Behemoth, the blackened death metal band from Poland which everyone is talking about is probably at the peak of their career. Their back catalogue can please anyone of the more extreme styles; starting from the rawest black metal on Sventevith (Storming Near the Blatic) to a more melodic black metal style on Thelema.6 and to the blackened death metal style on The Apostasy. Their latest work, The Satanist, has received loads of praise (including this review from our writer) and it even landed on the Billboard charts. It’s not very often that you see extreme metal bands on Billboard charts, especially those who tear up Bibles on stage.
The band has overcome many hurdles in their career. Getting their name outside of post-Communist Poland must have not been an easy task. Later on, the front man – and founding member – Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski was diagnosed with leukemia. With the support of many fans from all over the world and a blood donor, he just said a huge “NO” to that deadly disease and he overcame it. That is not everything. The band had to (and still has to) fight court trials and show cancellations. Starting in their home country of Poland, the fanatical Ryszard Nowak, who heads an anti-sect organisation, is on a crusade to put Nergal and co. behind bars. Thanks to this, the band has had to attend many court trials and had to face some concert cancellations. They, however, are not giving up. A tour of Poland is coming soon this autumn.
Nonetheless, a country which they will not be able to go to in the near future and a country which they are not looking forward to going back to is Russia. Recently, their tour of that country had to come to a stop when they were stopped and arrested by the immigration police. They were given a five year ban for just having the wrong visas (and probably for being “Satanists”).
Find out more about that Russian incident in this interview with the band’s bassist, Tomasz ‘Orion’ Wróblewski. In addition to that, Orion talks about Wacken Open Air (the place where this interview took place) and the English translations of the band’s biography, Konkwistatorzy Diabła (Eng.: “The Devil’s Conquistadors”), and Nergal’s Sacrum Profanum book.
Dom: Welcome to the 25th anniversary of W:O:A! This only your 2nd time here, your first time being in 2001. How does it feel to be back?
Orion: Very well. This is a legendary festival. It’s wonderful that we finally managed to play here, because it took us a long time to come back…
Dom: Yes, 13 years…
Orion: Maybe even more. You said 2001, yeah? Actually you are right, 13 years. I am in the band from 2003 so I joined the band the moment after they played Wacken, I wasn’t with the band at that time yet.
It’s definitely one of the best festivals in Europe, however, I wouldn’t risk saying that it is the best. There are a few which tread on the heels of Wacken.
Dom: Go on.
Orion: You know, there is also Hellfest, there is Graspop. There are a few such greatly organised festivals on such a high level like Wacken. Either way, it is a huge distinction to be here and I am happy that we managed to play this concert. We are satisfied with the performance and from what we have heard from the people, so are they. And I think that’s what matters.
Dom: Is Wacken Open Air the mecca of metal? Does it feel different? Do they treat you differently?
Orion: This year we played a few 25th anniversaries of festivals. Some of them are a bit better, some of them worse. Wacken without doubt belongs to the best ones. But I don’t think that everything revolves around this festival. That’s not true. People are used to Wacken. This is a name, an icon, it is a certain brand achieved through all these years by hard work of the organisers and all of the people around them. However, this is not the only festival. Obviously, everything is beautiful and wonderful [here], but a band’s career does not finish with playing at Wacken. There are a million other things and a whole different world.
Dom: Is there an update regarding the English translations of Nergal’s biography and the band’s biography “Konkwistatorzy Diabla” (“The Devil’s Conquistadors”)?
Orion: The book which you are talking about is not strictly speaking Nergal’s biography. It is actually an interview with him. The book which is the band’s biography is something different and there will also be an English translation of it. Nergal’s interview book “Sacrum Profanum” will most probably show up faster in the English version [than the band’s biography] but it will also be available in English soon. The translation is being worked on at the moment and all the publishing business is being negotiated. It should be a matter of months [until both English versions are released].
We definitely feel that there is a demand for it and we are trying to supply that demand. It all takes a lot of time, unfortunately, because there are so many things happening at the same time with which we are trying to cope with, which takes up time, but nonetheless, it will happen.
Dom: Nergal book has a lot of things which seem to be directed more towards a Polish audience…
Orion: That is generally a translation problem. In order to translate the Behemoth biography or “Sacrum Profanum” to change the Polish realities while understanding the international realities in a way that everyone understands it, it is not that difficult. It’s much harder translating poetry. That demands a lot of hard work from the translator. Such a book such as ours, no. It is enough that it is a good translator, who knows a few things about the world. And such things which are typically Polish and only understood by Poles are translated universally. This is the translator’s job, which is not a simple translation from one language to the other.
Dom: There are small things which I think will be difficult for a non-Polish audience to understand. For example, when Nergal talks in his interview-book about PRL (People’s Republic of Poland), English people, for example, might not understand what that means…
Orion: Such things, I think, will be easily understood because people, who are interested in European history or eastern European history, should know a few things about the Communist times. So, when those times are mentioned in the book, nothing has to be changed into something different. Since you gave an example of English people who might not understand what PRL (People’s Republic of Poland) is, they will understand 1984, won’t they?
Dom: You had an incident in Russia where you had the wrong visas. What happened exactly and are you allowed to go back there?
