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Bethlehem's Dark Metal was my first taste of black/doom metal and here I was exposed to a style of music that was like nothing I ever heard. Back then I was familiar with a few depressing songs from random bands, but Dark Metal is far more than that. It's a very powerful album, and the music found within can easily change your mood and outlook regardless of how well you're listening to it.
The best way to describe Dark Metal would be slower, simpler songs that are filled with feelings of desperation, melancholy, and madness. The Eleventh Commandment is probably the fastest song along with parts of Veiled Irreligion, but they still can be considered to have very moderate tempos. Most of the songs are simple, but goddamn, they can be incredibly depressing. Even the guitars are very simple - but they are melodic and vary frequently, showing a lot of progression in even the slower songs. Despite being simple, the songs are extremely rich. A good example would be in Second Coming, where the song starts off in a regretful spirit, but after the first verse is done, the guitars become even more melodic, making this song even sadder sounding. The progression is phenomenal and when the music slightly changes, so does your mood.
The lineup on Dark Metal is impeccable - all four band members exhibit a lot of chemistry and it shows within the music. As far as I know, this is the only Bethlehem album with Classen as the vocalist. The best way to describe him would be "solid" - even perfect. Most of his vocals are your standard growls varying in pitch every once in a while, but the thing that makes him stand out is that he sounds so lifeless. His vocals fit perfectly to the mood of the music and I could not hear it any other way. Matton's guitar work provides an incredibly melancholic and draining touch to the songs. Somehow the guitars are always at the right pitch and in that sweet spot. His efforts really help Dark Metal become something much more. Then we have Steinhoff on drums, who does not try to do anything complex, but rather does a great job keeping it simple with the nature of the music. On the really slow parts of certain songs, his drumming really matches the depressing nature of the music. It's so lifeless and decaying, but it works perfectly. Lastly, there's Juergen Bartsch on bass, providing all the missing pieces of the music with his strong foundation and presence. What separates Dark Metal from so many albums is that the bass does make a known presence and doesn't just copy the rhythmic guitars. Every member fits their niche and does their job well in relation to everyone else to make a higher quality product at the end. I couldn't think of a more fitting combination for this style of music.
Dark Metal is no joke - if you decide to listen to it, be aware of the effects it may have on you! Take the track Funereal Owlblood, for instance. This may be the most complex song on the album because of how often the guitars vary, but every riff has a heavy mood associated with it. It's by far one of the most depressing songs I've heard and the more you listen to it, the more your attitude is influenced by the music. I'd imagine some people having trouble getting through the whole song. Another example of how powerful the mood of Dark Metal is is from the track Apocalyptic Dance. Towards the end, there is somewhat faster drumming where the vocalist seems to have an angrier, but controlled. Then all of a sudden, the music takes a 180 degree turn - there's now a major conveyance of regret and loss in the music. The guitars and the bass complement each other while the drumming sets the stage for this atmosphere in the first place. Classen's harsh vocals are reduced to a melancholic spoken voice. As I said, don't be surprised if your mood changes that fast to the music! Some songs are a bit less depressing, but rather spiteful, namely Veiled Irreligion. It has the same general formula of most songs on the album, but I'll remember this track for its awesome introduction.
Bethlehem has done incredibly well to create such a solid album that can affect the listener's mood at any time. Beware! If you're feeling good and play Dark Metal, there's a good chance you'll start to feel down. Similarly, if you're already depressed, Dark Metal will make things much, much worse. Now here's the kicker - if you listen to this album and aren't feeling so good, sometimes your mood will even elevate after hearing only a few tracks. What will happen when you listen to Dark Metal? Nothing is 100% guaranteed and that's the beauty of it. Dark Metal is a tremendous example of depressing metal that has no doubt influenced so many other bands, but I don't think any will ever take the throne of Dark Metal. Buy this immediately if you want a dose of incredibly potent music that won't take too much time to see its effects! See if the digipack is available too, because then you'll get to hear what they sound like live for a few tracks.
