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Behemoth - Chaotica: The Essence of The Underground Anthology Review

by Mark Hensch

Few bands in the heavy metal genre deserve to be anthology subjects as much as Poland's Behemoth do. Formed in 1991, the band has seen such a vast amount of roster changes, genre evolutions, and dramatic musical moments that to ignore documenting them would be near sinful in nature. The reason for this is that Behemoth is The Essence of the Underground this anthology trumpets them to be; Behemoth are a band that has seen the rise of black metal, the emergence of a strong Eastern European metal scene, the return of death metal's popularity, and the rise of commercial touring culture. Through it all, they've been there constantly, dark flames keeping the spirit of pagan courage and evil alive in oh-so-many guises and forms. This myriad of styles and eras makes Behemoth particularly intriguing for a retrospective, and this anthology shines with gloriously remastered metal history. There is something for everyone here, and I'll be damned if these two discs don't win somebody over somewhere in their almost-absurd 142 minutes.

The first disc is especially notable for its excellent recollection of Behemoth's now-legendary black metal period. The first disc is a time capsule containing the band's breakthrough works, namely And the Forests Dream Eternally, the much heralded Slavonic-black metal EP, and first full-length Sventithe (Storming Near the Baltic). Sventithe---despite its later recording---crops up here first, and after several listens it is easy to see why this is such an important album in BM subculture. Few bands before them had dared to approach BM with such Slavonic roots and heathenistic pride amidst furious speed and Eastern-influenced melody. Though nowadays BM in this vein is becoming increasingly common, if one contrasts this disc (originally put forth in 1995) with similar works from the Scandinavian quarter of this time, it becomes readily apparent that Sventithe marked a break with Western Europe's black metal scene. Songs like "Chant of the Eastern Lands" and "Hidden in Fog" contain vampiric darkness which saps rather than chills; if the Norwegians made BM to chill your bones, the Poles in Behemoth have made it to suck your blood. There is something much warmer about the slicing riffs and lush, filthy distortion that is used here. And the Forests Dream Eternally is meanwhile my personal favorite album of the anthology, and maybe even Behemoth's entire catalog; there was a sort of utterly heathen chaos and disdain present in those recordings that can simply only be captured by accident. Though time and success has turned Behemoth into a much different breed of monster, And the Forests is one of the most all-around wicked black metal EPs from the 1990's, and essential to a metalhead's collection.

The shorter second disc is no less essential, with 1996's Grom LP leading the unholy charge. Grom is considered by many the height of Behemoth's career; it is the last moment the band held steadfast to their black metal origins before taking the equally successful brutal death metal route they travel currently. The band had already begun planting seeds of their metamorphosis here; the bass is much thicker and planted in the forefront, adding extra weight and depth, and the percussion is simply bone-shattering. Guitarist Nergal's dank, foetid riffs are still here, but sound that much better as the production values on Grom exceed those of previous efforts, and the band experiments with prolonged periods of Eastern-European folk fingerpicking and even some haunting female vocals in "The Dark Forest (Cast Me Your Spell)." It is exceedingly weird hearing the band indulging in massive symphonic effects for "Dragon's Lair (Cosmic Flames and Four Barbaric Seasons)" but it works out very well. Grom as a whole is much more subtle than its older brethren, and contains larger traces of effortless melody as well. Seeing as such fiery licks are now Nergal's forte, it is interesting seeing him develop into his own on Grom.

The anthology closes after Grom with a collection of B-sides (the ripping "Total Disaster" and the biting cold of "Frozen Moon"), one of my all-time favorite Behemoth tracks ("With Spell of Inferno---Mefisto"), and alternate takes of "Hidden in Fog" and "Sventithe (Storming Near the Baltic)." None of it is essential, but all of it is incredibly solid; you could get these on other albums, but either way these are some fantastic tunes and definitely a must for fans of the band or metal in general.

Chaotica in many ways is the closing of a door; Behemoth has left behind all traces of their blackened heritage for the equally brutal climes of death metal. Regardless of how this makes fans feel, haters and new converts alike can all rejoice in this, a well-researched and definitive look back at Behemoth's early days. The Essence of the Underground succeeds where so many retrospectives have failed; it legitimately captures the zeitgeist and frame of reference which initially spawned its subject band in the first place. Highly recommended.

Track Listing
Disc One
(Sventithe---Storming Near the Baltic LP---1995)
1. Chant of the Eastern Lands
2. The Touch of Nya
3. From the Pagan Vastlands
4. Hidden in Fog
5. Ancient
6. Entering the Faustian Soul
7. Forgotten Cult of Aldaron
8. Wolves Guard my Coffin
9. Hell Dwells in Ice
10. The Dark Triumph *EXTRA*
11. Cursed Angel of Doom *EXTRA*
(And the Forests Dream Eternally EP---1994)
12. Transylvanian Forest
13. Moonspell Rites
14. Sventithe (Storming Near the Baltic)
15. Pure Evil & Hate
16. Forgotten Empire of Dark Witchcraft

Disc Two
(Grom LP---1996)
1. Intro
2. The Dark Forest (Cast me your Spell)
3. Spellcraft and Heathendom
4. Dragon's Lair (Cosmic Fire and Four Barbaric Seasons)
5. Lazy Pomoroza
6. Rising Proudly Towards the Sky
7. Thou Shalt Forever Win
8. Grom
9. Total Disaster (previously unreleased)
10. Freezing Moon (previously unreleased)
11. With Spell of Inferno---Mefisto (rerecorded---would later appear on 1997's Bewitiching the Pomerania EP)
12. Hidden in Fog (rerecorded)
13. Sventithe---Storming Near the Baltic (rerecorded)

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