Earlier this month, Polish blackened death metal upstarts Behemoth announced ‘In Absentia Dei,’ a special livestreamed concert from within a ‘secret church location.’ This feels especially on-brand, as Behemoth have always enjoyed sneering in the face of major religious institutions with their form of spiritually satanic extreme metal. But Poland is home to some strict blasphemy laws — which the band themselves have come up against in the past. Which leads to the question: are Behemoth going to get arrested for performing in a church?
First of all, it’s important to take into account that the band’s descriptor of ‘secret church location’ could be up to interpretation. Behemoth frontman Nergal is known for stirring things up, as evidenced by his thrown-out-of-the-YMCA troll. For Behemoth, a church could be ruins in the woods, or even their own private performance space dripping with satanic symbols — in short, not actually a church. However, with the imagery being used to promote ‘In Absentia Dei,’ and Behemoth’s tendency to go full blasphemous when they can, one assumes they’re going to use actual hallowed ground for this gig.
The reason this would be a problem is Poland’s blasphemy laws. According to the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, the Polish law against blasphemy “prohibits insults to places or objects of any religion.” The Library of Congress, meanwhile, states, “Under article 196 of Poland’s Criminal Code, offending a person’s religious feelings through public defamation of an object or place of worship is a crime punishable by restriction of liberty or imprisonment for a term of up to two years.” In theory, these laws are beneficial to prevent, say, anti-Muslim hate crimes, but since Poland’s population is overwhelmingly Catholic, they’re are mostly enforced against anti-Christian artists. While Behemoth could ostensibly escape them by performing in a different country, the press release for ‘In Absentia Dei’ specifically states that the show will happen in Poland.
The more nebulous question, then, is: will Behemoth’s music insult or defame the church they’re playing in? One assumes that Behemoth do not intend to harm the church itself; honestly, Nergal seems like the kind of guy who can appreciate the epic art of early Christendom, even if he thinks the religion itself is brainwashing bullshit. Meanwhile, most of Behemoth’s lyrics are more pro-Satan than anti-God, reveling in the adversary rather than spewing bile at the institution. And finally, as plenty of folks like to point out to heavy metal fans, Satan is a Christian figure. There are more depictions of the Devil in European churches than probably anywhere else in the world. In many ways, Nergal is playing along with the storyline.
The issue comes with “offending religious feeings,” which is what has screwed over the band in the past. In 2010, it was revealed that Nergal had formal complaints filed against him for calling the Catholic church “the most murderous cult on the planet” and tearing up a Bible onstage in 2007. Behemoth were also later charged with mocking the Polish coat of arms with a T-shirt. All of these charges were eventually dismissed, but the fact that these dudes — who are in many ways the Metallica of Poland — continue to be persecuted by their government speaks to how sensitive Polish Catholics and politicians are to these blasphemy laws. One doesn’t think they’ll take a band in a church screaming, “O Father, O Satan, O Sun!’ very lightly.
It should be noted that Nergal isn’t alone in being tormented by these laws. Doda, the Polish pop star to whom Nergal was formerly engaged, was fined for blasphemy for saying she believed more in dinosaurs than in the Bible (sidebar: HA!), because “it’s hard to believe in something that was written by someone drunk on wine and smoking weed.” For the record, Doda is not wearing huge inverted crosses or singing about Lucifer — she’s a pop star, similar to someone like Britney Spears of Robyn. So while Behemoth are louder than most about Christianity’s stain on humankind, they’re not alone — and the Polish government are obviously unafraid of going after anyone who insults Christianity.
What’s promising is that it seems like most of these charges are hurled at musicians after the fact. Sure, Behemoth were once ordered to leave Russia, but they’ve never been dragged out of a concert in chains for hailing Satan. At the same time, the secrecy of the church location raises an eyebrow. Maybe it’s just smart, Euronymous-style marketing, making Behemoth seem more dangerous than they actually are — or maybe it’s because the band are worried this’ll be the last straw. For those who go all-in on the fairy tale, churches are sanctified places, and the presence of a vocal satanist within them is harmful to the house of God itself.
The fact that Behemoth have to worry about possibly getting arrested for playing satanic metal in 2020 is totally ridiculous. With everything else going on in the world, the fact that the Polish government or Catholic leaders would care about a band who are at the end of the day just making people happy is so sad you have to laugh to keep from screaming. But given Behemoth’s past, one can’t help but wonder if Saturday night’s performance will end with the band in handcuffs — which, in the world of metal, might be the best publicity they could ever hope for.
Behemoth present to you; ‘In Absentia Dei’. We welcome you to join us for an event like no other! This is an offering to our dedicated Legions, drawing upon our entire repertoire to perform songs that have long been committed to the archives.Within the walls of the Holy Church in regions unknown; we have also prepared a feast of sacrilegious theatrical performances which will intersect amongst our show to form the unholiest stream event of this Aeon. We have teamed up with Omnilive to bring you a brand-new feature of 8 selectable and immersive camera angles which you can seamlessly select throughout the show to summon your own Hellish experience.To commence festivities, we have invited the beautifully chaotic IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT who act as our pre-show special guests, performing from The Slipper Room Cabaret in Manhattan. More details on the pre-show event to come in the very near future!Early-bird tickets & limited-edition merch bundles are on sale now at www.behemoth.live
Posted by BEHEMOTH! on Friday, August 21, 2020
‘In Absentia Dei’ will feature an hour-long pre-show that can be watched for free at the band’s YouTube channel, but the night itself kicks off Saturday, September 5th, at 7 p.m. CET / 6 p.m. UK / 1 p.m. EST / 10 a.m. PST, with the full two-hour show beginning at 8 p.m. CET / 7 p.m. UK / 2 p.m. EST / 11 a.m. PST. Tickets for the event are already available for purchase.
Words by Chris Krovatin