Neo-Spartacus’ is exactly about that. Of course it is a Satanic spirit, it is a rebellious spirit, but this time I picked Spartacus, which is maybe the biggest iconic man for rebellion and in known history, but of course I am not telling the story of Spartacus. I am basically telling you and you and you, that in today’s reality, in today’s world, there are plenty of reasons out there to become Spartacus. Rebellion against things.
That was one of my questions. I was very suspicious. We had the pandemic and right after that, the pandemic wasn’t even over, then we had the war between Russia and Ukraine, as if they wanted to keep on bombard us with bad news. Didn’t you experience that in this way too?
Absolutely! I took like a week off, flying to Egypt and the war burst out in the morning. So I put the headphones on when I was on my way to the airport and I was like: ‘holy shit’. In Egypt I was supposed to calm down, that’s what I usually do when I go on holidays, I just shut down social media, but for seven days I was listening to the news and I couldn’t believe it. It was terrifying, you are right and guess what? It ain’t over! The fact that regular life is somehow going back to some kind of normality, it is still far from standard that we had known before, but what is happening now… I don’t know the situation in Belgium, but in Poland and other countries I watch, there is recession, frustration, energy crisis skyrocketing! The problems are only going to mountain up and I am very curious and terrified, but also very serious, about how EU will cope with this. How I will cope with those… Every now and then when I make comments like those, when I talk about geopolitics, I find it extremely inspirational. For me it is more inspirational than listening to any new music today. That’s what I do, but still there are voices and comments, saying: ‘stick to music, you better make music, stop doing politics’. I cannot stop talking about politics, you know, they force me to get it out of my life somehow – which is not possible, because life is politics – if I might I will, but now… I pay taxes, I live in a country, I am part of society, I am politics and if everything goes down, it will become a big fucking catastrophe. I cannot just shut up and ignore it and pretend that everything is fine, because nothing is fine!
I feel the same, but please tell me why did you choose the title ‘Opvs Contra Natvram’?
In this case I did not mean ‘nature’ per se, I am more talking about the nature of things basically. I am talking about the origin of things. Basically it is just about what we have been discussing right now plus other things. I am talking about some dangerous agendas and politics and cultural tendencies that are coming up and they get after our culture. They become the new fascists of the modern world. I find it difficult to find myself in those situations and I don’t see myself in their world. The way things are going and developing, I see this as a big thread to liberties (sighs).
I was also wondering: you do a lot of diverse things. How do you find the kind of balance between the integrity you have – we know for sure – and your commercial activities sometimes?
Sometimes it is rather difficult to make the switch, but I manage to do it. I remember talking to Shagrath from Dimmu Borgir this summer and he said: ‘how can you do this and that?’ and I laughed: ‘I don’t have a girlfriend’. Well, it is part of that, that energy must go somewhere, okay, so I put it in all the things I do. Of course I like women and I would love to, one day, end up and maybe just stop doing things, I don’t know, but for now I am happy. I like to do different stuff and like to be all over the place. If I would run a flowerhouse maybe that would be problematic when it comes to credibility or part-time I would go to fucking Sunday school and stuff like that, but I never had a problem with doing those different things and so far I never heard people complaining like: ‘Oh Nergal, you are in a black metal band, you are not allowed to have pieces on the side, you cannot run a barbershop’ you know. (laughs)
And that is one of the freedoms we always wanted…
Exactly. Plus… I know why some people might have problems with understanding that. They are like… I think the main reason is… well, let me put it that way: there are not so many people out there in this genre like myself. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but there is none. In other times or genres there are people who do that and they are big heroes of mine. So when I look at Bruce Dickinson, I can clearly say: he is my role model. And does he lack any credibility? Fuck no! I mean, he has it all. And Corey Taylor, another guy of the very same kind. He is kind of similar when it comes to that. People like that, they run labels, they have a group, they live their life to the fullest. They use their talents in music, but all kinds of side activities as well. If you ask me why I do that, first of all, I am driven by curiosity, okay?
Oh I can totally understand! That are the challenges in life and of course if you see a new opportunity, then you want to go for it!
Exactly and I am willing to take risks. I am willing to go in a direction with many challenges. Not all of them were successful. When I look back, it might be a little embarrassing (chuckles), but I never really regret anything, because it all led to this place where I am now, the position I have is satisfactory and it feels awesome. It made me who I am and that is why I am so anxious to change a bit, because sometimes when you change a little piece in your life, it turns everything upside down and then you become a different person. I don’t want to be a different person, I like myself.
That is the good thing of being a bit older. Then you have peace with who you are instead of the Sturm und Drang from juvenile rebellion… youth is a time of searching yourself…
Yes, yes I agree. I am 45 now and I really hope that when I am 60 or 70, I am looking back and reflecting on the past and I have peace. I don’t want to think: oh shit, I had that opportunity and I missed it. Or I shouldn’t have done that and just go into eternal sleep. I don’t want that.
