Country is not my genre. It’s more than the western imagery and glorification of the sort of life you find in the rural wastelands. That’s the part I actually like. What I don’t like about country is the typification and simplification of the western stereotypes. Instead of forging something new, instead of creating its own set of character archetypes and mores, country and western music has stagnated into glorifying banality. I figured this out a long time ago, before I even found an interest in black metal. Over the years, my position has softened on some groups, mainly groups that incorporate metal and western or bluegrass themes. With Xasthur morphing from an ambient black metal project to a “Doomgrass” project, I became aware of a much larger subgenre at play. It wasn’t until Nergal announced his own western/country project Me and That Man, that I decided maybe this subgenre was actually worth checking out. Being that the project was helmed by Nergal, I knew a few things were certain, a dash of sex, Satan, and style were inevitable. But where and how would those themes play into a country album? Songs of Love and Death finally arrived, after a few snippets and singles hinting at what laid beneath, and it was nearly exactly what I hoped it would be.
Behemoth is a highly stylistic band, the world of Behemoth is not just the music, it’s the atmosphere, it’s the imagery, it’s the very air surrounding the band. It’s the same with Me and That Man, except instead of Renaissance or Medieval era garbs, overtly Satanic motifs and corpsepaint, it’s western attire, bluesy guitars, and the desperado motif. Me and That Man does not typify or simplify the stereotypes and clichés, that’s not what Nergal does. Me and That Man exemplifies the traits instead, exaggerating the darker qualities. As a fan of Cormac McCarthy (serious read every single thing that glorious misanthrope has ever written), I’m a fan of the darker western stories. Me and That Man is the musical equivalent to a Cormac McCarthy novel. The musical motifs and lyrical themes are bleak, misotheistic, and depressive.
Those looking for a lot of Behemoth like sounds in this will be sorely disappointed. This is not Behemoth; this is not something that has anything to do with Behemoth. Beyond the stylistic flair Nergal has following him wherever he goes, this is something completely and utterly separate. Nergal recruited Polish-British legend John Porter, if I were ever granted an interview with them, I would have to ask which was is me and which one was that man. Smartass comments aside, Nergal makes it clear from the very first moment of Songs of Love and Death that this is not a passing fancy nor is it a ramshakled, hastily put together dream. This is the accumulation of a lot of hard work, influences, and understanding of the genre. Nergal helped build the Polish metal scene with his work in Behemoth, what could lie in store for him with Me and That Man? Only time will tell but so far time is telling us an entertaining yarn.
The character archetypes that I wanted to see in country? Songs of Love and Death finally started to give them to me. We are given the gunslinger, the knight errant who is in search of his future and his purpose. We are given the frontier missionary who begins to question everything he believed once he arrives in the wasteland. We are given the seasoned harlot, the world weary woman with a highly cynical outlook. We find a peddler, a silver tongued devil selling more than just wares. And of course, we are given the wasteland itself. The landscape acts as a palpable character that directs the flow of all the action in the album. The storylines of all the characters interact like a spider web, controlled by the forces of nature and the shamanistic ritualization of the west. Songs of Love and Death is about each character’s search for, and reaction to, love and death. Each archetype has a different reaction, each of them sees something different. Songs of Love and Death pays tribute to the spirit of the west, it glorifies the search for meaning and riches as well as the degradation and the depression that awaits anyone that thinks they can make it.
Musically, Songs of Love and Death pays tribute to all the greats of the western genre that didn’t let the genre itself dictate what they created like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams (all generations), and Leonard Cohen. The music is a stripped down, down tuned, and slowed down to a sweet, molasses consistency. This is definitely not Behemoth. I have to ask where the fuck Nergal was hiding these melodies because the construction is a beautiful juxtaposition to his blazing fast, hyper drawn work with Behemoth. In that sense, I think Me and That Man was necessary to allow him to slow down his thoughts. The themes here are much more intimate and personal than anything on Behemoth. He chose the right medium to express these ideas. But he’s still Nergal and still has that glorious darkness that he adds to everything. Blues and country will never be the same after this album. It’s what the genre needed, maybe not what it wanted though.
Nergal is a damn fine showman and musician. Me and That Man shows a new side of his genius, it’s shouldn’t come as a surprise that he would pursue this avenue to tell a story that we wanted, or needed, to hear. He can finally add story teller to his repertoire with this album. Behemoth was never really a narrative vehicle, unless you look at the entire discography, but Songs of Love and Death gave us a hell of a story, one worth of being written by Cormac McCarthy and brought to life by Quentin Tarantino. Songs of Love and Death is a harsh, bitter whiskey that will rot your gut but it will make you feel like you’re flying as you drink it. Whatever your feelings about his new venture away from metal, you need to give this a chance. You can thank me later.
Highlights: Voodoo Queen, My Church is Black, Cross My Heart and Hope to Die, Better the Devil I Know
If you enjoyed this try: Madrugada, Nocturnal Poisoning, John Porter, Those Poor Bastards
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