During this coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen quite a few bands broadcast live streams from a wide variety of locations. We’ve seen empty barns, rehearsal studios, empty clubs, etc. Leave it to Poland’s titans of controversy, Behemoth, to go the extra mile. Their live event, entitled In Absentia Dei was broadcast from an abandoned church in Pisarzowice, Poland. The show promised to be a high-end visual production on top of a live concert.
The first thing that popped up as I opened the stream was a welcome message. It said, and I quote, “Please be advised, the contents of this performance may offend, especially those with religious beliefs. If you choose to proceed, you do so of your own volition and waive any demands for compensation or apology from the band. 18+.” My first thought on this was that it was a bit overly zealous. There have been outright Satanic bands since at least the 1960s, after all. Then again, their native Poland is still to this day staunchly fundamentalist and the band is no stranger to legal troubles due to this. The forewarning may have helped shield them a bit… though the idea of some uninitiated, naive Christian stumbling on Behemoth‘s website, paying €16, and clicking to see what performance they had put together in a church seems far-fetched at best.
The show began with a black and white intro. Four cloaked men (presumably the band, or at least symbolizing the band) rode into the church on horseback, clad in black and brandishing banners. Cut to an establishing shot of them arriving at an abandoned-looking church with smoke coming out of its ruined tower. The band entered through an arch of fire before settling in and beginning the set. The stage was set up where the altar would normally be in a church, much like they usually do at live shows. In front of the guitars and bass, they had custom mic stands with trumpets and such shaped as occult symbols. Initially they had a blue light shining from outside the clear church windows, but they later used more colors. The pews were taken out and in their place were burning lanterns.
“EVOE” started the set, followed by “Wolves of Siberia.” “EVOE” was a bit of a slog but perhaps a good way for the band to warm up. ”Wolves of Siberia” and the following “Prometherion” got the show going a bit more and the band seemed more loose and free as they moved around the stage. They were dressed in their usual attire: ragged black clothes with hoods and their signature corpse paint.
The stream was also of notably superb quality (at least on my end). Often when I stream movies, deep blacks and mist get very pixelated and blurry. Here, however, the dark imagery was sharp and vivid. My usual household speakers also had a clear sound. They had multiple cameras at work, switching between varying angles of all the individual members and several different wide-shots that made the show dynamic to watch. The church provided an excellent backdrop for the show. Aside from the venue, the only real difference between watching this and a live show from a large festival stage was that there was no audience to cut to as well. It didn’t really suffer from that.
After four songs began Act II. It started with a video of one of the cloaked men waving burning an incense orb. This is something singer/guitarist Nergal usually does live, so it seemed a safe bet that the cloaked figure was Nergal himself. This then lead to one of their modern breakout hits, “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel,” accompanied by yet more flames around the stage. At the end of the song, Nergal cried, “Can you see us, legions!? Can you hear us!?” referring to us, the listeners, as their “legions.” This was followed by the classic “Antichristian Phenominon,” with its haunting intro tape saying, “We would like to see most of the human race killed off. Because it is unworthy – it is unworthy of the gift of life.” A sentiment I ate up as an edgy teenager, but now couldn’t help but realize is less of an antichristian ideal and more a misanthropic one. On top of its hyper-fast guitar licks, we were treated to a trapeze artist dressed in white strips of cloth (not unlike Leeloo from The Fifth Element) swinging in a flaming circle.
Nergal then led into the next song, “Conquer All,” with a speech. “To the legions watching us from every corner of this planet, tonight we show our collective strength. Despite the challenges we face and the plagues we endure, we gather here in this unholy church in celebration of black metal magic! We are together and together we shall conquer all!” His proclamations, as Eastern European as they may sound, had the same powerful demeanor you’d expect from a live show. The following song, “Lucifer,” provided them with a long enough intro track to change outfits. Nergal threw a studded jacket on his ragged cloth whereas bass player Orion put on an-over-the top headdress that seemed to be an entire turkey-sized bird further decorated with both human and inhuman skulls.
ACT III gave us the return of the trapeze artist. This time she had gone topless for reasons that would become clear imminently: this was no ordinary swinging act. We got to see her as her skin was pierced by harnesses on her back and arms. She was then pulled up by a system of ropes and hung by those same piercings in traditional “freakshow” style. It was unsettling yet admittedly interesting to watch the skin stretch as she was raised. There was also a bit of blood… She continued to hang there as the band played “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer,” one of their most high-octane tracks. The chants of “for thine is the kingdom and the glory forever” always gives me goosebumps. More fire waving and installations of flaming iron would follow during the next few songs. For “Chwała mordercom Wojciecha,” Nergal ascended the church balcony to deliver a speech in Polish via megaphone. They had the band’s familiar upside-down cross adorned on Nazi-esque red banners hanging all throughout the church. Nergal then proceeded to conduct a relatively impressive pyrotechnics display with flaming batons whilst confetti rained down on them – a chilling image of how triumphant evil populist movements may seem. Nergal ended Act III during “Chant Escaton 2000” by thanking the audience, their “legions” saying “stay healthy – free. Hail Satan.”
Act IV had yet another video. We got to see a flaming arrow being shot at a wood installation shaped as their signature upside-down cross, which promptly burst into flames. They had added a few more flaming elements to the stage and changed clothes yet again. Just at the point when the show had admittedly started to run a bit long for me, they brought it back with the powerful anthem, “Bartzabel.” The sight of Nergal in the anti-pope hat we saw in the music video was the exact right amount of goofiness the night needed at the moment. Soon after, another video showed us a rider set on fire riding in between the aforementioned flaming crosses. They then brought the show to a close with its grandeous climax, “O Father o Satan o Sun.” The song is their masterpiece, so it made sense to close on it, lighting even more lanterns both on the inside and outside of the church. The building seemed almost engulfed in flames during the epic ode to the beast.
Admittedly, paying for a show you watch from home still felt somewhat strange, especially since, at least here in Finland, you can actually go see some smaller live gigs at the moment. That isn’t the case everywhere though and for a band of Behemoth’s stature, a club show of 200ish people isn’t remotely viable. That said, there was a certain feeling to it being a specific live event tailored to be streamed worldwide. It was as if we were in on a secret, beamed straight to us by our idols. The price of €16 was a pretty reasonable amount to pay for what we got, though it would have obviously been preferable to see this show live and in person. Since that may not be possible to do safely at the moment, I didn’t much mind this compromise.
2. Wolves of Siberia
4. From the Pagan Vastlands
5. Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel
6. Antichristian Phenominon
7. Conquer All
9. Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer
10. Satans Sword (I have Become)
11. Ov Fire and the Void
12. Chwała mordercom Wojciecha
13. As Above So Below
14. Slaves Shall Serve
15. Chant Escaton 2000
16. Sculpting the Throne of Seth
18. Decade of Therion
19. O Father o Satan o Sun!