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Ethics and Morality

Adam Darski and the Dynamic Evolution of Heavy Metal Music

Founding member of band Behemoth on how the genre sparked his personal growth.

Key points

  • While mainstream cultures may consider heavy metal music disturbing and destructive, studies show many benefits of this genre.
  • Adam Darski of the band Behemoth shares how heavy metal music's ethos has helped him to evolve creatively and as a person.
  • Heavy metal music and culture inspired Darski to have an open mind, question traditional norms, and pursue his passion.

What is the true power of heavy metal?

Heavy metal fans–affectionately known as “metalheads”–are among the most devoted and loyal music fans in the world. There are many possible reasons why people may embrace heavy metal. It could be the raw intensity of the music that often includes pounding drumbeats, ripping guitars, and powerful, shrieking vocals.

Perhaps it is the bold stage shows, which often include bombastic theatrical performances, provocative imagery, and dazzling special effects. Maybe it’s the insightful and thoughtful lyrical content that often tackles difficult and delicate issues such as war, racism, addiction, poverty, and suicide.

Or, possibly, it is the sense of belonging that metalheads get from displaying their favorite bands through their clothes or tattoos, going to shows, and finding like-minded people in the world.

Sylwia Makris, used with permission
Source: Sylwia Makris, used with permission

To learn more about what makes heavy metal music and its culture so powerful, I spoke with Adam Darski, otherwise known as “Nergal,” founding member of the heavy metal band Behemoth. Behemoth has been cranking out heavy metal music for over 30 years and is considered one of the best heavy metal bands of all time.

Their 2014 album The Satanist is particularly identified as an extreme metal classic. And Behemoth continues to push forward, having just released their latest album Opus Contra Natvram.

In talking with Darski, I came to understand that all of these elements of heavy metal music and culture were vehicles for the true power of heavy metal–to help an individual’s ongoing evolution–to perpetually grow, develop and improve.

Growing up in Poland, Darski was raised Catholic. He found himself drawn to heavy metal, particularly a subgenre called black metal, which is often marked by atmospheric sound, unconventional song structures, and provocative lyrics. For Darski, it was black metal’s willingness to challenge traditional religious norms that particularly inspired him.

I was raised as a Catholic. It wouldn't align with my needs, and it wouldn't align with my ambitions and aspirations and goals. But I looked at the stars, not in the f*cking gutter. I was looking at the stars and like, 'Holy sh*t, those are bigger than Jesus.' I'd rather take a starship, and f*cking go there. And that starship is called heavy metal–black metal particularly.

One of the unfortunate experiences that many metalheads have in their lives is that their choice of music and culture is not generally accepted in traditional social circles. Many people are shocked and disturbed by heavy metal music, lyrical content, and imagery.

One image that can be considered provocative is the inverted cross displayed by many black metal bands. Darski explained how he understood this image as motivational rather than destructive or amoral.

“I had troubles with my parents at first. It was very emotional. They would question me, like a proper f*cking interrogation, like, ‘Why are you doing this? This is immoral. This is wrong,’” Darski recalled.

I had to explain to them that that's how I feel. I remember I was quoting Johann Edlund from Tiamat. In one of his interviews, he was saying, ‘Well, this inverted cross gives me power, gives me strength to fight with the obstacles and with difficulties I faced in everyday basis.’ It was really enlightening to me back then.

So I'm like, ‘Well, you might not like my heroes, fallen heroes, or fallen angels, or f*cking all these devils. But to me, a lot of those archetypes, a lot of those role models, they were the spark to do something super creative, to be very productive. And to get out of my ghetto, get out of the block of lead that I lived in.’

The creativity of heavy metal that Darski referenced is reflected in part by the wide range of subgenres of heavy metal. There are over 25 identified subgenres of heavy metal music, and that diversity and individuality are celebrated within and between sub-genres.

Darski recalled the unique sounds of the different bands that made up the “second wave” of black metal.

Every band had their own identity. And every band or almost every band that would stick out and make some kind of success and career was special. Every band was all over the place, you know, but none of them would sound like each other. To me, that's fundamental.

Darski feels that in Behemoth, he and his bandmates have embraced that spirit of constantly trying to evolve and create something new in their music while still retaining some of the core elements of Behemoth’s original sound.

We started in 90s. And there's definitely a lot of 90s spirit in what we do. But we upgrade and we update what we do. Because I want to sound fresh. I want to sound relevant. I don't want to sound retro because I'm not interested in retro.

We stick to our standard of music. So there are like, Behemoth benchmarks on every record. Because that's the foundation or what we do. But then around that I want to still keep room for improvisation, and doing things that we haven't really done or we've done differently.

And Darski encourages fans of Behemoth’s music to experience the band’s music as the beginning of a process. A process by which the fan creates their own connection to and meaning from a given song.

I can just throw an idea. But please play with it yourself. Listen to the song and just build up your own world around it. Because maybe for you, it's going to mean something completely different.

I really want to keep it open. Spartacus can be an archetype of rebellion that managed to f*cking break down the big Roman army. That's quite incredible but I'm not telling the story of that guy, this historical figure. I'm just bringing the spark, that idea that I want to put into a song for people to think them over, that rebellion, that going against the current of mediocrity.

And Darski has no plans on stopping. To him, life and heavy metal are one. And his goal is to keep evolving both in his life and in his music.

To me heavy metal, it's rebelliousness. It's f*ck you attitude. It's anti establishment attitude. It’s triggering. It's inspiring. It's uplifting. It's empowering.

My life is heavy metal and I was born this way and I was born into this genre and not to just enjoy it and like it. But also it's very coherent with what I am with who I am with who I'm becoming okay. Because I'm not done yet.

And Darski hopes that people will learn from his example and embrace the true spirit of heavy metal–to keep growing and evolving throughout your life no matter what obstacles you may face.

It can encourage you to, to be more adventurous with your life and with life's philosophy. And that's exactly what happened in my life. It was a platform for me to start questioning conventional ethics or morality, the kind of sense that there's something wrong there and that it’s limiting me and my potential and I wanted to get rid of it, and I just got wanted to break through.

So absolutely heavy metal can be a great platform, great vehicle for people to evolve. I chose my own path. So, I dare to say that it's good to go against the current. And I challenge everyone and encourage everyone to do that. I mean, I'm not saying hey, follow my footsteps. Don't do that.

If I can be a spark. If I can be an inspiration, that's cool. But don't follow other people's footsteps because we're all different. You are different. I'm different. And eight billion people living out there you're different. You are individual. You're special. You're unique.

Listen to the conversation with Adam Darski here.

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