Saturday, October 6, 2012

Behemoth - Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic) (1995)

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.