Behemoth have always been a band with something to say. How they say it has changed over time, but they have always had a message, a drive, ambition. Be it their rebellion against the conservative Polish culture, frontman Nergal’s battle with leukemia, or institutional religion in general, they’ve always had an edge. With any artist who is quite a ways into their career, they often run the risk of having their reality being overwritten by their aesthetic. Behemoth have always been in charge of their aesthetic. From their fantastic album art and exemplary music videos to their coordinated live performances, their thing has always been “the whole experience”. While this is kind of a genre staple for black metal, few other bands have had the dedication and budget to do it to the extent Behemoth have. All of this is to say that there’s so much going on with Behemoth, so many things riding on every aspect of their work, that it’s surprising nothing has gone wrong yet. Well, enter I Loved You At Your Darkest.
On paper, the idea is sound. An album that’s even more dedicated to the introspective strain that the band introduced in 2014’s The Satanist. Up until this point, every album title has been some sort of fantastical reference, a grandiose gesture. Instead, we have an incredibly personal title here, which could set the tone for a much deeper, emotional album. I fully believe that Behemoth are actually capable of delivering such a record. This is not it, though. Instead, we’re facing what seems to be an identity crisis here. Instead of being in sync with their aesthetic, Behemoth finally feel defined by it. It’s hard not to roll eyes at the title of the lead single, “GOD=DOG”. Transgression and extremity is not anything new to the Polish virtuosos, but that title is just edgy instead of having an edge. Nergal has so much in his repertoire to convey the idea more eloquently. And even with an intent to shock, it just comes off as corny. And that criticism generally applies to I Loved You At Your Darkest. Not that it’s puerile in its edginess, but that it is executed in ways where Behemoth clearly are capable of doing better. The message is muddled, the songwriting is uninspired, and overall it’s hard to get excited about.
The issue isn’t that the album is bad or anything. ILYAYD is exceedingly competent, with solid writing, and Nergal’s vocal performance is still top notch. It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be a spark behind it. Many songs feel like retreads of territory explored better in The Satanist, or partially Evangelion. Some riffs feel like straight up re-interpretations of “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” or “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel.” Others feel like hollow phone-ins that any black metal band could have come up with. For the first time, a Behemoth album doesn’t excite, doesn’t surprise. There are moments where they hint at more, with some slow acoustic sections or some additional synth instrumentation, but all of that still doesn’t really come together. The grandiose feel that every other release from this band incites in the listener just isn’t there. Other cliche elements like a child choir are overused. If not for Inferno, who is hands down one of the best drummers in metal, parts of this album would be straight up tedious to listen to. That’s not to say there aren’t some great sections, but no song as a whole really shines, and even the best moments feel like retreads of better Behemoth albums.
In the end, I Loved You At Your Darkest is a flat album from a band whose entire identity was based on being anything but. It’s not bad, it will still appease fans who just wanted more Behemoth, but it’s not an achievement to be particularly proud of, and The Satanist is just straight up better in every respect. Perhaps the album title is a call to fans, asking us to love Behemoth even at their worst. To be fair, the worst of Behemoth is still leagues above most other bands, but that high bar is exactly why this album disappoints.