Me And That Man – ‘Songs Of Love And Death’ (Cooking Vinyl) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 04:30

Me And That Man - Songs of Love And Death - ArtworkAdam Darski, better known by his stage name of Nergal, has never been a man to compromise. In his 25 years as the frontman of Behemoth, one of the most iconic, confrontational and innovative extreme metal bands not only of their own but any generation, he has never backed down from a fight. He has taken on leukaemia, and beaten it. He has taken on the Polish government, and beaten it. He has taken on the critics, and beaten us, consistently. He has stood on the precipice, and jumped wholeheartedly into the abyss below, confident in the knowledge that he will both survive and prevail. Now, he has confronted every preconception about himself with this bold and striking album; one which defies everything everyone thinks they know about the man, and one which stands proudly as a statement of personal defiance and his continual desire to be the man that he wants to be, and knows he can be, answerable to no one but himself.

 

Quite simply, ‘Songs…’ (the album’s title is an homage to the late Leonard Cohen’s classic opus melancholia ‘Songs Of Love And Hate’) is a portrait of an artist as a mature man, looking over his shoulder, back along the path that has brought him to this point in his life then looking forward and declaring “you know what, I’ve done things may way up until now, so I’m going to keep on doing it…”

 

‘Songs…’ is a work of gothic noir drawn straight from the soul of Cohen, Cash (at least in his later years), Cave and Waits – and, of course, Darski (not forgetting his collaborator, the English/Polish musician John Porter, about whom I’ll again confess to knowing nothing more). Opener ‘My Church Is Black’ was our video of the week when it was released back in January and sets the tone nicely. Well, perhaps that’s not the right word: it’s dark yet joyous, simple in its stripped-down approach, with just acoustic instruments and it’s haunting yet challenging refrain.

 

 

‘Nightride’ is pure dark country, ripped from the densest recesses of its author’s soul and delivered with more venom than anything Nergal has ever vocally produced until now, while ‘On The Road’ is a contrastingly joyous celebration of life and where it has brought the person living it: he has fought his battles and survived, and he has more battles to win. He knows it and is prepared for the fight, knowing the victories he already has behind him will ensure that he will be victorious again.

 

As ‘Cross My Heart And Hope To Die’ eases into its finger-clicking melody, you’d swear that its author was born in deep south, pickin’ cotton with the good ol’ boys while slyly sipping hooch from a jerry can: is that Dr John tinklin’ the ivories in the background? Could well be, as it’s got that sort of lazy gris-gris vibe. And then the choir kicks in, and holy gods on a stick the hairs on your neck truly stand up as these virginal voices declare that “we have chosen hell on earth”. Fuck, only a genius like Nergal could get away with such beautifully devilish contrasts.

 

Talking of which, ‘Better The Devil I Know’ comes crashing through the door like a pissed-up boho after a night on le Rue Bourbon, Nergal’s sickly howl entwined around a banshee’s remorsefulness. And the organ swells are just sublime, adding the right degree of animalistic degradation to this too brief tribute to Waits in his prime. The contrasts keep coming, as ‘Of Sirens, Vampires And Lovers’ evokes the spirit of Morrison and the Lost Boys, lasciviously licking the blood and sex juices from its fangs as its mournful melody curls around the dark rhythm and the guitar’s sweetly picked gentility.

 

 

‘Magdalene’ thumps and growls, built on a fuzzed-out guitar and featuring another multi-layered vocal harmony. If the Cohen brothers ever get around to doing a sequel to ‘O Brother…’ then this (indeed, any track on here) could be the theme tune: you can just visualize the chain gang wading knee deep through the swamps as the bullets fly over their heads… ‘Love & Death’ takes us into the second half in a brief spirit of darkened joyousness, before the mood changes again with the beauteous ‘One Day’, with its dark swing groove that can’t prevent raising a curl on your lip as you appreciate its ironic approach and lyric.

 

‘Shaman Blues’ is the heaviest song on the album, built on a staggered electric guitar riff which underpins another eloquent vocal delivery, before bursting into vibrant life in a furious explosion of desert blues. ‘Voodoo Queen’ is another black country paean, delivered with a snarling growl that would have Johnny Cash climbing out of his grave declaring “hey boy, I wish I recorded that song”: it has that country energy mixed with the bleakness which permeates the entire vibe of this album. ‘Get Outta This Place’ maintains the country blues vibe, especially in its lilting slide interjections, as it addresses the need to get out of the darkest places in your life, before ‘Ain’t Much Loving’ brings the album to a conclusion which will have you bawling your eyes out with its magnificent Cohen-meets-Dylan pathos filled with sentiment without being sentimental.

 

‘Songs Of Love And Death’ is obviously a deeply personal album for Nergal. One on which he openly wears his heart on his sleeve. It is a brave step. But one by an artist who, as I mentioned at the outset, has never compromised. It’s also an invaluable insight into the mindset of an artist who always proven to be enigmatic, yet determined in his vision of what he wants to do. Set aside all your preconceptions about Nergal the black metal practitioner and open your ears to Nergal the purist. Along with Ginger Wildheart’s ‘Ghost In The Tanglewood’ you’ll find this to be a darkly rewarding listening experience and one which will make you think about the subjects it addresses long after the final catastrophic note has died. I’m not ashamed to admit that this album made me cry… but in a positive way. Buy it, listen to it and be prepared to confront yourself.

 

‘Songs Of Love And Death’ is out now.

 

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