It’s very well known that every band you enjoy has songs that define them. These songs may not necessarily be their best, but they are the most essential when trying to understand where they came from, and how they got to where they are now. This is the idea of “8-Track.” In case you missed our previous installments, here’s the basic premise, in a nutshell: We choose a band that we know has a storied history, and identify the eight songs that define their strengths as a band, musically, lyrically, and conceptually. This is not merely a “Favorite Songs of (Insert Band Here)” list, though for some writers, there will be overlap with the two. This list is meant to show anyone discovering the band songs that really speak volumes of how they are as a band, and songs that are essential to their development and evolution as a band. With that being said, let’s get to talking about the legends that brought blackened death metal to the attention of our generation, Behemoth.
While Behemoth’s countrymates Vader are the original blackened death metal band, and their influence on Behemoth is undeniable, Adam “Nergal” Darski’s troupe is arguably what really took the genre into full gear. Starting in 1991, they were originally a full-on black metal band, but 3 albums into their career, they started to integrate Vader’s death metal influence. Every album of theirs following that point is considered a classic of death metal, but for many the entry point was 2004’s Demigod, where their death metal sound was pushed to its extreme, and the current lineup of the band was finalized. With Nergal on vocals and guitar, Seth on backing vocals and guitar, Orion of Vesania on bass and vocals, and the genius Inferno on drums, the band finally reached their full potential. They continued to make two more albums where the black metal sound started becoming more prominent, but they were struck with tragedy. Nergal was diagnosed with leukemia, and he entered a protracted battle with the disease. Finally, in 2014, the band returned following Nergal’s triumph over the disease with The Satanist, their tenth album, and they were stronger than ever, and the album was one of their most experimental. Over more than 20 years, Behemoth’s have been defined by catchy death metal riffs, insane drumming, Nergal’s powerful voice, their interesting lyrics (Nergal is a historian and he often co-writes the lyrics with Polish poet Krzysztof Azarewicz), and their extremely polished, disturbing music videos. Their influence is far reaching, and their output is consistenly great. They’ve been subject to legal action in their country of Poland due to the country’s strict religious offense laws, and their theatrical approach to their live shows that involves fireworks and tearing up Bibles have been controversial. So, without further ado, let me present to you the 8-track for Behemoth.
“From The Pagan Vastlands” – Sventevith (Storming Near The Baltic) 
This track is from the band’s debut album Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic). While their earlier black metal output is often neglected due to its, well, more traditionally-black-metal production values, missing out on the music due to that would be a shame, as there are some gems in there. “From The Pagan Vastlands”, which shared a name with the band’s earlier demo, is a neat black metal song that opens with a usual melancholic tremolo picked black metal riff, which then transitions into a riff that’s almost death metal over blast beats, before going back into a more typical black metal chord progression with synths. The band’s death metal ambitions aren’t there yet, but the roots can be seen even in their 1995 debut. They’ve later rerecorded this song adding “2000” to its title, and while they’ve kept the structure intact, the riffing has been altered to fit their modern sound. While the new version is great as well, listening to the original is important to see where the band come from, and it still stands on its own.
“Decade of Therion” – Satanica 
While the band’s first foray into blackened death metal was with their previous album Pandemonic Incantations, they really leaned into it with Satanica. “Antichristian Phenomenon” is the extremely strong opener to that album. It solidified the band’s trademark sound that would influence many bands and become the template to so many other classic songs by the band themselves. After an explosive intro, the blazing fast blast beats and tremolo picking keep the pace going. Soon after we get to the defining riff of the song: the chanting over the syncopated guitars and drums make this song not only ridiculously headbangable, but also extremely memorable, and the song remains a staple of their live set to date. Nergal’s voice also has his traits that would reach their full potential later into their career, namely the yelled, exasperated quality to them that’s beyond just the low growls. All in all, Decade ov Therion is what really opened the door for the rest of the band’s career.
