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This is why, in a disused church somewhere in the Polish countryside (a location purposefully kept secret to avoid interference from either God or, more likely, The Law), Behemoth are performing on the spot where an altar should be, a naked women hangs from the ceiling in a cruciform pose, suspended on hooks ceremoniously pushed through her skin, and there is fire absolutely everywhere. Nergal promised us that In Absentia Dei was to be a spectacle “raw and sacrilegious in every fucking way possible”, but we couldn’t have imagined quite the scale, imagination and scalding fury of it all.
In the absence of both God and gigs, the livestream is an idea fast becoming not just an attractive way for bands to actually perform for their fans (albeit from the other side of a screen), but also to get creative with presentation. Thus, In Absentia Dei is a production of two parts – festival headlining slot, and film production, with a focus on more, more, more. The live footage from inside the church is incredible, interspersed with dramatic, arty scenes from outside and around – flaming arrows, hooded band arriving on horseback, a ceremonial censer spraying sparks as it’s smashed against the floor – giving things the vibe of an old ’70s occult exploitation movie, with much, much higher and more thrilling production values.
“Despite the challenges we face and the plagues we endure, we are gathered here tonight, in this unholy church, in celebration of black metal magic,” declares Nergal halfway through. “We are together, and together we shall conquer all.” Even watching on a screen, even feeling the despondency of a music-free summer, hearing the man talk in such terms manages to raise those same feelings in your spirit as you would have got watching them headline Bloodstock. For livestreams to work, to be of value, to be an experience, to be something that breaks the monotony of a normal week, never mind the weird, tense, uncertain flurry of days in which we seem to exist currently, they must translate an energy that goes beyond volume.
Under a microscope like this, it’s still possible to feel things, to connect. And yeah, the ripped human flesh and the fire and the blood spitting are fantastic, but the whole package is an energetic, creative, huge artistic expression that’s been forced into existence. And after a summer in basically a holding pattern where Behemoth should have been exploding in front of huge crowds every night, there is a ravenous hunger to what’s going on that carries with crystal clarity and atomic energy across even the sketchiest connection.
As much as anything else, In Absentia Dei is an act of defiance. But one not so much against the church as against giving up on life. Really, what’s Nergal going to do? Sit around licking his wounds at cancelled tours and wait for an uncertain live music world to start up again? Fuck that – what bollocks. Imagine if that’s how he rolled. The whole reason Behemoth burn so bright – and here you can substitute for Biffy Clyro, Lamb Of God, Code Orange, Metallica, or anyone else willing to put the work in for something like this – is because the drive for the art is so much bigger than anything in their way. It’s not a replacement, but what’s been done here firmly smashes through the idea that the human spirit can be crushed and stopped simply because a normal avenue has been closed off. Because what’s more boring and shit than just lying down and taking it?
“It’s ruins that we’re going to leave,” Nergal assured us pre-show, brimming with confidence and ambition for what had been put together. “Ashes.” Indeed. Here’s how a livestream can work to bring you something genuinely special, by viewing what you do in a new light, and raising your game to the absolute limit. Where’s your messiah now?
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