Saturday, 13 February 2016

Alphabetical Discovery - Week B, Day One: Bethlehem

Taken from Bethlehem Official (Facebook)

Bethlehem are credited for inventing dark metal, or at least for bringing together black metal with a morose gothic spirit. With major line-up changes effecting each album, their first two albums are most consistent with proliferating the crushing dark metal sound. 1994's Dark Metal and 1996's Dictius Te Necare (Latin: You must/should kill yourself) can be defined by the extremely tortured vocals of Andreas Classen (on the first album) and Rainer Landfermann (on the second): schizophrenic, shredding, croaked, groaned, shrieked, cried and spat - at times goblin-hobbit like, at others a step down from the melancholy of Tom G. Warrior - always sadistic and unstable. A rather unsupported statement follows: Bethlehem paved the way for the glut of depressive black metal bands that emerged out of Europe and Scandinavia in the years to come; if not, they were at least one of the first. Bands like Sweden's Shining (formed in 1996), Silencer (formed in 1995), and Italy's Forgotten Tomb (formed in 1999.)

Bethlehem - Dictius Te Necare
The music - forgetting the vocals - itself is strikingly good. On Dictius Te Necare - my favorite of the first two - the pace varies from a typical first-wave inspired black fury - but a lot meatier than the typical early 90's sound - and sparse and dragging doom sections akin to Candlemass. Sometimes, as in 'Die anarchische Befreiung der Augenzeugenreligion', the guitars reverberate alone and grating vocals and gloomy ambient under-flow; or in 'Aphel - Die schwarze Schlange' as the morose solo bass clangs in the hollows between black-metal riffing and down-tuned slabs. The contrast between loud and quiet, aggressive and melancholy is very well done. The atmosphere they create is also truly oppressive: take the end section of 'Verhei├čung - Du Krone des Todeskultes', for example, where eerie gothic chanting, blocks of post-punk/goth synth and German spoken-word broods.

All song titles and lyrics on Dictius Te Necare are in German, and that's a more disconcerting and unsettling thing than your typical depressive lyrics written in English; this is where bands like Shining fail, their lyrics and persona's as promoters of suicide and self-harm is a cheap attempt at clutching for something to differentiate them from the crowd, for getting a bit of media attention and morbid curiosity. It's a shame because their music is multiple times more interesting, diverse and unique than their childish extremism. Of course, it's meant to upset, it's meant to cause controversy; it doesn't upset me, it just gives the music a much cheaper feel. 

After writing the last paragraph I've realised it's wrong to pigeon-hole Bethlehem with depressive black-metal. Bethlehem have much more to do with gothic and melancholy doom similar to Anathema, Paradise Lost and Katatonia. The 11 minute epic 'Apocalyptic Dance' from Dark Metal is thick and crushing with interesting riffs, haunting violins and a general harrowing atmosphere that runs throughout the album. Classen's vocals on Dark Metal are slightly more conventional: consistently deeper gutturals and growls, yet they still maintain a raspy black metal evilness. Bethlehem are crushing and maniacal and will satisfy the most corrupted of minds.

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