Thursday, October 4, 2012

Behemoth - ...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.