On the other hand the album also has drama and grandness. I was listening to it and thought: wow this is really grandioso, but do you still remember where this comes from in your past? Did you always had a kind of theatrical approach or was it something else?
Yes, there is a big theatrical influence in what I do, but I still haven’t explored that theatrical/actor ambition in me so to say. You can see that in Behemoth though.
A good example is the live stream of ‘In Absentia Dei’, that was really impressive!
We wanted to use that time in a positive and active way. Even though not much was happening, we wanted something to share with the outside world, even though a proper audience was forbidden. We really tried to bring some quality and build a bridge between the digital times and the times before to please people. And I liked both performances we did in that vein, both were big and entertaining.
You Polish people are always known for being very strict, hard working and also self-willed. Is that a kind of remnant from the past, from your history? Or is it in education?
Well, we have a reputation of good workers. I am pretty proud of being Polish. For example, my brother is immigrated at the age of 20 and he just fled from Poland because he did not see a future for him here in Poland. He is basically Spanish now, he has been living in Spain for a long time and he has always been highly valued and he is a hard worker. He always told me that they appreciate Polish people, because they are hard workers. You know what? You have exactly the same situation when you read memoirs from WW II When you read about Polish regions or Polish soldiers, fighting in the British army, the pilots… every time you hear how much courage they have. How relentless they are. I think that is a part of Polish… let’s call it romanticism. I think it is a part of our DNA maybe.
I know you are a true devotee of freedom of speech, but don’t you start being a bit worried about the world going into the woke thing/generation?
Woke? What is woke?
People who are extreme left winged, for instance you cannot say the word ‘nigger’ anymore and they want to destroy statues of our history…
Oh lefties, right? Let us put it that way. Yes, of course I am very concerned and I am not happy with the direction and on this occasions. I really like to quote one of the most brilliant minds in history Winston Churchill, the guy who offended the Nazis in the Second World War. He wanted to share this caption, which is fucking amazing and it said, relied on what’s happening in this world and I want to make this parallel. He said: “Beware, because today’s anti-fascists will become tomorrow’s fascists”. And that is exactly what is happening. The way I feel it looks like there is a pendulum and the pendulum goes left, right, left, right and in a perfect world there is just balance, right? That is how the world works, you know, and what is happening now, it is going over the board of left and right way too far. It brings a lot of problems. We kind of loose the common sense.
I am feeling that way too, but I was wondering…
Totally. I am talking about it on this very record. For example in the song ‘Versvs Christvs’ there is this line: ‘stone shed for the heritage of this crow’ and what does it mean? That exactly is a reference in facts, because, believe it or not, lately there has been a group of students in a University in the world somewhere, and they were collectively refusing to study Shakespeare. Why? They said: ‘We checked that and the guy happened to be just like his work, misogyny and a violent person. He is not matching our ethical standard.’ That is ignorance. That is the next level stupidity and that is where we are going, you know. I was worried about a friend of mine over the Mikael Jackson case, because she is what they call ‘politically correct’ and I tried to explain her: hey you see things so black and white and in most cases there are a lot of grey spots that can make a difference and she ‘no no’. Okay, I asked her a rhetoric question; Michael Jackson – apparently the guy cannot defend himself anymore – but it looks like he did some really nasty shit and I tend to believe that, okay? I don’t know, but I guess he was a pedo and that is a shame and of course this kind of behaviour is totally punishable. But I asked her: ‘does that mean that we should ban all his works and his music? He should be banned from everything and radio?’ and she said: absolutely yes.
That is completely different, his art and his person. Then you can ban everything. Even when Columbus discovered America and called them Indians, this has to be banned, because it was a mistake…
Exactly. I mean, I don’t want to justify Mikael Jackson here, but I would definitely be the first one defending the rights and his works of music as part of the heritage, you know. This is our culture. So the next thing I asked her, was: ‘okay, just imagine that one day there is a document that comes out and proves that Michelangelo happened to be a pedofile and he raped twenty boys. Should we demolish all the Basilica and the frescos, all his absolute timeless and beautiful wonders of the world? Should we do it?’ Because once we are going into that direction, it will never end, you know. Human beings are only human beings and we tend to be fucking pissed and we tend to be very persons. Well, it is what it is, deal with it, but separate the creator from his creation. That is how I see that. That is so obvious to me, like more and more people think that it is either black or white, and I defend the grey.
