Bethlehem | ‘Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia’
There are few things more enjoyable in metal than when one of your favourite ever bands brings out a new album from nowhere. No rumour, no updates – a total surprise.
I hadn’t heard anything at all about this new one from Bethlehem, almost eight years since their fantastic ‘Mein Weg’. I’d just supposed they’d packed it in and headed to the mental aslyum, if I’m honest.
So the fact that it’s in perfect keeping with their deranged, unhinged and utterly bleak discography is bound to delight many old fans and hopefully make some new ones in the process.
A Bleak History Of Time
If you’ve never heard of them before, Bethlehem were prime movers in what’s come to be understood as ‘dark metal’, not least because it was the title of their 1994 debut. That, and the utterly terrifying ‘Dictus Te Necare’ (1996) were the manic depressive and self loathing sounds of not-quite-black-metal drenched in a haunting atmosphere.
The jury is probably still out on which is best, but ‘Dictus’ was followed up by their 1998 masterpice, ‘S.U.I.Z.I.D’ – a record of chilling mental disturbance. And though they’d tone down and become a shade more accessible by the time of ‘Mein Weg’ in 2006, their trademark sounds have always been wholly their own.
You mightnt have heard the above albums, and if that’s the case, you should get them down you immediately. People simply do not make albums like this any more.
Old Sounds, New Terrors
The rather unwieldily titled ‘Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia’ picks up exactly where ‘Mein Weg’ left off, with huge, dark hulking chords forming the backdrop for Guido Meyer’s guttural, coarse Germanic vocals. His baritone remains absolutely superb, which means when its time for the clean signing he remains as plaintive and powerful as ever. Like Dark Metal’s Dave Gahan, but with rolled ‘r’s.
Another of Bethlehem’s trademarks remains here too – the crystal clean plucked guitars that dotted all their previous releases, somehow darker and more portentous than the heavy ones.
Everything about this album reeks brilliance. The pumping, no nonsense dark melody of ‘Ein Kettenwolf Greint’ kicks it all off with absolutely no messing about, plunging straight into the metal right from the first seconds.
The way the haunted, ghostly plucks of ‘Gebor’n Urn Zu Versagen’ open and give way into Meyer’s throat shredding vocals is just a masterclass.
Paranormal and Demented
This album’s undoubted highlight must be the demented, paranormal sounding ‘Nazi Zombies Mit Tourette-Syndrom’ (I have no idea) which marries a lamplit horror feel to some monkish chanting and odd, tape deck style wobbles. It’s a head wrecker but so compelling you’ll keep coming back to it.
The days of their proto-suicidal black metal thump back in with ‘Spotaner Freitod’, which will remind old fans effortlessly of the ‘SUIZID’ and ‘Dictus’ years. It’s followed up soon afterward by the depressive, crushing doom of ‘Warum Wurdest Du Bloss Solch Ein Schwein’.
If all of this sounds a little wilfully obscure, rest assured it isnt. This is not some artfully difficult or deliberately odd metal like Sigh. It’s dark, powerful and absolutely full of atmosphere written in a way that grips you and stays in your head.
Meyer’s vocals are so full of persona and character, and those great Bethlehem guitar tones are all there. So get this album from wherever you can, immerse yourself in it and be the richer for this maddening expression of catatonia and paranoia put to metal.
For old fans, it’s absolutely everything you still want from the Germans and more. For newcomers, consider this a superb introduction to one of the pioneers of the so-called ‘suicidal’ or depressive black metal genres, save that Bethlehem had long since eclipsed that when everyone else was copying them.
An incredilbe album, as we’ve come to expect from them.
5 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 15/11/14