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...From the Pagan Vastlands (1994)
 

Behemoth is a band best known for playing extremely modern Death Metal, complete with slick production and and overall soulless vibe. However, as most should know, they actually began their career as a Black Metal band. These Poles were not the most original songwriters, but neither were 90% of the bands that joined this scene around the same time. My first exposure to this band being their sophomore effort, Grom, I was not impressed in the slightest. However, I later gave them another chance and went back even further. Released in early 1994, ...From the Pagan Vastlands seems to have been around the point where Behemoth peaked.

This demo is, more or less, exactly what one would expect to be recorded by young and impressionable Black Metal musicians around this time. The material is not unique, in the slightest, and clearly betrays Behemoth's influences. Like countless others at the time, this band was taking its cues from the Norwegians. These guys did their best to imitate what they heard and to create a similar feeling with their own music. These guys were obviously big Emperor fans and the songwriting shows this. Many of the riffs and overall song structures sound highly influenced by Wrath of the Tyrant and the Emperor E.P. Similar patterns can be found here, with the material rarely showing any real connection with the old school bands from the '80s. This is an early example of a band having no link to the past, at all, and merely copying their contemporaries. Despite doing a decent job in emulating the Norwegians, ...From the Pagan Vastlands fails to create much of an atmosphere, of any kind. The riffs lack substance, in most cases. The guitar melodies fail to conjure up a feeling of darkness, at any point throughout the recording. While this is a solid representation of Second Wave Black Metal, it comes off as more of a caricature that lacks any sense of sincerity in the songwriting department. One can at least appreciate it in terms of style, but the fact is that it lacks an identity of its own and seems rather insignificant. Not only does it all seem as if it has been heard before, one immediately recognizes that it has been done much better.

Behemoth did show a little potential, here, at any rate. They were clearly capable of handling their instruments. Nergal's vocals fit the music well, sounding somewhat like a mix between Abbath's work on Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism and Grutle's approach on the early Enslaved material. He possesses a raw and hateful sound that could have been developed into something more useful. There is also a bit of synth utilized, which is done in a more tasteful manner than what many were beginning to do around this time. Regarding this, there is a clear Graveland vibe, here and there, that should surprise no one as Rob Darken assisted with this demo. It is a shame that he did not speak up a little more, to help lead these kids to put more effort into what they were doing and to try making this sound dark or evil in some manner.

The production is somewhat good for a demo, though still generally poor. The most offensive problem is that the guitar tone is very soft and non-threatening. There is no edge to it, at all. It sounds very smooth and safe. Black Metal should never sound this way. The vocals are at a good level in the mix, allowing Nergal's voice to be heard well enough without overpowering the rest or causing the music to drop out. As for the drumming, this is far too high in the mix. The drum sound, in general, is terrible and sounds like a drum machine was used. This is detrimental to the overall feel of the demo and should have been concealed in some manner. Either the drumming is fake, or it just sounds that way. Regardless, the same effect is present and it does not help.

All in all, if this is the high point of Behemoth's existence, it is pretty safe to say that this Polish band could have never formed and it would have been no loss, whatsoever. Obviously, ...From the Pagan Vastlands is superior to all of the modern material that the band is best known for, that does not necessarily make it good. It is very average and fails to really deliver in the way that even other worshipers of the northern sound were doing, around the same time. The only real value in this is the simple curiosity of hearing these guys play real Black Metal. Otherwise, it's fairly useless.
 
(4 Oct. 2012)

 
 

Offered up in August 1994, And the Forests Dream Eternally is the first official release from Behemoth. This E.P. shows the band's continued development, as they got deeper into the underground and learned of more bands to mimic. That appears to be the case as, though some minor improvements have been made, this still suffers from a total lack of originality. The material still suffers from a certain level of inconsistency and comes off as being rather generic, but it was a step in the right direction.

Musically, one gets the feeling that Behemoth went beyond their Emperor collection when writing these songs. It would seem that they began listening to a bit of Darkthrone and Immortal, by this point, as some hints of those bands and even a filtered Bathory influence is detectable. This is most clearly heard on "Moonspell Rites", a more mid-paced track that features a fairly epic guitar solo. The solos found on this E.P. help add something to the music and reminds that Black Metal could still benefit from the inclusion of such things. "Pure Evil and Hate" shows the band reaching back to the '80s and incorporating more of a Motörhead approach into things, though one must wonder if they were listening to any old bands or simply picked up on the same influences from more contemporary sources. The songwriting is much more interesting but really seems to be all over the place, with a lack of consistency from one track to the next. The band's youth and inexperience is still showing through, at this point. It almost sounds as if each song was written by a separate band. The differences are subtle enough that it is not a major concern, but it is something that many will likely pick up on. However, the overall quality of the riffs is higher than before, with most of these songs actually able to create a cold and dark feeling. Though as Behemoth put forth more effort in writing the music, other things were neglected. For one, Nergal's vocals took a turn for the worse and sound more puked than before. His voice was just fine on ...From the Pagan Vastlands and needed no change. Here, it just comes off as overly strained.