Orion: The visas were a pretext because… In reality, the story looked like this. I will explain to you a few technical details. I know that there is such a Russian website which is the equivalent of Facebook, it’s called Vkontakte and there is a lot of discussion on this topic there in addition to a few Russian metal portals which are talking about this all the time. From what I can make out of this, a lot of information which is being given at those websites is not true or there is a little bit of truth but it’s not the whole story.
Our story with the Russian visas looked like this. Before going out to Russia we needed to make Russian visas. In order to have these visas issued we needed the necessary filled out forms and an invitation from the company which organises the tour. In the invitation we had a request for the Russian consulate in Poland for visas which are called “humanitarian” – this is only a name and it doesn’t mean what the word actually means, it’s just the name of the visa. So, we went with all the filled out forms and the invitation to the Russian consulate in Poland and we received information that for such an entry into Russia, i.e. tours and concerts etc., we need a different type of visa. Therefore, there we have to fill out different forms again and write there that we need a business visa. Theoretically, we also needed a different invitation but they accepted it anyway and asked us just to fill out the new forms. So, we got our business visas and off we go on tour.
And then in Russia, apart from all the religious stories which were taking place there, KGB etc., we got arrested and thrown into a holding cell by FMS (Federal Migration Service) because we had business visas and not humanitarian visas – for which we asked for in the beginning. After we were released from the holding cell, we had a court hearing which is all about the same things; that we had the wrong visas even if we were asking for those. We were given a financial penalty from the judge and at that the whole trial finished. When the FMS found out that the judge did not give us any other penalty – because she did not have any evidence for that – they decided they can still give us more and make the situation harder for us. So, they increased the penalty and have given us a 5 year ban from entering Russia. And that was their goodbye to us. That was given to us from FMS after the whole court trial. We got out of there as fast as we could after the trial. We didn’t try to play anymore concerts because no, you don’t treat people in such a way…
So now we have a 5 year ban from entering Russia and we are not in a hurry to go back there, you know. Because in such a place where they can do with you whatever they want, a human being is treated like however the person above might imagine you to look like, depending on the current political situation and because this moment suits them and because that’s how it has to be done and, thus, those who are targeted have to be fucked up by the authorities. This is something which we cannot digest and understand. You know, the world is huge, there are a million places which want us and in which we are not thrown into prison for no reason and thrown into completely inhumane conditions for nothing. We will be continuing doing what we are doing but we will not go back until we are really forced to go and if there’s no one forcing us, we don’t have to go there. This is, of course, not the fault of the people. And we really feel bad about that because they are the ones who wanted these concerts, they were there, they bought the tickets and they are the ones who are waiting for us to go there. However, the authorities of that country do not want us there and that’s it…
Dom: You mentioned the inhumane conditions in the holding cells. What was it like there?
Orion: You know this was not an actual prison. This was a holding cell in which they hold you in it for 48 hours for example before your court hearing. In a normal prison everything is okay. You’ve got food, bunk beds, etc. In a holding cell you’ve got nothing. In our situation, we were held in two cells – four people in each. Each of these cells had two by two metres wooden surface, which was full of piss, vomit and blood stains. And that’s all. There was absolutely nothing else there. We were thrown in there, locked in and that’s it.
Dom: They wouldn’t let you out even to the toilet?
Orion: Yeah, we had a lot of problems with that. And we didn’t really know how long this would last and when would they let us out. They just locked us in one evening. Fortunately, they let us out the next day before midday and took us to the court in a prison van, of course. But you know, we had with us nothing. We had to hand in our phones, everything, even our shoe laces, all such things and that’s it, you are locked in and goodnight. And you have no idea what’s going to happen with you. That’s the worse, you know. If you are doing time for something which you understand after someone presents it to you and explains to you what and why you have done something wrong and what is going to happen with you then you just take it like a man. ‘Okay, I fucked up, I have to do this and that, and I know that it will last some time’. But in a situation like this when no one tells you entirely what’s going on, just throws you in somewhere and locks you up and you have no idea what’s going to happen, then you feel insecure and that your human rights are violated.
Dom: Thankfully, you could return to Poland the next day.
Orion: They took us from the holding cell directly to the court. After the trial they let us out after a few hours and then we were free and we started looking for options to come back. We returned to Poland the next day because that’s the flights we could find, which we bought in order to be back in our country as soon as possible.
Actually, it’s funny how political it all is. More or less a week after we were supposed to play in Belarus. The plan was to go there right after the Russian tour, so, in a way the last day date of the Russian tour was supposed to be the concert in Belarus. So, we thought that, ‘Okay, we cancel the rest of the Russian tour and we go back home now but we will come back for this gig in Belarus’. The next day, we received information from the person organising the tour that the club in Belarus [which we were supposed to play at] received a letter from the Ministry of Culture, or some highest authority in Belarus, that we have no right to perform there. Therefore, this gives an image of how political this situation is and how closely connected these satellites in the East are. There is one decision and that decides about everything else.
Nergal – Vocals/guitars
Inferno – Drums/percussion
Orion – Bass/backing vocals
Seth – Guitars/backing vocals