“Antichristian Phenomenon” – Thelema.6 
Although Behemoth’s most acclaimed music is the byproduct of the decade from 2004-2014, their earlier work has a life entirely its own, demonstrated well by this track. Thelema.6 was the first real step forward into the astoundingly epic sound they developed on later albums, following up Satanica, the band’s first real foray into the realm of blackened death metal. The intro to this track shows the fetal version of the works they’d develop later: the organ-sounding synth adds a foreboding sense of atmosphere as the drums fire off in hectic kicks and the guitars march forward in a chuggy rhythm. The band kicks in in full force soon following this great introduction, and it’s here that Behemoth fully shows what they’re capable of on this record: great riffs, fantastically tight work as a band, and great atmosphere. Even though it isn’t the refined, laser-tight fire of their later releases, on Thelema.6 the Satanic trio showcases a diamond in the rough that would later become one of the most valued forces in modern metal.
As Above So Below – Zos Kia Cultus (Here And Beyond) 
For the true fury at the core of Behemoth, one needs to go a bit back in their career. Surely, their earliest works have their own allure but something about the early 2000’s, where the band were caught between genres, has a most endearing quality. The power of their black metal roots is very much still present but tempered with better production quality and an overall execution that leaves nothing to be asked. “As Above So Below”, from the seminal Zos Kia Cultus is a perfect example: the blast beats are furious, Nergal is satanic as can be and the entire track just goes, goes, goes.
Nor are there any unnecessary frills: before their transition, Behemoth were a singular force that steamrolled over anything in its path. The riffs are straight forward and speak right to the stomach, the overall structure drives the message home again and again and the solos are nail-bitingly accurate. Underneath it all, coupled with the screeches and growls, a voice over track lends an eerie and occult feeling to the whole thing. All in all, this track is a very good example of why skipping over this period of Behemoth’s career in favor of their earlier grittiness or later sophistication is a dire mistake.
Slaves Shall Serve – Demigod 
While Behemoth started out as a black metal band, their sound has shifted more towards death metal since their beginnings. This is never more evident than in “Slaves Shall Serve”, not only a testament to the band shifting styles but also a testament to how wildly talented the members are. The tempo is well above 200 BPM, and the band have been able to still pull this song off live even today, which shows that they really haven’t aged at all. No other song on Demigod accurately depicts their death metal sound as well as this, and it has become a landmark song for them, as well as a fan favorite.
The middle breakdown part is straight out of early 1990s Florida, which bands such as Morbid Angel and Death called home. It’s slow, heavy, and has some super fast drum parts over guitars that sound as if you’re marching towards your inevitable demise, dragging thousands of slaves behind you, hoping to at least have one final moment of rest. It is truly one of their best songs, and if you’re a fan of the band, you likely remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard this masterpiece.
Demigod – Demigod 
This is it. This is the zenith of atmosphere in metal, especially in blackened death metal. The battering ram intro riff that leads into crushing section after crushing section slowly pulverizes the listener like an army of enormous demons stomping across the earth. The drums bring ruination to all in their path, the guitars cause any and all audiences to wail and gnash their teeth, and Nergal’s venomous vocals spit torrents of fire at anyone unlucky enough to be in his path. There’s such an enormous sense of scope here, which is what brings the package up from great to fucking insane. The intro horns open the track like they’re the gates of Hell swinging open, and as soon as the armies pour forth and the whole band kicks in, the camera zooms out, showing the full grandiosity of Satan’s kingdom. Short and poignant, not a second feels wasted on these three-and-a-half minutes of torment. As soon as that powerfully minimal solo comes in in the last 30 seconds, everything comes crashing down on the listener as whole continents collapse under the power of the Antichrist. Nothing has ever felt more intensely climactic in such a short time, and it’s probable that nothing ever will.
