Friday, July 22, 2016

Metal Provocateur Nergal Opens Up in Conversational Biography

I took this photo of Nergal at a Behemoth show in 2015.

If you don’t know Behemoth, stop reading this and go listen to “The Satanist,” “Evangelion” and “And the Forests Dream Eternally.” If this music does not speak to you, move along to other, less fascinating things.

If you’re a Behemoth fan, or a fan of extreme metal in general, and know of Nergal’s work, this book is worth checking out. But outside of that context, I’m not sure the book has much cross-over appeal. It represents a niche within a niche, and those without much reference points will be confused by a lot of this.

This “memoir” is structured as a series of questions, posed by two of Nergal’s friends and colleagues. Nergal’s replies make up the meat of the book.

The introduction by D. Randall Blythe (Lamb of God) is perfect. He speaks of his respect for Nergal as a “survivor,” a term he admits is overused these days. “For survival to impress me these days, it has to be real, and it has to be done with panache. There are simply too many motherfuckers on this planet for me to be impressed by your mere continuing existence.” (Nergal survived a rare for of leukemia, which he discusses in the book.)

Like all interesting people, Nergal is a collection of diverse and seemingly contradictory elements.

“I actually live in two worlds,” he says. “One of them is mine. I was in it; everything there goes slowly, according to its own rhythm. That part is my actual life. In the second world, on the other hand, I always play some kind of a role. I don’t know who or why I was made to play it, and I end up in the tabloid newspapers as a consequence. It just happened. I don’t care about this. I don't belong there; I’m just a guest. I actually think a lot of people exist on the vague boundaries of these two worlds.”

The interviewers are friends and colleagues of Nergal, but their questions are anything but underhand pitches. The questions are posed in a seemingly random fashion, and many of them sound adversarial, even badgering, in their tone. After one strange question, Nergal simply responds, “What kind of question is that?”

Also, I wonder if the interviewers had even planned out their questions ahead of time, because the chapters are barely coherent, the inverse of a Behemoth song. Nergal mentions something about clothing and then the questions turn to whether Nergal does his own laundry and irons his socks. Seriously. 

Nergal’s responses are almost always great, but he can only do so much. I wish he was posed more substantive questions about Behemoth’s early days, how the band prospered, Nergal’s take on various iterations of Satanism, etc.

Instead, a lot of the book focuses on Nergal’s relationships with various Polish women or celebrities, but there is no background given. So if you don’t know these names (which is likely the case for everyone who isn’t Polish), you get quite lost.

The best parts of the book come where Nergal takes a mediocre to dumb question and riffs on them, producing some interesting quotes. There are a ton of good quotes in here on all sorts of topics. Here are a few of my favorites:

Yes, he's an atheistic Satanist, but Behemoth shows have a stirring and spiritual quality.
On the U.S. being a weird place: “It’s a strange country. You can go to jail for drinking beer on the street but yet everyone carries a weapon.”

“There’s an idiot and a wise man inside each of us.”

“Christian rock is pathology – a classic oxymoron... These are sounds of rebellion. The subjective nature of religion and rock's ethos are mutually exclusive.” 

On the word “disturbing” to describe Behemoth’s music: “When somebody says that about our music, I take it as a huge compliment. It’s the same with cinema. The best movies are disturbing.”

On the word “nice” to describe music: “If somebody said that our show was nice, I’d feel like I’d been slapped in the face. Cheap hookers can be nice, but not Behemoth's concerts.”

“Disdain for carnality is a result of 2,000 years of waiting for the kingdom that only comes when we die. I reject this fairy tale, and I reject the disdain for temporality.”

At this point, almost all metal music is a copy of a copy of a copy. And that is understandable. But, in our midst, we still have a revolutionary and inspiring metal frontman in Adam Nergal Darski. And even though this book misses many marks, Nergal's words have their own unique power. 

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