The general consensus amongst long-time fans seems to be that Behexen fully hit their stride with 2004’s By the Blessing of Satan – a benchmark example of how to produce blistering, vile and decidedly heavy black metal in a surprisingly clear manner. As the years have passed, the band’s sound has slowly shifted to incorporate increased atmospherics and a stronger emphasis on the slower, huskier side of their identity, including mostly tossing the raspy screams that dominated early works in favor of Hoath’s glottal bark. 2008’s nasty My Soul for His Glory clearly pushed the metamorphosis, and Nightside Emanations takes it to the next level. Unfortunately for me, initial run-throughs left me relatively cold and thinking perhaps the band had taken the new direction a bit too far. There are fewer outright ‘kicks-to-the-teeth’ here, and it’s a little challenging to settle into a tune as slogging as “Circle Me…” when you’ve grown so accustomed to having your face pummeled and baked in Hellfire in the past.
But then one night I found that sometimes elusive connecting point – that moment when the mood is just right and everything finally falls into place. It hit me right after I’d taken in Ken Russel’s The Devils and sat down to pen some filth inspired by its bawdiness, and bingo, that was the key – the fine line that sometimes separates ‘sinful’ from ‘evil.’ Despite the fact that the overall lyrics remain focused on evil shout-outs to the Devil, the blanketing atmosphere on (the now fittingly titled) Nightside Emanations feels more like sin with a greater emphasis on indecency. Nude nuns and perverted pastors trump burning steeples and parishioner bashing, thanks in a large part to the increased atmospherics, the wealth of sloggier measures, and especially because of the distorted monk behind those stunningly grotesque vocals.
There’s still barbarism afoot, make no mistake, particularly in the opening with “Wrathful Dragon Hau-Hra” and the album’s most venomous spit, “Death’s Black Light,” but even when things are speedy and doing their damnedest to run amok, Hoath’s grimy and slow delivery keeps the overall slant mucked in damning quicksand.
Seriously, is there a vocalist in black metal today with a more ludicrously foul delivery than Hoath fucking Torog? Those ponderous howls, growls and prayers weep from his maw like dirty baptismal tar; utterly revolting. And it all makes for a lovely companion to visions of a darkly robed deviant vicar tempting nubile neophytes into marriage and consummation with goat-headed horndogs on a cold, concrete altar. That, in a nasty nutshell, is Nightside Emanations.
The one thing I’d say is missing from this record is a greater use of the sort of lead guitar work heard toward the close of “We Burn with Serpent Fire.” The way those melodic little notes wriggle up from the cauldron and lift the remaining minute with just the teensiest semblance of light? More of that in the future, please. Because really, what better way to ensure absolute suffering within the flock than to pepper the damning bedlam with occasional flashes of vivid life. Still, even without them, Nightside Emanations stands as quite the satisfying slab of sinful blight.
Pervert the church.