Behemoth beautifully hit their extreme metal apex on 2014's The Satanist and are now beginning the long, slow walk away from their blast-laden past. The band certainly honors their roots on I Loved You At Your Darkest, but don't expect an album on the same level of vitriolic musical fury as the past few records. Or as frontman Nergal said regarding his headspace when writing the new record, "15 years ago, if you had asked me who I thought was the best band on the planet, I probably would have said Mayhem or Morbid Angel. Today if you asked me, I’d say AC/DC."
I Loved You At Your Darkest is very much a transitional album for Behemoth. The band explores d-beat punkiness on "If Crucifixion Was Not Enough," straightforward, moody rock-tinged heresy on "Bartzabel" and even gets the slightest bit progressive with the jarring time-and-feel change on the second half of "Angelvs XIII." It's interesting to hear Behemoth split their time between blasting away and going off on blatantly non-extreme tangents, especially with the latter being as fruitful as they are.
Going along with the stylistic changes are the presence of gloomy choirs portending doom on songs like "Bartzabel" and "Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica." The role of the choirs isn't to usher in dread overtop Behemoth barreling out of your speakers at full speed as they would've on Evangelion or The Satanist. Instead, they're purposefully written as a key part of the song that adds a very certain layer of religious ruin and unease to the music.
Behemoth isn't trying to bring a meteoric aural apocalypse and everyone you love anymore—they're calming. They're informing you that the final days are inevitable and no God can save you. As the choirs chant in empty rooms, horns gently tear and stab at your ears, and Behemoth powers the ancient machinations of the end under gathering clouds and the distant rolling thunder of their driving hymns, all you can do is sit and quietly ponder your now-spent mortality. I Loved You At Your Darkest is calmly reassuring in that sense.
The album has some of Behemoth's best and most enticing material to date, namely everything from "Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica" to "Sabbath Mater." Those five songs perfectly encapsulate what Behemoth strives for in 2018. Each song is varying degrees of restrained and furious writing, and instead, they channel their anger toward more tactful compositions instead of all-out audible war. Not to say that each one of the five tracks strays miles from familiar ground—the opening salvos of "Angelvs XIII" will make most black metal bands hang their heads in shame—but songs like "Sabbath Mater" perfectly blend Behemoth's blackened wrath with a straightforward rock approach. The end result is undeniably fantastic.
There are some bumps in the road with I Loved You At Your Darkest, first and foremost being the irritatingly cheesy kids' choir on "Solve" and "God=Dog." It's a distracting layer from an otherwise solid track for "God=Dog," and it misrepresents the album when "Solve" opens with it. Aside from being questionably out of place and detracting from the music, it seems like at least part of the reason they're on the record is to be a statement; to retaliate against the Polish right-wing populist, national-conservative, and Christian democratic political party Law and Justice (PiS).
It also doesn't help that "Solve" is just a stitched-together amalgamation of the first few tracks on I Loved You At Your Darkest. It also goes nowhere and transitions poorly into by the not-at-all similar "Wolves Ov Siberia." The two opening tracks play as if the record is tripping over itself trying to make two simultaneous points while forgetting what the first one was halfway through its sentence. At least between "We Are The Next 1,000 Years" and closer "Coagvla" there's a bit of a pause and threads of dispositional relevance run between them—they feel like they work together to wrap things up.
This thematic dissonance also comes up in the album's longest song, "Havohej Pantocrator." Behemoth writes a great, hypnotic hymn to the anti-god and then halfway through decides it's time for more black metal after a small break thrown in to bridge the gap. Which feels a little weird to say when reviewing a Behemoth record, but the band has done such a spectacular job introducing extraneous elements on I Loved You At Your Darkest that you almost wish they'd just stick to them to see what new godless voids they lead into. Or at least work in more natural transitions.
Aside from a few hiccups in the overall flow of the songs and record, I Loved You At Your Darkest is good. Fans looking for Behemoth to tear their heads off will love "Wolves Ov Siberia" and "Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica," while those interested in watching the band progress will pretty much dig the record front to back. I Loved You At Your Darkest is the record that, given Behemoth continues their current trend of slowly stepping away from corpse paint music, we'll look back on and pinpoint as the moment the machine began turning.
You'll come back to I Loved You At Your Darkest over the next few years, as will I, because it's a solid listen that showcases a band stretching out its leathery wings and taking flight beyond the fire and brimstone, out of the mouth of the cave and to a pulpit to eloquently preach the end of times.