Behemoth: The Satanist who took on the Polish government and won
Nergal: 'I tore up a Bible in Poland. Somebody filmed that and put it on the internet'
Behemoth. Photograph: Grzegorz Golebiowski
In 2007 Nergal, the lead singer of extreme metal act Behemoth, became a household name in his home country of Poland when he was prosecuted for blasphemy.
The self-confessed Satanist tore up a Bible on stage. The case went all the way to the European Commission in 2012 which issued a ruling that he was entitled to offend people. Here he talks about that case, being a Satanist and touring with the mighty Slayer.
You grew up in Poland which like Ireland was a very Catholic country. Do you think your antipathy to religion in general was to do with your Catholic upbringing?
I was raised in a Catholic environment. When I was kid my family considered themselves as Catholics, but they were never very strict. It’s not that I felt limited. It was me and my observations and the process of these observations.
My perception of reality brought all these thoughts and rebelliousness to the table. This is something to go against. At 14 I started rebelling and getting into more extreme genres of music.
Me finding Catholicism a perfect enemy was the thing.
Do you consider yourself to be a Satanist?
Yes. I am trying to bring this enlightenment to people. I’m trying to elaborate on outcast beings and the rebellious characters in our methods including Christianity.
Satan, Lucifer, Prometheus are all icons and archetypes to lift you up. They are demons, but they are representatives of what humanity stands for. What does humanity stand for?
It stands for freedom of speech, the need of freedom, the need to elevate ourselves and remain vital and disobedient.
In Poland it is very easy to bring me to the court. Even if politicians lose, their name still goes out
It is all about metaphors and very symbolic meanings that I see very much related to human beings. I have a very humanistic approach to this.
For me, being Satanic is the equivalent of being intelligent and thinking for yourselves.
People equate Satanism with evil. How do you respond to that?
Usually I quote Goethe, the famous German writer.
He said that he was evil, but part of that force that longs for goodness. (The actual quote from Faust is: “I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.”)
You were involved in a landmark blasphemy action in Poland. How was that resolved?
I tore up a Bible in Poland. Somebody filmed that and put it on the internet.
Back then I was an easy target and I’m an even easier target nowadays because I’m easily recognised in Poland. In Poland it is very easy to bring me to the court. Even if politicians lose, their name still goes out.
I won the case. Poland is a very conservative and nationalistic in a bad way. It has right-wing tendencies that are growing. There are things that I find disturbing.
Ireland recently had a referendum which removed the offence of blasphemy from the constitution. How do you feel about that?
I’m so happy for you guys. Poland should be next.
This is the only way to go evolution-wise. It feels like we are going backwards. In order to evolve, we have to have blasphemy cast aside. There is no other way.
You have been playing support for Slayer on their final tour. How has that been?
It’s a dream come true. It’s awesome. I’m not just saying that because it is Slayer. I’m saying that because we were treated like really well. We had great vibes.
I’m not happy that Slayer are retiring. I can’t imagine a world without Slayer, but I’m very happy that we are still catching up on touring legs like Australia. We will be meeting them in over a month. It’s awesome. We are good friends.
Paul Bostaph, the drummer, is a very super nice guy, very down to earth. If you didn’t know Kerry (King, guitarist) you would think him a bit cool, but once you cross that line and you get his sympathy, he is a sweetheart and he likes to party too.
Tom Areya (bass player and singer) is awesome. He does his own thing. There are not enough words to express my gratitude and how much we like them.
Have they brought your music to a new audience?
Absolutely yes. We would do meet and greets every day and a lot of people said they saw us with Slayer for the first time. It does work. Slayer was known for having uncompromising, diehard fans.
Most bands that opened for them hated being on tour with them because they would be spat at and stuff thrown at them. It was not easy in the 1990s, but now it is a whole different story.
Even though we are on the bill with Testament, Anthrax and Lamb of God, we were the most crazy band on the bill. People embraced us which was awesome. Our own tour is going great.
It started with a lot of sold-out, packed shows in Germany. I know it is not going to sound very modest, but we are doing very well globally. I remember many years ago Germany wouldn’t be a strong market for us. It has all changed now. The US is massive for us. Scandanavia is a big market for us in Europe.
What are your thoughts on playing in Ireland.
I have good friends in Ireland especially Alan Averill (Nemtheanga) – the lead singer in Primordial.
I know that Irish people really embrace Polish people. Apparently we have a lot in common. We drink a lot and we have a high work ethic. That’s why we get along so well. Primordial is one of the best bands around. It is kind of sad that they don’t get enough recognition.
They really should be bigger as a band. The last two or three albums have been spectacular.
Behemoth play Vicar Street on Sunday, February 10th. Doors open at 7pm. Their latest album I Loved You at Your Darkest is out on Nuclear Blast records