The production shows a bit of improvement, as the guitars finally possess a little bit of a rough edge. One of the key weaknesses of the previous demo was the soft and subdued guitar tone. It is commendable that they were able to recognize this flaw and to avoid repeating the same mistake. Unfortunately, such attention was not given to the remaining elements. The drum sound is awful, with the snare seeming particularly hollow. With this being too loud in the mix, it tends to distract from the guitars, at times. This is more of an issue during the faster parts. Also worthy of complaint is the bass guitar. It is far too noticeable and should have been lower in the mix. It adds this irritating rumble that does absolutely nothing to add to the atmosphere.

And the Forests Dream Eternally is a rather successful E.P. in that it shows Behemoth making some improvements. The end result is still a bit generic and lacks a true sense of cohesiveness, but it has its moments. The band still seems unable to do anything particularly original and to put their own stamp on the music, but that does not mean that it is not enjoyable, at times. Sadly for them, they never truly found their own identity as musicians and continued floating from one style to another, though gaining more notoriety as they later found the right trend to hop on. With this release, one can look back and see what might have been.
 
(5 Oct. 2012)

 
 

Behemoth is a band that has suffered many missteps, throughout the years. Formed in 1991, this Polish musical entity was born out of the desire to join a scene rather than any real sense of creativity. While many of the early Norwegian bands were keeping alive the spirit of the First Wave bands, they also infused their music with something unique and thus added something to Black Metal. Even in the same country, several different bands managed to create similar yet separate identities. In countries like Sweden, Finland and even Greece, the different scenes were able to develop their own sound, despite the noticeable influences from Norway. However, in many other countries, they failed to do anything special. Poland's Black Metal underground yielded nothing so special. Even early Graveland stands more as a tribute to Darken's musical tastes than as anything significant. In the case of Behemoth, there was even less reason for this band's existence. Nergal and his mates just wanted to mimic their favourite bands and to put out music for the sake of it, as opposed to being possessed by the black flame and being utterly compelled to do so.

Sventevith is the first L.P. from Behemoth, released by Pagan Records in April 1995. These guys were not only average imitators, but they were rather late to the party as well. By this point, tons of bands were springing up from all over and doing their best to release their own Norwegian Black Metal albums, regardless of where they were from. While some did better than others, Behemoth's first full-length could not even match up to their own previous releases. One of the main problems is the overall sound. While there is nothing wrong with having shoddy production, this is a bit inconsistent and unbalanced. Much like on And the Forests Dream Eternally, the guitar tone suits the music well and possesses a cold and rough edge to it. The issue is that the guitars seem too low in the mix while everything else is too high. The drumming is too loud, at times, which is a problem that the band never bothered to address. Much worse than this, the synth and acoustic guitars are way too high in the mix, when used. These elements do not add all that much to the atmosphere anyway, but if they were completely necessary they should have been mixed in a more natural way. As it stands, they seem totally out of place and do not blend in with the rest. For the guitars and vocals to take a back seat to everything else is a pretty grievous error and does a lot to give this album a weak feeling.

This is compounded by the fact that the songwriting is so unfocused. Rather than just attempting to go for a straightforward Black Metal approach, Behemoth was already trying to experiment with additional elements and failed at making them in any way relevant to the rest of the composition. From the moment "Chant of the Eastern Lands" bursts forth from the speakers, the cold and grim gitar sound is undermined by the useless inclusion of acoustics and the keyboards that soon join in. Unlike bands such as Immortal or even Satyricon, Behemoth hardly knew what they were doing and utilized these additional bits to the detriment of the album, as a whole. The few instrumental tracks only clutter up the L.P. further. They would have been better off opting for a more simplistic approach. Even without the synth and so on, the songs are rather weak. At times, they meander along with no real direction. The band was at least trying to do something more with themselves, but were quite incapable. It is clear that these guys were still infatuated with the Norwegian sound, particularly that of Emperor. From the guitar riffs to the drumming patterns and even the vocal placement, it is clear that Nergal took a lot of notes when listening to In the Nightside Eclipse. Unfortunately, many of these notes also included the increased use of keyboards, which serve as a crutch much of the time. The problem with this is twofold, as the synth is worthless and the supporting riffs are equally as ineffective. Whereas the material on the previous E.P. showed the beginnings of Behemoth's ability to create a bit of a cold and dark atmosphere, this is almost completely lacking on Sventevith. Other than the occasional decent tremolo melody, the most enjoyable aspect of this record is the vocal work, which is very reminiscent of what Nattefrost did on the Carpathian Forest track "Journey Through the Cold Moors of Svarttjern", released the same year. Nergal uses somewhat of a tortured shriek that really would have benefited from music of a more sombre and epic nature. Instead, his horrible screams are wasted as a result of the boring songwriting. The band struggled so hard to come up with ideas for a full album that, apart from the pointless instrumentals, they also included a song from the E.P. Rather than at least re-recording it, they took the exact same version from the previous release and tacked it onto the end.

In the end, Behemoth's first record is a huge disappointment. That is, it would be if you bothered coming into it with any sort of expectations. This is lower-tier Norse-worship, at best, and poorly executed. This doesn't even match up to lesser Norwegian bands such as Dødheimsgard, to be honest. Sventevith is generic and uneventful, lacking any real point of interest. The only half-decent song on here is "Wolves Guard My Coffin", and this even sounds as something that has been heard a hundred times before and loses steam before it concludes. If you are really curious about this band's Black Metal past, seek out the previous releases as this one will most likely put you to sleep. Avoid this and anything else that Behemoth ever went on to record.
 
(6 Oct. 2012)
















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