Adam Nergal Darski has been the front man and driving force behind Polish blackened death metal band Behemoth since 1991. This brilliant memoir, Confessions of a Heretic, recently translated from Polish, lays bare Darski’s views on his own life and a career that has seen his band grow from a group of enthusiastic teenagers to one of the very best in contemporary extreme metal.
Broken into thirteen chapters, each one loosely themed (with wonderful titles such as “A Reindeer, Two Owls And A Dead Man,” and “This Is My Body, This Is My Bone Marrow”), the book touches on a remarkable range of aspects of Nergal’s life, from growing up as a lapsing Catholic in the port town of Gdansk and eventually becoming an actual apostate, through his life, loves, serious illness and music. Every chapter takes the form of a conversation, and indeed this was how the book was put together, from around one hundred conversations between Nergal and the authors over a six-month period. Taken as a whole, though, it rolls along like one long, seamless and fascinating discussion. Credit goes to the authors for neatly constructing the text in such an involving way, and also to the translator, who has brought Nergal’s voice to the page in an honest and truly convincing manner.
Fans of Behemoth may be aware of some of the personal themes that this book touches upon, notably Darski’s romance with Polish pop star Doda and his recovery from leukemia. What makes the conversational approach so engaging is the way it presents a picture of Nergal the man. The reader sees how vulnerable, angry and emotional he was, and yet always with a calm determination and resolve. Darski comes out of this conversation as a reflective and considered individual who’s not afraid to make controversial decisions, such as becoming a judge on a Polish TV talent show. His reflections on this and other themes show that he’s about more than just the music. And here’s the core of the book: Nergal is a man who is comfortable with change, understanding how experiences shape a person’s outlook. He comes across throughout the conversation as incredibly balanced and completely self-aware. He has no time to waste on regrets, rather recognizing mistakes of the past and the behavior of others as things that are now out of his control.
All books about living people can at best capture a slice in time, and since this book was originally published in 2012, it contains nothing about the last Behemoth album, The Satanist. Nergal’s thoughts on how that album was created, and how he views its outstanding critical reception would be a welcome addition, given that it was on many critics’ lists of the best albums of 2014. There is also nothing in here about how Behemoth’s albums are made. You’ll learn nothing about string gauges, amp settings or what compressors work best on his voice, so don’t pick this book up if you are hoping it will make you a better guitar player or sound engineer. However, as an exploration of a creative mind, this book would surely appeal even to those who don’t know Behemoth’s back catalogue.
When I see Nergal on stage, guitar in hand, screaming to the crowd from his steel pulpit, wreathed in smoke and flames, what do I see? The musician, the apostate, the cancer survivor? This book excises any preconceptions like the sharpest of flensing knives. Its 288 pages instead reveal a man committed to his art. A man who is as vulnerable, limited and troubled as the rest of us, and yet who has created some of the very finest of modern metal.
For this long-time fan of Behemoth’s music, this gripping read has really exposed the man behind the music. And I am delighted to see that underneath the corpse paint is a talented, humble man who is doing his very best to create a legacy he can be proud of. Congratulations to the authors, translator and, of course, to Nergal. A triumph of biography.