Creating a critically acclaimed classic album can be an albatross around the neck of a band. The follow up carries an unfathomable burden of expectation. Oftentimes, even when the next release is as spectacular a piece of work, it is unfairly judged and perceived as less worthy than it actually is. Tool’s 10,000 Days suffered from following Lateralus, Unto the Locust by Machine Head had the unenviable task of succeeding The Blackening, Load came in the wake of The Black Album. So, Polish blackened death metal superstars, Behemoth, have a hell of a job on their hands bettering the legacy of 2014’s universally adored The Satanist. Have they managed it?
Opening with a children’s choir – rarely a good move for a band – I Loved You at Your Darkest sets out early to prove that it will not be a musical continuation of The Satanist. Instead it is a balancing act between it and previous release Evangelion. The children’s choir is seemingly a response to the allegations of sexual misconduct that have arisen within the Catholic Church since the previous album’s release. Don’t worry, Behemoth are still as blasphemous as one would expect. A wry bit of satire to reassure the listener. This blasphemous ideation does result in some almost parodic song titles: God = Dog and If Crucifixion Was Not Enough being prime examples. However, as always, Nergal’s lyrical approach is fiercely intelligent. He isn’t anti-religious as a fashion statement, but because it is an ideology ingrained in him through his consent-less Catholic upbringing.
The album title itself is a witty subversion. Serving as what could easily have been appropriated by a mid 00s emo band, it is actually a direct quote from the Bible. Nergal et al are making sure to twist the knife they have so deeply dug in for the entirety of their career. Using his enemies’ weapon against them is a masterful stroke from the band, and yet another reason the album should be lauded as near-perfect. This is metal with brains as well as brawn.
Musically, the album has elements of black metal, Wolves of Siberia and Rom 5:8 being particularly wiry. There is something more to ILYAYD beyond the same old style though. Taking cues more from the world of rock than black metal, the album’s borderline bluesy approach serves as a death ‘n’ roll creation. This is most evident in third single, Bartzabel. A lumbering ode to the Kabbalistic demon spirit of Mars, the song waxes and wanes in its growing intensity, built around a baritone choir uttering the refrain ‘Come unto me Bartzabel’. A chilling phrase that will lead to many sore throats in the live environment.
The album’s push and pull between its heavier and folk influence makes for an exhilarating listen. The finale, We Are the Next 1000 Years, and epilogue, Coagvla, are a bombastic and grandiose summation of the journey the triumvirate have taken you on. A perfect footnote to an expertly crafted, artistic wonder.
So, back to the main question at hand: have Behemoth created a worthy successor to The Satanist? Absolutely. Is it better? No, but it’s not far off, and expecting anything more would be foolish. Despite this, I Loved You at Your Darkest will take its rightful place in the pantheon of the greatest albums of the decade.