“It’s more about the attitude. The charisma. It’s not about making songs tailored for radio. I don’t give a fuck about radio!” Nergal on recruiting metal royalty for his bluesy side-project, Me And That Man
The Behemoth frontman shares his passion for his new record, as well as his frustration at how COVID-19 has shaken up his livelihood.
Image: Oskar Szramka
Adam Nergal Darski is an intriguing figure. For a man who’s named himself after an ancient Mesopotamian god of war, plague and death, he’s pretty down-to-earth and laid-back. So despite all of the inverted crosses, corpse paint and screaming, it wasn’t a massive surprise when Nergal launched Me And That Man in 2017, a project that let him explore blues-rock, dark Americana and gothic folk. The blacked-out ESP guitars and lethal amounts of distortion were gone, having been replaced by a Gretsch White Falcon running into an old-school combo amplifier.
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Following its inception, Me And That Man has morphed into a portal between the worlds of extreme metal and old-school rockabilly blues: its latest two albums leverage star-studded guest lists to weave a unique landscape of dusty Americana and devil-worshipping blues ballads. We caught up with Nergal just as his latest LP, New Man, New Songs, Shit, Vol.2, was released.
Me and the devil blues
The connection between metal and blues might seem an obvious one, with the swing and pentatonic vamping of Black Sabbath unavoidable in some areas of the genre. But Behemoth formed in the wake of the second wave of black metal, and hip-swinging rock-and-roll attitude was (alongside pretty much everything) looked on with scorn by that scene’s forebears.
Luckily, this is an attitude Nergal has greatly distanced himself and Behemoth from – but there’s still room to cut loose now and then. After all, Behemoth aren’t exactly easy listening. “Me And That Man is game night,” Nergal tells us. “Behemoth is very uptight, very focused, very driven, while Me And That Man is just: ‘Hey man, take it easy, grab a drink and relax, just breathe out.’ Doing that record, and putting it all together – it feels like I’m curating a party and I’m inviting all of my friends And we’re just having the time of our lives and it just feels good, and the energy is awesome. Everyone is sharing their talents and skills and the outcome is so immensely fulfilling.”
His enthusiasm for how the album ended up is evident. “I couldn’t be happier about that record,” he says. “Usually, when I finish an album there are some things, like: ‘I would like to tweak that, change a few details.’ But not here. The whole record is quite perfect to my ears.”
One of the most striking highlights of the album is hearing metal musicians perform free of the genre’s restrictions. It can lead to unexpected results, and there are a few stand-out surprises for Nergal: “I didn’t have a clue that Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe is way more than a screamer. He’s a great frontman of a great band, but I’ve never heard him doing that kind of stuff. When I did, it was just… holy shit. The same goes for Alissa White-Gluz. In Arch Enemy, she’s a screamer, she comes here and she does this fucking emotional diva singing, it’s very soulful, it’s deep and it’s awesome. So many of the songs just got flipped upside down and they turned into something you’d never expect.”
Another surprise came from former Iron Maiden vocalist Blaze Bayley, in the form of All Hope Is Gone. “I’m actually a fan of Blaze Bayley in Maiden – I like both records he did with them,” Nergal states. Not everyone is – The X Factor and Virtual XI don’t have the best reputation within the fanbase. Nergal laughs and says: “Here it’s like, ‘finally, someone wrote a good song for Blaze!’”
But he’s not just being flippant. All Hope Is Gone was written by Bayley, with a personal subject matter that his time in Maiden wouldn’t have allowed for. “On this record, he sang a story of his life,” Nergal explains. “it’s this very sad blues ballad about his wife who passed away years ago. And again, that was a surprise, like ‘this guy is really coming out here, and it’s serious and emotional.’”
Mountains and valleys
In keeping with the “game night” aspect of the project, not every song tackles as heavy a subject matter. “There’s a few with a wink, you know a more humorous approach. Blues And Cocaine – you can’t really read that seriously, right? Because it’s about a guy who writes a letter to Jesus, saying ‘give me some addiction, some alcohol, some drugs, so I can face up to my sinful ego.’
