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(Metal Blade)
Released: 22nd November 2011

Michael Downie

michael downie

In the last ten to fifteen years, the Polish Metal scene has been getting significant attention around the world. Bands like Vader, Hate and Decapitated have been out touring the world, gaining fans, press and notoriety wherever they go. The Polish seem to get death and black Metal, adept as they are at stringing together the bleakest of soundscapes and the most nihilistic of lyrics.

evile five serpent's teeth

Back in 1999, Behemoth exploded onto the death and black Metal scenes with the seminal 'Satanica' album. Fusing both subgenres together into blackened death Metal, they took the Metal scene by surprise and since then, Nergal and his band of not-so-merry men have gone from strength to strength. However, Behemoth didn't always sound like they do today. In fact, when they first formed, they were an entirely different beast.

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'Demonica' is a two-disc monster of a boxset charting Behemoth's early years and early EPs, featuring tracks remastered by Grzegorz Piwkowski, plus a forty-four page book containing extra photos and lyrics. It's a true Behemoth collector's dream.

Back in 1991 when they first formed, Behemoth had none of the slick polish they have today. Back then, they were a true black Metal band in the vein of Emperor or Immortal. Under this incarnation, Behemoth released three demo discs, one EP and three albums. 'Demonica' includes the entire demos, 'The Return Of The Northern Moon' and '...From The Pagan Vastlands', unreleased tracks from the 'Sventevith (Storming Near The Baltic)', 'And The Forests Dream Eternally', 'Demigod' and 'Grom' sessions and several alternative versions of tracks.

Having been used to Behemoth's post-'Satanica' sound, I have to admit it was a little jarring when I first put the album on, and opening song, 'Summoning Of The Ancient Gods', lumbered into view. I hadn't read up on this album prior to listening to it, so I just expected the normal Behemoth sound: thrashy razorsharp guitars, thundering drums and guttural roaring from Nergal. Instead, what I got was a low-fi, awkwardly put together and inefficiently played song with this laboured, almost caustic vocal over the top. There was no bass (as, back then, Behemoth did not have a bass player) and drums so thin they might not have been there.

This continues for the first eight tracks, all of which consisted of 'The Return Of The Northern Moon' demo. This being their second demo in their career and the first of two released in 1993, the production values leave a lot to be desired by today's standards, but for early nineties black Metal, they're spot on.

Nergal's voice is laboured, sounding pained, and only rises up to more than a talk on 'Aggressor' near the end of the demo. The inexperience of the band is evident throughout these tracks though. Timing (normally the most crucial thing for black Metal) is all over the place and you can hear songs speeding up and slowing down throughout. Interestingly enough, the instrumentals are unique, ambient, cold and bleak-sounding masterpieces. The intro, '...Of My Worship' and outro, 'Goat With A Thousand Young', both feature some brilliant and unsettling synthesis combined with sound effects to frame some of the bleakest music I've heard in years.

The next three tracks move on to some randomly unreleased material. 'Bless Thee For Granting Me Pain' moves the black Metal sound on a bit further than the previous tracks, with Nergal adopting a psychotic screech to his vocals and sounding remarkably like Dani Filth in the process. The music itself is a little faster and more precise than the early demo work.

'Cursed Angel Of Doom' and 'Transylvanian Forest' continue in this vein. The production on these still isn't great, but they sound significantly more coherent, showing how the band evolved over their first eight years together. 'Transylvanian Forest', in particular, has Nergal's low-end growl on display in what would appear to be the earliest indicator of the direction they would take later in their career.


As the second disc starts, we go back to 1993 for the second demo, '...From The Pagan Vastlands'. Here, the low-fi true black Metal sound returns. Seeing as it was released in the same year as 'The Return Of The Northern Moon', it is entirely unreasonable to expect anything but the same kind of thing for this second disc, which is almost entirely dedicated to '...From The Pagan Vastlands'.

There are, however, some subtle differences. There is prominent use of acoustic guitar over the distorted instruments, as well as extra ambient synthesisers on top of sections (such as the chorus in 'From Hornedlands To Lindisfarne'). The overall production on the second disc is significantly better than the first disc, but most notable is the improvement in performance. The timing on the drums and guitars is a lot better, and there are fewer noticeable mistakes made.

As the second disc progresses, it's clear to see that '...From The Pagan Vastlands' was a superior demo and the catalyst which helped the band get signed to their first record deal in 1994. Once the demo finishes proper, we are treated to some alternate versions of some of the tracks.

'Blackvisions Of The Almighty' is an interesting one, as the original version is featured on the disc as well. Where the original is very straight and precise - true black Metal fare - the alternate version has a more definable riff and rhythm, which even borders on having a groove. However, the sound on this particular track is so horrendously noisy it sounds like it was mastered off a cassette tape that had been put in a washing machine. Most of the track is almost inaudible behind the noise and distortion and it does beg the question: why was it even included in the boxset?

As the second disc comes to a close, instrumental track 'The Oak Between The Snows' treats us to a rare moment of beauty. It's a wonderful, lilting instrumental piece with distorted guitars set to acoustic guitars, drums and synths. It still sounds a little scuzzy, but when you hear the notes and listen to it for what it is, it's really quite wonderful.

Lastly, a rerecorded version of 'Spellcraft & Heathendom' gives the listener a glimpse into the sound of Behemoth, with slick production values. The song was originally included on 'Grom', and this version was recoded during the 'Demigod' sessions. It's a brilliant version of one of their better classic tracks.

All in all this is a great boxset, but it won't be for everyone. As a Behemoth fan, it took me a few lessons to get into the sound of the album. Remember, this is as far removed from current Behemoth as you could possibly get.

This compilation is really for two groups of people, either those who love Behemoth enough to want Nergal's black-hearted babies or those who spent the early nineties setting fire to churches all over eastern Europe. If you don't fall into either of those groups, then I would be careful about purchasing this album. If you love the classic black Metal sound (like I do), then you will love this.


Disc 1:

...Of My Worship (Intro)
Summoning Of The Ancient Gods
The Arrival
Dark Triumph
Rise Of The Blackstorm Of Evil
Goat With A Thousand Young
Bless Thee For Granting Me Pain
Cursed Angel Of Doom
Transylvanian Forest

Disc 2:
From Hornedlands To Lindisfarne
Thy Winter Kingdom
Summoning (Of The Ancient Ones)
The Dance Of The Pagan Flames
Blackvisions Of The Almighty
Fields Of Haar Meggido
Moonspell Rites (alt. version)
Blackvisions Of The Almighty (alt. version)
Pure Evil & Hate (alt. version)
The Oak Between The Snows
Spellcraft & Heathendom (re-recorded version)



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