Behemoth – In Absentia Dei

As the live music drought carries from Spring through to Summer and now Autumn, Behemoth blazed the trail – quite literally – for its return with a groundbreaking immersive live stream from a gothic church in their native Poland. Paul Castles socially distanced while seated on the front row pews.

Six months ago most of us probably would have looked non-plussed if invited to ‘attend’ a virtual concert stream. Now it’s become almost de rigueur as bands large and small have admirably done their creative best to innovate and come up with new ways to quench the insatiable thirst of fans desperate for the adrenalin hit of a live music experience.

While no-one’s kiddin’ themselves that this is the future of live music, for now it’s more or less all we’ve got. Few though have delivered things quite on the scale of black metal juggernaut Behemoth, whose In Absentia Dei performance from a derelict Polish church took on the size and feel and atmosphere of a full-scale Hollywood cinemascope production.

From the opening dynamic sequence of the four horsemen of the apocalypse riding into battle, through to a full pyro experience complete with a semi-naked woman gruesomely suspended under her own weight from high up in the rafters, this was Behemoth – and Nergal in particular – at his controversial best as he determined to give a captivated global online audience full value for their bucks, the concert experience even generating its own merch complete with downloadable souvenir ticket.

Once inside the gothic walls of the unnamed church located in a remote spot in Pisarzowice, the Polish heavyweights opened this most special of sermons with the pounding ‘Evoe’ before the small stage took on a purple haze for the epic ‘Wolves ov Siberia’.

In keeping with the theological theme, Behemoth split the show up into four ‘Acts’, professionally captured by cameras from a variety of angles, those from outside the crumbling barricades helping to create an additional feel of space as the tree branches occasionally extended in through the open windows.

The small stage made for a more intimate feel than we’re used to seeing Nergal perform on thesedays, and all four artists seemed to relish the experience, Orion and Seth at one point scrambling over a few boulders to extend further into the belly of the church. By the time the curtain fell on Act I closer ‘From the Pagan Vastlands’ it was evident that Behemoth were intent on making In Absentia Dei a piece of blackened art that would stand up under close scrutiny for years to come.

You did need a pretty strong stomach not to flinch when hefty metal hooks were piercing the skin of a young woman

The swaying of a Russian Orthodox hand censer, dispensing its smoky entrails, was the perfect introduction to the fist-pumping opening of ‘Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel’ and the theatrics were quite literally elevated to new heights on ‘Antichristian Phenomenon’ during which a female acrobat was precariously suspended from the rafters on little more than a hoola hoop. Looking down the eye of the lens, Nergal also briefly addressed the online audience before launching into ‘Conquer All’.

You did need a pretty strong stomach not to flinch when hefty metal hooks were piercing the skin of a young woman, who was then hoisted in angelic form high above the stage, suspended under the weight of her own by now bleeding body, while below Behemoth started Act III with ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ – the power and the kingdom indeed. ‘Ov Fire and the Void’ made for a mid-set highlight, closely followed by ‘Chant for Ezkaton’ which Nergal finished with a hearty ‘Hail Satan’!

With Act IV essentially the encore, Behemoth’s triple-pronged flaming upturned crosses flanked either side of the stage during ‘Sculpting the Throne of Seth’ before Nergal donned his resplendent papal robes and mitre for one of Behemoth’s most melodic songs, in the form of ‘Bartzabel,’ Orion and Seth almost doubling up as crooning backing singers.

As flames appeared set to completely envelope the old church, the distinctive intro to ‘O Father O Satan O Sun’ started up for a magnificent climax. Nergal has had plenty of run-ins with the Polish authorities down the years and this blasphemous display on consecrated soil will further rile them. For the Behemoth disciples though this was a celebratory spectacle that will live long in the memory, providing as it did, some welcome respite from these dark days for all fans of live music.

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