In the time that has passed since the release of Behemoth's 2009 album Evangelion, band leader Nergal overcame a life-threatening leukemia scare, avoided prison time after blasphemy charges in his home country of Poland were dropped, and got let go from a gig as a judge on the Polish version of The Voice due to concern over his anti-religion statements and actions.
Prior to all of this going down, the Polish death metal titans had already carved out a reputation as one of the most overtly anti-religion bands in the scene. The experiences of beating leukemia and the Polish government have only strengthened Nergal's resolve in his beliefs.
“As human beings, we have our limits,” he tells us. “We're blocked in many ways, and a lot of times we're not always aware of that. Sometimes we avoid those blocks so we can get to our goals in life via the easiest way possible. When you are free from these limitations though… I'm now more open than I ever have been in my life. If I was assertive before, I am three times more assertive these days.”
During our conversation, however, Nergal is very careful to express his feelings against religion not in terms of hate, but in terms of a quest for freedom.
“[What we do] isn't just about celebrating music. It's about celebrating freedom. Freedom has many names, and freedom has many faces. We consider Behemoth a conduit of freedom.”
But this quest for freedom isn't coming easy. Their current U.S. tour — which hits House of Blues in Hollywood tonight — has already had controversy. According to Nergal, the promoter of their first stop in Columbus, Ohio pulled the plug on the show, citing his own religious beliefs as the reason.
“That was just ridiculous,” Nergal says. “The promoter signed us for the tour three months ago. I mean, we have a band on the bill called The Devil's Blood. That says it all right there! And then a few weeks before he says 'I'm a religious person. I can't have these savages playing my venue.'”
Nergal is also outspoken on Christians in heavy metal. Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine was in the news earlier this year for his crusade against gay marriage; he also said some quite outlandish things to us. Nergal says he's quite confused how a metal musician or fan can identify as Christian.
“Everyone has their reasons for getting involved with metal music. To me, it was the rebellious spirit, attitude, and life philosophy of this music. Being Christian in this genre just seems against that. There are religious people in metal that we deal with. That's fucked up and crazy to me. But I'm sure when you talk to Dave Mustaine, he'll give you the opposite angle of the situation.”
In the end though, Nergal still welcomes fans and colleagues of all faiths and beliefs.
“There are people that are huge Behemoth fans, but when you look at their life code and their philosophies, they stand on the other side of the barricade yet they like the music that we do. The biggest compliment I can get is from people that see us and have no clue of what we do, or have opposite opinions to us, but they'll talk about how our energy was undeniable. “