“So there are all kinds of vibes on the record. And they just meld together quite nicely. It’s up and down, it’s mountains and valleys – it starts off super smooth, almost relaxing even though it’s a funeral march, and then it just turns into fucking rockabilly on steroids. So it’s a trip, it’s an adventure.”
Not every guest musician comes from the world of extreme metal, too, which only adds to that variance. The first song on the album features Hank Von Hell, former lead singer of punk legends Turbonegro. The sad news that Von Hell had died aged just 49 broke just hours after we spoke with Nergal on the day of the album’s release, and his death puts the “funeral march” that starts the record in a new light. “It’s a weird song to start it all off,” Nergal tells us. “The way he approached that song – how I interpreted it, it’s almost like rapping, there’s almost a hip hop kind of groove to it. This is the closest Me And That Man gets to hip hop. It’s not, obviously, but it has that rhythm, that storytelling aspect.”
Nergal admits he’s not the most technically-gifted clean singer, and so he’s happy for Me And That Man to focus on collaboration and storytelling. “When I sing my songs, I’m telling you my story,” he says. “It’s not like a Pavarotti thing, showing off and just trying to reach another scale with my vocal range. With singers like Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop – it’s more about the attitude. The charisma. The idea. The vision. It’s not about making songs tailored for radio. I don’t give a fuck about radio!”
Thanks to the huge guestlist, the album’s stories come from a wide range of perspectives – metal royalty rubs shoulders with musicians who have emerged onto the scene in the last 10 years. “On many levels, this record is also like a fanboy dream,” Nergal tells us. “I mean, you’ve got Iron Maiden, Slayer and fucking Venom on the same song. And it’s not even metal! So deal with that!”
But for Nergal, it wasn’t just the chance to work with his heroes on New Man, New Songs, Shit, Vol.2 that had an impact. When we mention the presence of newer artists such as Amalie Bruun from Myrkur, Nergal takes things one step further. “I realised that I need more women in my life,” he says. “Alissa White-Gluz and Amalie, they’re extremely talented, they’re gorgeous and they’re good friends of mine – and that is a privilege.
“Me And That Man started as a very manly project, but then it just started opening up. And, ok, we’re talking artistic stuff here, but I’m gonna take it further. Musicians, artists, societies, countries – we need more women in our lives. If there were more women in our art, in politics, with that space to express themselves, the world would be a better place to live. And I really mean that. On the previous album, I had Johanna Sadonis of Lucifer, another good talented friend of mine. But because there are more women on this record, it is slightly better. More women on it, that means it can only be better.”
Nergal’s not using the same guitar gear for Me And That Man as he is for Behemoth. It’s “a completely different set of tools,” he tells us, starting with his amplifier. “It’s some Peavey Classic combo I got years ago. I remember, I was hooked up with Peavey through Behemoth – I was using their 6505, and I asked them about an amp for Me And That Man and they sent this vintage-sounding combo. So it’s that combined with a Gretsch, it doesn’t really need much more than just a boost in between. For the recent shows I used my LCFR boost pedal, which is obviously meant for extreme metal, but I tried it for the blues-oriented stuff and it did the trick as well.”
Guitar-wise, Nergal has a strong affinity for Gretsch White Falcons. “I’m endorsed by Gretsch because I love them,” he says. “I approached them first! It started with Guns N’ Roses, with Izzy Stradlin and also Billy Duffy – seeing them rock those guitars, I was hooked. And when I started doing stuff that’s less extreme, it was time for me to finally jump on that wagon.
And, while Behemoth are tuned down three semitones to C♯ standard, for Me And That Man: “It’s mostly E standard. But what I did for the first time is use DADGAD, on Coldest Day In Hell. I was just fucking around with tunings, I remember someone showed DADGAD to me years ago – and I thought, well I’ve never used it. The cool thing about it is – you just punch the strings, you know, and grab a chord and it sounds awesome already. There’s some magic about that, it was very easy to write that song – it has this monotonous kind of vibration, it vibrates and goes on and on. Which came from using that tuning.”
