To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning
dB rating: 9/10
Release Date: December 2, 2016
Label: Prophecy Productions
Jürgen Bartsch couldn’t leave well enough alone. After 2014’s remarkable yet unpronounceable Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, Germany’s head tormentor was sure as Hell is hot that it would be Bethlehem’s final release. Clearly, after gutting suicidal black metal’s most famous act down to the bone, the future—without the services of the unparalleled Guido Meyer de Voltaire and Olaf Eckhardt—looked absolutely grim. Two years. That’s how long Bartsch was on the lam from his most cherished abyss before acquiescing to its sickly allure. Bethlehem, the group’s eighth, sees the world with new eyes (but with old trauma intact). Joining the legendary Bartsch are drummer Steve Wolz (a Bethlehem alum), guitarist Ilya Karzov and vocalist Onielar (of Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult fame). The new lineup is as effective as any in Bethlehem’s past, actually, considering the 10 tracks on offer are perched perilously on the razor’s edge that separates reincarnation and the apocalypse.
Songs like “FickeselBomber Panzerplauze” (oh, my bass!), “Kalt' Ritt in leicht faltiger Leere” and “Verdammnis straft gezügeltes Aas” are straight out of mid-’90s Euro black. They thunder, growl, spit and threaten like the times of old but with new fire at the fore. Opposite, Bethlehem adore making their victims squeamish. “Gängel Gängel Gang,” topped by Onielar’s wicked witch squawks and snarls and bottomed by Bartsch’s butchered low end, is the kind of funeral march composed for the most nefarious of humans. The song sounds positively early ’90s—as if Disharmonic Orchestra got caught interpreting Root. Similarly, but not quite are post-punk crooked middle fingers “Arg tot frohlockt kein Kind” and “Kein Mampf mit Kutzenzangen.” Here, Karzov invokes his best Reg Smithies, if only after unmeasured doses of linctus. Make what you will of Bethlehem—back then or right now—but there are few bands on this burning planet of heartbreak that make the living days better.
— Chris Dick
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