Inner Sanctum – The Apostasy 
This might be an unconventional choice, seeing as the vocals on this track are mostly guest vocals, but overlooking “Inner Sanctum” from this post would be a dire mistake. For one, those guest vocals belong to Warrel Dane (Nevermore) and that’s always a good thing. Not only that but the track contains some of the best solos of Behemoth’s long career and that’s saying something. Nor are the guest vocals just thrown in; they fit perfectly with the rest of the band, tailored to Dane’s range but also pushing it a bit to create this intoxicating, abrasive mix.
In general, The Apostasy is a fantastic and important album by these giants: it poses them as extremely cohesive and on top of their game, spewing track after track of death metal insanity. Something comes to a head in “Inner Sanctum” however and the track is so self-aware and sure that it has a penetrating power unlike no other. Throw in the melodic guitars near the middle, tie it off with an amazing musical video, and you have one of the best examples of why Behemoth are titans: the complete package of soul-searing hate and rage coupled with artistic integrity on this track is mind-blowing.
At the Left Hand ov God – The Apostasy 
One of Behemoth’s greatest strengths has always been their intense visual aesthetic, and The Apostasy’s “At the Left Hand ov God” is perhaps the genesis of this. Featuring one of the strongest, most fist-pumping riffs on the entire record, this song is filled with incredible moments. Whether it’s Inferno’s calculated blasts and creative fills, the chill-inducing solo during the bridge or Nergal’s passionate bellows, there really isn’t anything to dislike here. Paired with one of the band’s finest videos which includes plenty of Biblical imagery, Nergal floating on top of mountains like a goddamn majestic wizard, loads of writhing and naked people and the band jamming out behind churches on fire, it’s as powerful as it is campy. It doesn’t matter what direction you choose to interpret Behemoth as, it’s still undeniably entertaining. “At the Left Hand ov God” is without a doubt the album’s strongest single track and has become a staple in the band’s set ever since it dropped eight years ago.
Ov Fire, And The Void – Evangelion 
Behemoth have had quite the stylistic arc through their long career, but it was their releases of the 2000s that truly made them a force to be reckoned with in death metal or otherwise. Capping off the run of excellent albums was 2009’s Evangelion, which maintained the blast-furnace intensity the band were then known for while adding in a touch of subtle atmospheric elements over the fury beneath — an aspect of their sound that the band would indeed go all out with on the very-nearly-ill-fated followup The Satanist. While not necessarily the most atmospheric and experimental on the album — that honour goes to the majestic closing track that is “Lucifer” — “Ov Fire and the Void” is a landmark in itself for the band, packing together ideas breathtaking in their scope into one cohesive four-minute package. With each of Nergal’s roars of “I” over the sprawling initial verse and passages to follow, the song absolutely destroys everything in its path moving forward, unrelenting yet highly methodical all the way through. But what makes “Ov Fire and the Void” truly special is how it stops to breathe when it needs to before launching back in at just the right moment with twice the weight, and Nergal’s accompanying almost-sermon is all the more powerful for it. Let it be written; let it be done.
O Father O Satan O Sun – The Satanist 
When it comes to unraveling the sound of a modernized Behemoth, look no further than The Satanist’s epic finale “O Father O Satan O Sun!”. Through a triumphant chord progression (which open-minded fans may recognize as the same propulsive force behind Coheed and Cambria‘s “Welcome Home”) and nuanced atmosphere, Behemoth’s sense of grandiosity is put on display in a way that the band hasn’t done much of before. The dark turn in the track’s second half and the spoken-word vocal style also conjures an apocalyptic nature, a fitting pay-off for the track’s preceding rise. Assuming “O Father” is indicative of Behemoth’s future sound, we could be looking at a more pensive death metal act that is more enthused by dynamic and songwriting than being aggressively brutal and confrontational. Of course, it’s ridiculous to expect Behemoth to drop the over-the-top Satan theatrics that make them the Behemoth we all know and love, but it’s nice to know that there’s more to Behemoth than blastbeats and a fascination with the occult.