“There’s also a Dobro on the record,” Nergal reveals. “I didn’t play it – i’m not that advanced in my technique, but maybe at some point I’ll jump on one of those and try to improve my skills and do something in the future.”
When we talk to Nergal, he’s a busy man. Not only is Me And That Man’s new record out, he’s also just put together the live album for In Absentia Dei – the utterly cinematic pandemic live-stream Behemoth organised in autumn last year. Far from being a home acoustic project broadcast over a shaky Zoom call, In Absentia Dei was filmed in an abandoned church, bringing Behemoth’s full bloody and fiery live show to screens around the locked-down world.
The motivation to do such an intense performance came from Nergal’s own exhaustion with the inactivity of the lockdown, which is – as many can relate to – reaching a peak after almost two years of uncertainty. “At the start of the lockdown, I was quite delighted. Because I had just come off this massive arena tour with Slipknot, I was worn out, I was drained, I just needed to rest. And the lockdown came, and I had to cancel all the performances, all the promo trips. And I was relieved!
“For months, I wasn’t doing anything but sleeping, working out, reading books, watching TV. That was it. No deadlines. No flights. I was sick of flying. I was sick of meeting people. I was sick of that lifestyle. But that was because I was overdoing it.
“So it took me a few months, but I started to feel like ‘that’s enough, let’s do something.’ But there were no prospects to fucking go on tour, and that’s why we did In Absentia Dei, because we knew there was nothing. Now it’s opening up partly – shows postponed, shows happening with different rules,” he says, and notes his main hope is for 2022’s festival season to go ahead.
Nergal’s exasperation with the confusing and interminable reality of living through a pandemic is palpable. “This is going to sound pessimistic but, the normality we knew from before? Never happening again,” he says. “There’s gonna be a new reality, we’ll need to adapt to that. But this needs to happen ASAP. Because people are gonna fucking freak out. It’s too much.
“I’m quite sick of it, I’m getting on-and-off depressed, I’m trying to kill my time – I’m trying to keep it quite dynamic, you know, I fly here and there if I can. But it’s just little things! I was on the road for the last 20 years of my life. And there are hundreds, thousands, millions of people like myself who – it’s not just how they make their living, it’s about their wellbeing.”
Nergal admits his career will survive, but as we’ve seen over the pandemic the financial impact wasn’t always the worst thing. “I’ll manage, I know it, but it’s more than that. It’s my mental state. That’s what I’m concerned about. I see how many people around me are now going to fucking psychiatrists, and how more and more people are going on antidepressants because they can’t fucking cope with what’s happing. And that’s natural, because this way of living, it’s like a test on rats.”
On a more uplifting note, he reveals how, without the in-the-flesh interaction, the internet has offered up: “I’m reading all the comments on the Me And That Man songs, and I feed on those comments,” he says, before offering us a manifesto for what are (hopefully) the final days of a pandemic: “To whoever is reading this, please do share your thoughts – us musicians, us artists, are outdoing ourselves in this situation. And I need to ask people, ‘hey, maybe you need to do something extra for us this time.’ Because it’s not just about survival. It’s about maintaining the spirit, staying motivated, and staying focused.
“Here’s my statement to everyone. Help. Just stick to us, you know, keep on buying records, keep on commenting. I see that there’s so much content on social media, people lose interest, they’re so distracted, the world overall is getting less interested. If I don’t have organic interaction with people at a live show, I need the equivalent in the digital world. I need the action, the motivation, the interaction.”
And, like his sheer exhaustion at the last two years, Nergal’s plans to celebrate his record’s release are relatable enough. “This is my last interview,” he tells us. “So I’m just gonna grab a bottle of wine and fuck off. Because I need to reset my brain.”