Our memories are so powerful in the underground.
We want the bands we love never to change because of their most special albums, even when we know that’s not really on. So we piss on them for it, even though we’d piss on them for stagnating too.
Unless of course they’re special.
Unless their sound, or the vibe they caught is so unique, so very them, that we have to sort of fight with them to make sure it’s preserved.
Bethlehem are exactly that band.
Absolutely no-one on planet Earth has ever sounded like them. Pick any of the suicidal black metal bands you want: no-one’s even tried, because it would be pointless. They are inimitable.
They are recognisable instantly – and indeed they are recognisable right from the tone of their very drumstrokes that open this album.
As soon as you hear it you know, you just know, we’re back to their classic sound. Go on, dare to dream it: pick out ‘Dark Metal’ or Dictius Te Necare’, or ‘SUIZID’, and whap them on before this. Now play it. Yes. It’s the same briliance. The same illness.
So, years after their classics, this album is the genuine article, full of the sounds that made them, while updating ever so subtly enough to show they’re not just rehashing. As if they could.
Now dont get me wrong. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their development. It was always going to be hard to follow the classic ‘SUIZID’, and granted ‘Schatten Aus Der Alexader Weldt’ was a tad unwieldy.
But only a fool could fail to realise the sheer class of ‘Mein Weg’, which got Album Of The Month here way back twelve years ago – as did its follow up, the curiously titled ‘Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia’ in 2014.
This one though is in another league.
The vocals, as you’d expect from them, are utterly demented – and huge credit must go to new girl Yvonne Wilczynska, who barks, wails and howls in exactly the style Bethlehem have always done, while retaining her own voice. She is amazing, and harks directly back to the era of Cathrin Kampen from ‘SUIZID’.
Needless to say, the whole thing is dark as sin.
Highlights like ‘Die Dunkelheidt Darbt’ power through their own trademark blackened, doomed yet razor sharp metallic punishment with not one concession to modernity. This band is the sound of Jurgen Bartsch’s very soul, from the clean plucks to the blastbeats, and his maladies suffuse their sound completely.
More reflective tracks like ‘Gangel Gangel Gang’ malinger as if through the corridors of an abandoned mental hospital, while there’s that ever present tinge of goth in the likes of ‘Arg Tot Frohlockt Kein Kind’ – those woeful harmonies, the faintest reverbs.
I mentioned that there were a few developments bringing them ever so slightly more up to date. This comes in the form of some chorus that are slightly catchier than usual, and even the use of some detuned and slightly groovy riffing.
Keep your trousers on, they haven’t wimped out. There’s still a ton of tremolo riffing and hammering drumming on here. Yet that ever so slight groove, perhaps geared toward a live situation, has made its way in here and there. It’s pretty good as it happens.
I do miss the ultra low sung, vatic vocals of ‘Mein Weg’, which were so wonderfully Germanic and regal. But such sorrows are dispelled when Yvonne screeches into ‘Wahn Scmeidet Sarg’ with a bezerk keening that’s short only of Varg himself.
Here is the deal: Bethlehem are the true underground metal fans band, the quintessential sound of a band who absolutely do NOT give a fuck about anything except their own deranged musical voice. Their music has always dripped with sorrow, been haunted by an unspoken understanding that the reason it sounds so arrestingly unhinhged is because they are too.
The guitar harmonies are so classically them, every chord and note could only have come from their guitars and their hands.
I’ve always loved them. The fact that they’re still able to make albums this good without having felt the need to turn into some awful dark rock bollocks like Samael, or even a rather better one, like Moonspell, is somewhat astonishing.
Yet they’ve steadfastly avoided it, retreatig instead into their own cockroach infested torture dungeon at even the first hint of commercialisation, crawling into sunlight every few years with another brilliant scream of anguish.
In a world of plastic fake metal shit, Bethelehem are the real deal. Can you believe that 22 years in they’re still this stinging? I cant.
Fantastic, eccentric, depressive dark metal art. Take your fake Product Metal and fuck off.
4.4 /5 – Earl Grey ::: 07/02/16