Starved of the spectacular, metal fans have had little choice but to embrace the era of live streamed events. Fortunately, our genre is far better suited to the idea than any other, and BEHEMOTH have proved themselves to be better equipped to raise the virtual roof than just about anyone else. Recorded in September 2020, in an abandoned church in rural Poland, "In Absentia Dei" is a remarkable document of what can be achieved in the most enervating of circumstances. In the midst of a global pandemic, Nergal and his unholy horde pulled off a huge visual and sonic extravaganza, ploughing through highlights of a now extraordinary catalogue of music, and threatening to reduce the church to a pile of flaming rubble in the process. If you want blasphemy, folks, you've got it.
It's not hard to work out how BEHEMOTH have risen to such a lofty position in the modern metal world. While many of their contemporaries were busy being aloof and elusive, the Poles were touring hard and creating even harder. Even at tiny club show level, BEHEMOTH pulled out all the stops, and such is Nergal's enduring charisma that every subsequent jump up the ladder has looked both effortless and wholly deserved. Now, after several years of taking their explosive show to much bigger venues, arenas included, BEHEMOTH are simply masters of the big occasion, and "In Absentia Dei" — not so much a live stream as a full-blown declaration of war on Christianity — feels like their biggest occasion yet.
Everything sounds (and looks) immaculate and almost indecently powerful, and the set list is utterly mouthwatering. Fans of the band's early and largely unsung years may become a bit misty-eyed at the arrival of "From the Pagan Vastlands" [originally from 1995 debut, "Sventevith (Storming Near The Baltic)"] and transitional tirades like "Satan's Sword (I Have Become") (from 1998's "Pandemonic Incantations"), but the real story of this epic live splurge is told by songs from BEHEMOTH's last two decades. Somehow harder and darker than their recorded versions, recent anthems like "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel", "Bartzabel" and the mesmerizing "Oro Pro Nobis Lucifer" are played with hair-raising ferocity and absolute authority, while certified classics "Conquer All" and "Slaves Shall Serve" are object lessons in sledgehammer brevity. It's all of those qualities that have propelled BEHEMOTH far beyond their underground origins, and here the sheer command that Nergal and his comrades are wielding these days is both undeniable and genuinely thrilling. Meanwhile, it's always lovely to see a church being used for something sensible.