Who is Nergal?
Polish celebrity Satanist and household name in his home country, where he’s been a judge on the Polish version of The Voice: yes. Inscrutable frontman of death metal band Behemoth: yes. Cancer survivor at 37 years old: yes.
But who is Adam Michał Darski, really?
“Michał is no more,” he says, speaking by phone while driving to Warsaw late at night. “Middle name is Nergal.”
It’s true: In 2012, Darski revealed he’d legally adopted his stage name. Presumably the visa he’ll get from the American embassy, where he was headed when we spoke, will bear the moniker of the Sumerian lord of the underworld he first found in a Xeroxed copy of Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible. According to the official Behemoth biography, The Devil’s Conquistadors (the English-language version published by Metal Blade Records comes out Tuesday, February 24), the Satanic handbook was rare in Poland during Darski’s youth. “My dad copied it at work,” he’s quoted as saying in the biography. “And thus I joined the elite ranks of those who had it.”
[Note: Video definitely NSFW]
The first twelve years of Nergal’s life transpired under Communism, but he doesn’t recall feeling particularly oppressed by it. “I was just a regular kid having a regular life in a shitty system,” he says, “but it didn’t really fuck me up that much. Then the reformation came in ’89, and things started changing. Not like all of a sudden. It was a process. The process is still ongoing, you know, so we are still in the middle of this evolution.”
Like many Poles, the Darski family was Catholic, yet Nergal describes his religious upbringing as “loose” rather than strict. “I come from a very average family, and average meant Catholic,” he says. “It wasn’t radical in any way. So it was probably because of that — the fact that it wasn’t really that extreme — [that] it was very easy to get out of the system.”
Getting out of the system, in his case, meant forming a metal band and assuming a personal philosophy based on, well, Satan. This is where things get murky.
Generally speaking, there tend to be two types of Satanist. LaVeyan Satanists traditionally don’t consider the guy with two horns and a pointy tale to be an actual, living deity; their ideas are more about rebelling against organized religion, with some puzzling eye-for-an-eye principles that would leave the whole world blind, were the so-called “Rules of the Earth” to be followed by all. On the other hand, theistic Satanists do believe that Satan is a real spiritual force to be (gulp) engaged with.
But Nergal fits neither of these descriptions. Closer to Luciferianism (yet another school of thought, a sort of catchall personal belief system), his is a “religion of becoming,” he says. “I’m all about just moving on and not sustaining. Stagnation equals death to me.” In the past, he’s said he’s been inspired by the Satan depicted by John Milton and William Blake. When asked whether that means he’s patterned his life after a fictional character, he replies, “Yeah, why not?”
On the next page: “I use a radical weapon to provoke people.”[
“I use a radical weapon to provoke people,” he later explains. “I want people to question things and to question the laws and think for themselves and not follow, blindly, other people’s ideals and ideologies.”
It occurs to me then that there may be a connection from his “average” upbringing that “wasn’t radical” to the “radical weapon” of his art that he wields. So I say, “Maybe your rebellion is a rebellion against an average life.”
This does not go over well.
“It looks like you’re trying to define me,” Nergal counters. “It feels like you’re trying to put a sticker on my forehead, and you’re going to fail.”
I clarify that I’m just trying to understand a little more about him.
“I’m an artist, and I’m a stage persona, and I got my alter ego, and I can be a good liar, too, and you never know it,” he says. “I can put masks on, and you never know, and you can never even guess whether I’m being one hundred percent honest or not. So it’s always smart to keep the right distance, especially if you give a shit [about] an artist that you talk to, because — well, I’m being honest, I can tell you now — but you should never believe me. Trust me.”
Is he in character now? Or just being defensive? His paradoxical words seem a bit Mephistophelian. As Goethe said in Faust, “The Lord of Lies aids your confusion.”
So who the hell is Nergal? Damned if I know.
Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse play Webster Hall on February 28 at 9 p.m. The show is sold out, but tickets can be found on the secondary market.
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