It’s been a wild 18 months for Adam “Nergal” Darski – not only has the Behemoth frontman survived leukaemia, but he’s written an autobiography covering the last 20 years of his life leading the most controversial band in Poland, and is just now getting set for the band’s biggest UK show to date – headlining the Friday night of Bloodstock Open Air 2012. We caught up with him outside a pub in West London to chew the fat with one of metal most intriguing frontmen.
You’ve got your autobiography coming out soon, which was quite a surprise when you announced it. You’re very much on the extreme end of metal still and if you look at rock stars that release biographies they tend to lean towards more towards the “centre” of the rock spectrum – why did you decide that now is the time to put out an autobiography?
We’re at the curve of our career, in a way. It was just the combination of circumstances and just really important things happening in our lives and the bands life. Talking about my hospital situation and putting out Evangelion, which turned out to be our most successful record. In fact, before we started writing we were approaching our 20 year anniversary. Even though we still consider ourselves relatively young people, but we’ve been in this business forever.
20 years for an extreme metal band is quite a lot. So we were thinking what we could do to celebrate this anniversary and just seeing the other bands do shows, exclusive shows or re-recording old stuff or doing a best of, we didn’t like any of it. We have no time for that. The author of the book [Krzysztof Azarewicz] was trying to convince me to start writing this biography for quite some time and I was really reluctant. I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do for the band in our position at that time. I never wanted people to read it as an epitaph or a death for the band.
It turned out to be an adventurous story about determination and it’s, I really hope and believe it has a universal meaning to it. It’s not just a rock and roll story, it’s a story about life, death and struggle and determination. I think it’s well written. So far people really dig it.
I know when it was announced; it was still up in the air whether it was going to get a translated into other languages. Is that still the case?
Yes. We’re about to close the deal with the person that’s going to translate it. So we’re looking at probably first quarter, spring 2013 as a release date. The book is going to be released through Metal Blade Worldwide.
While it can be hard for people outside of Poland to grasp how big Behemoth is in Poland, in recent years you’ve grown so even people in the UK have started knowing the band beyond your stage names. Are you comfortable stepping outside of your stage persona like that?
I have no problems with two personas co-existing. Both feel very natural for me. When I’m entering the stage, I put all the gear on. The mask, everything. It just feels very natural for me. It’s a natural environment. Obviously offstage it’s natural for me too. They co-exist. It’s symbiosis.
Is the process of going on stage and becoming your name, as it were – has that process stayed the same throughout your career? Or has your relationship to that persona changed?
Actually, my name – Nergal is my legal name too.
I did not know that.
I just changed it. So I hope that people finally stop asking me what’s more comfortable for me to be called Adam or Nergal. I get that question very often, and being asked – like OK, Nergal is a name I consciously picked for myself. Adam is not necessarily, so which one is more appropriate? I think Nergal is actually my life. So I decided to make it legal, it’s legal. It’s on my ID and passport. So it kind of proves how much I identify with my stage persona, you know? It’s one thing. It’s one piece, but it has two faces. But it’s still one piece. Two faces of the same coin.
On a different tangent. Bloodstock is not only your first UK festival appearance, but you’ve made the pretty much unprecedented step of jumping straight to the top of the bill. When did Bloodstock first approach you guys about that?
We were announced in 2010 and we had to cancel a tour. So I think in a way – and I don’t want to say we’re taking advantage of the fact that I was sick or whatever – but we kind of grew up to this position, where we could get offered a headlining slot. Although it’s a big deal, it’s not like I take it easily. No, when we were offered headlining slot, I was like “oh shit.” That was my reaction. It’s overwhelming. It’s a big thing for us. For Machine Head headlining Bloodstock, it’s probably like casual. It’s a regular thing. It happens every day for them.
But for us it’s like, OK, we’re stepping up. Someone really expects the best out of this band. And we’re going to do everything we can that’s humanly possible to bring the best. I know – it’s big shoes to fill, right? You’ve got Machine Head the next day and Alice Cooper, one of the biggest fucking monolithic metal bands and living legends and us. I don’t want to value things but all I can do – we’re definitely going to focus and we’re going to make sure this show is going to be spectacular and memorable.
Have you started working on your next album yet?
We have, I have some on my iPod. There are a few songs that seem to be finished but it’s been like a month since we’ve rehoused it. I’m really excited to see how it goes when we start to fuck around with it again, when we gather in the rehearsal room next month. That’s when we’ve scheduled so far. We’ll have stuff ready and we’ll progress from there and see what happens.
Obviously the transition from the situation from your illness back to business of being a band. Was it something you felt you needed to do as part of your recovery process, to get back? Or was it secondary?
Pretty much just back into the routine. Getting back on track and getting the chemistry back and then when we feel really comfortable with each other on stage and we know we’re back in shape, I really feel like we’re at the peak of our shape now. We can take it on the studio level. It’s been a special – really smooth. Very proud to be on stage and perform. We’re getting to the point where playing the set list over and over again. It’s getting boring, so it’s a signal that we should go to the studio and blast off something fresh and new.
Evangelion pushed you guys beyond the death metal sphere into people that might not have maybe – maybe they knew Vader and Decapitated. Maybe they’ve never gone into death metal. What do you think it was about Behemoth that allowed you to push beyond what would seem to be traditionally boundaries of Death Metal or Black Metal?
You know what, I refuse to describe that or label it. There are certain things that just happen with certain bands. I don’t want this to sound arrogant but bands like Slayer, when you think of Slayer you never think of terms of Thrash Metal. When you think of Metallica, you don’t think of thrash metal anymore either. Because Metallica is Metallica. Slayer is Slayer. I really believe that we’ve reached the point that Behemoth is Behemoth. People may argue or discuss if we’re still Black Metal or Death Metal or this or that. I don’t do that anymore and it’s been years since I’ve done that and it was useless. We are who we are. That’s like one of the biggest accomplishments in our career, just to get away from any definitions. Feels amazing. Just making people confused. That’s fucking awesome.
Evangelion, the most recent album from Behemoth, is out now on Nuclear Blast. The band will be returning to the UK in August to headline the Friday night of Bloodstock Open Air 2012.