It frightens me, because that is not the way I want the world to evolve…
Every time I talk to people and discuss politics, I am telling them: maybe I seem to be too old for that world. Maybe for that new shit I am too old and it is possible, maybe we get so fucking outdated. Maybe; then again, that is a question that I am throwing into ether and I am not applying to most today’s standards. Again, another thing, we were talking about today’s culture. Next thing is #MeToo. You are a woman, so you have more to say about that, but the general idea of #MeToo obviously is amazing and you, women, need to have like a strong tool, like legal (lethal?) weapons to fight for your rights and #MeToo could be an amazing option, but the problem is that it also opened doors for all kinds of opportunities overly to get some cash from scandals. Look what happened with Johnny Depp. Thankfully Johnny Depp was found completely innocent, and I was kind of: hey, do you want to go that far? That is amazing. Okay, Kevin Spacey is another story, totally incarnatiable, but does that mean that ‘The Usual Suspects’ – which is one of the best movies ever – should be banned? Absolutely not.
Indeed and to be honest, about #MeToo, most women do it for money… I mean, why didn’t they tell something when it happened? In my youth I was approached and even touched so many times. I just laughed and went away…
Yeah but even those standards are changed drastically. I mean, for me it was natural. I mean, I had female colleagues and we could hug each other and I could get a smack on my head from my female colleagues and I laughed. Did I call the police, I have been harassed? Me too, me too. No! Then again, it might be my timeline who is moving in the other direction than the world.
I think current media also have a big deal in that ‘coming out’ of everybody…
Totally. There is so much to contemplate and so much to talk about. I could go on forever, but the conclusion is sad and I don’t want to come out here as a winy person, but what I am saying is: hey people, just think for yourself, don’t rely on headlines in the press, because that is what happens in many occasions. Go deeper into topics than what you instantly see before liking it instantly. Justify things before you start accusing. Do they ever think of the consequences?
No, but everything has to be ground-breaking, ‘breaking news’ you know…
Exactly. And what happened? My friend from Decapitated was being charged, being accused of rape. I remember that I was one of the very few who publicly said: ‘hey hang on. They are not guilty, before it is proven.’ I know the guys. Of course some comments came in the vein of ‘he is defending them, so he must have something in the closet as well’. No, I am just trying to be reasonable here. Months later, the guys were cleared from accusation and not guilty. Did anyone put this in the headlines and said: ‘hey big news here. Decapitated is innocent and the sky is clear.’? No. I remember, when they were accused of it, it was everywhere in the news. That is a problem! Actually their name is not cleared. Not enough. Only the negative information becomes a click bite, only the bad news. I don’t know if you follow my Instagram? I do a lot of what I call ‘social experiments’. Before going on holidays I put a photo of a review on line ‘album of the month’. I am proud of that, it is my child you know. I release a new record and I am proud of it. 200 likes and 12 comments. Okay. Then a week later I am on my way back from holidays and I check my social media and I decided: okay, let us do a little experiment, and I posted a photo of me, sleeping with my open mouth, looking like an idiot. You know, when you sleep and your muscles relax, you just look like a fucking moron and next to me was a face of Hawkins. And I typed: okay, who is the genius? Obviously I made a fool of myself, I do it deliberately. I respect the guy. I read his books you know. That post, which also polarized people, because 2/3 were like ‘haha so funny’ and 1/3 were like ‘go to hell for mocking his disease’ and blablabla and it got 12000 likes and 400 comments. I compared the two posts and thought ‘what am I doing?’ It seems that I am way more effective as a comedian than being a musician!
You see it on all social media. When they post something stupid but funny, it gets way more reactions than a regular review announcement…
Exactly, but don’t you think that music – as one of many arts, because cinema and movies too, but especially music because that is my field – became disposable? What is the value of music these days? It is losing value like Polish zlotys, you know. One day by another, it is almost like bankrupt. I cherish it, and I know it is a lot of sentiment that speaks to me, but I really love the nineties when I did like tape-trading, discovering music… anyways, I miss those times. On one hand it is cool that we have access to everything, but somehow it loses value then. I remember as a kid we had a day of our life when finally hire a VHS with porn. Now you got porn everywhere. It probably degraded us, making porn available in every form. Not only it spoilt us, men and women because women also watch porn, which is kind of taboo these days, but it is a fact. I am not talking about the lack of mystic, because porn has no mystic, but this availability did us no good at all. Goh I am afraid that we sound like two boomers, just sitting and fucking winos. The past was better and that was better, but you know what – because I really have to wrap things up for the next interview now, but it might be a very sad conclusion, but I have got to say that I am an optimist by nature and I say loud that life is beautiful and wonderful and worth living, but I am 45 and clearly the best is behind me.
I feel exactly the same, we are from the same generation more or less…
Do you know what? There is a beautiful quote from Lemmy. You know, you are in your fifties and you are sitting here, spending your Friday evening with some metalhead from Poland, talking about music, so you are part of rock-‘n-roll. So Lemmy said this absolute brilliant quote. He said: ‘If you think you are too old for rock-‘n-roll, you probably are.’ (laughs)