Opvs Contra Natvram
Review by Fernando on September 19, 2022.
Ah yes, Behemoth are back again for album no. 12 Opvs Contra Natvram. Ever since 2018's I Loved You At Your Darkest, Behemoth has become one of those bands that a lot of metalheads decided it was ok to hate, mostly because of Nergal being Nergal on social media but that's besides the point. So, in regards to this new album, is the "Metallica of black metal" truly a husk of its former self, or does the band still manage to reinvent itself as Nergal often claims he actively strives for?
Well, one thing that's apparent from the get go after the opening track 'Post-God Nirvana' is that the Behemoth are returning to the pure aggression of Evangelion and keeping the grandiosity of The Satanist, while still trying different things, albeit on a much reduced scale than their oft maligned 2018 record. Tracks like 'Malaria Vulgata', 'The Deathless Sun', 'Neo-Spartacus', 'Disinheritance' and 'Thy Becoming Eternal' are the most blackened death metal songs the band has wrote since 2014, and even 2007 if you ask their biggest detractors. On the bright side this shows how the band are still capable of making pure, uncut metal with no bullshit, but on the flipside it also does justify the biggest criticisms ILYAYD got, which how the band have already peaked and can't do anything else or really new. Fortunately, the band still have some tricks up their sleeves with the rest of the songs. The singles 'Ov My Herculean Exile' and 'Off to War!' display how the band continue to master the combination of atmosphere and melody they had in 2014, and are further strengthened by the pivot into pure metal the aforementioned tracks displayed.
Furthermore, despite focusing more on metal and aggression overall, the whole album plays off like a sampler of the best qualities of the band since 2007's The Apostasy, with a good balance of brutality, atmosphere and more symphonic elements to make the album dynamic and eclectic. And at the same time, the band do manage to embrace new elements, continuing with their off-kilter experimentation, and in my opinion the best tracks of the record 'Once Upon A Pale Horse' and the closer 'Versus Christus' which are the biggest curveballs, the former with prog-like riffing melodies and the latter with minimalist and sparse, piano driven death march and Nergal bringing crooning to the mix and just keeps building momentum until bursts of pure metal. All in all, this is easily the band's most eclectic album, with curveball after curveball in a consistent and well paced presentation.
However, and this is starting to become a trend with Behemoth there's two major issues. The first and big one is that the band while capable of manifesting good ideas after 30 years, they're still drawing from The Satanist well, to the point where its sorta becoming a crutch (which in itself wouldn't be a problem if the band's sound and presentation wasn't so uniform with that single record) and the other lesser issue is how the band seems to cap themselves from doing more. They present interesting ideas and deviations, they manage to make them work with past convention which does work well, but they stop before breaking an actual threshold, in this case, they either realized that they won't ever be able to do an album like The Satanist, or purposefully avoid wanting to break away from what people have told them to their face is "the greatest extreme metal album of the past decade".
Overall, while this is a good record I can easily recommend, I do start to understand the frustration many have with Behemoth, at least musically. They are capable of doing more, but don't take that one extra step, and after a dozen albums, its possible they won't take that step, or feel like they don't have to, which is a bit of a disappointment in the present that can snowball into bigger issues into the future. I hope I'm wrong, but only time will tell.
Best tracks: 'The Deathless Sun', 'Neo-Spartacus', 'Once Upon A Pale Horse', 'Versus Christus'
Rating: 7.9 out of 10140