So, on one hand, Behemoth are about as cool and "real" to me as Cradle of Filth--viz., not at all. On the other hand, their sound is instantly recognizable, which makes no sense, because all death metal bands sound the same. Well, for some reason, Behemoth really have their own thing going, a unique style they keep up even at the fastest speeds, and without wussing-out ever. (Nile might also be said to have a unique death metal style, but... that seems mostly to consist in flutes and gongs. I'll have a Nile review up soon.)
The most instantly-appreciable aspect of any extreme metal album is its production, and Behemoth depart from most death metal in not turning their guitar sound into the sound of a garbage-truck passing by in the night (Entombed), or the logical next step, turning the entire record into that sound (Nile). On one hand, I appreciate that Behemoth don't try to accomplish the entire effect of their album with the production--here it is audible, clear, unintimidating--but on the other hand, having grown accustomed to metal production, I think this could be heavier... In any case, nothing about the production lets the music "jump out," and it may be over-polished while allowing everything to be heard. But don't be ridiculous: in the finest tradition of metal, of course you can't hear the bassist!
I've listened to this album more than most nowadays death metal that comes my way, and there is some negative praise to lavish upon it: "thankfully devoid of metalcore," "not too long," "the embarrassing art and image don't contaminate the music," etc. But that is not the goal of this blog!
What is "mood" in death metal? Usually this only comes out in intros, solos, and other parts reserved especially for melody. Mood can exist outside of melody--irrational and angry moods--but our idea of mood in music is some combination of tempo, harmony, melody, and tone. All of black metal is arguably an exercise in mood. Death metal is not a "moody" genre, but Behemoth HAVE a mood: austere mystery; aloofness. This is not an "image," it truly comes out in the music, which has an antiquarian, studious quality. But this is not an INTERESTING or even engaging mood. Sadness, joy, plaintiveness, ecstasy: Behemoth doesn't trade in any of these. Instead there is 40 minutes of sterile contempt.
There is a lot of talk about classical music in metal. Mood is perhaps the one thing that classical music does best, and in order to truly grasp the essence of the great music of the past, theory and proficiency are not enough--there is the human element, mood, which Behemoth have carefully avoided in making this impressively robotic album.
Score: 2.5/5 stars (** 1/2)
Best songs: "Before the Acons Came," "Conquer All"