Highlights: Second Coming, Funereal Owlblood, and Veiled Irreligion.
In 1991, four miserable spectres of negativity and despair came together, bonded by a common sense of loss and hopelessness. The dark entity that would spawn from this gathering would come to be known as Bethlehem. For a few years, this German band worked to cultivate their sound, harnessing the blackest feelings that could be called forth and capturing it on tape. In 1994, they created something so bleak and depressing that to listen to it is to tempt fate itself and to descend into the depths of the abyss with no guarantee that you will ever again see the outside world. And even if you do, your vision will be forever altered and coloured by such dismal hues that you will never be the same. Thus is the result of having experienced Dark Metal.
I was first exposed to Bethlehem through a penpal, from Sweden, that sent me several songs on an old battered cassette. At the time, I often journeyed to an old cemetery on or around the night of the full moon, to soak in the atmosphere and get away from the filth of living humans. Occasionally, I would take music with me and on this night, I was armed with my Sony Walkman and a tape that ended up leaving its mark on me, permanently. Listening to depressing music was nothing new; this often occurred when I was already feeling low, and random Doom Metal bands would fill my ears and feed the mood, in a way. However, the feeling that came from the first Bethlehem album was something different. That night, among the graves of those who had already served their time on this earth and passed beyond the gates of the mortal realm, a new kind of darkness opened its gaping jaws before me.
The opening moments of "The Eleventh Commandment" possesses more of a Black Metal feel, though this soon changes. The almost upbeat riff is ensnared by an overwhelming sense of doom and oppression. The pace slows down, considerably, and the vocals take on a deeper tone as well. As the song progresses, a mournful lead slithers through, before giving way to an ominous tremolo riff that is accompanied by mid-paced drumming. In the course of one song, elements of Black, Death and Doom Metal are brought together in a very unique manner, creating something that can only be described by citing the album's title: Dark Metal.
The second track is something altogether different, a beast that exists to torment you in the deepest of nightmares. "Apocalyptic Dance" brings to life such horrors that it almost feels that you are being pulled into a dimension of pure suffering, as the woeful melodies slowly suffocate you. The song moves at a glacial pace, slowly crushing all hope and replacing it with a cold emptiness that transcends words. The song includes some rather subdued moments where there is little else but a few words spoken and brief utilization of a clean guitar. After about four minutes, the song appears to begin in earnest, with yet another Black Metal riff that is joined by Classen's higher pitched vocals as well as subtle keyboard use, giving the sound of a funeral organ. This is followed by a section with just the bass guitar and another keyboard effect that sounds like a cello, adding depth to the already sombre atmosphere. This is contrasted by the transition to a faster pace, moving from the realm of doom back to a blacker area. The blasting drums and raspy vocals soon fade into nothingness, with a truly sorrowful clean guitar melody emerging from the shadows, with a plodding bass line underneath and minimalist drums. From the dark comes a grief-stricken lead solo that infects your heart with a poison that puts you in a hallucinatory state, unable to distinguish nightmare from reality. Visions of loss and trauma fill your mind, as demons from the past reach out for you, draining you of life. The song ends with a piano melody that lures you on, deeper into the darkness.
"Second Coming" is the next song, and this one picks up right where the previous one left off. The slow doom riffs weigh heavily on your soul, crushing your feeble hopes and grinding them into dust. The deeper vocals suit the heavier riffs, and the relatively clean production allows for every note to have the fullest effect in annihilating any lingering remnants of positivity. The guitar harmonies encircle you with gloom and anguish, bringing forth the deepest of pains that exist within the recesses of your mind. The middle of the song introduces an ephemeral tremolo melody, soon leading to another mid-paced riff. As it all ends, a wretched guitar passage leads you back to the impenetrable obscurity where you shall continue to wither and fade.
This is followed by "Vargtimmen", which bears little resemblance to the previous tracks. The main riffs lack the same type of dismal vibes that characterize the rest of the work, despite brief hints of despondency. The song still has more of a down-tempo vibe, but it is not as severe and this serves as a brief respite from the mental and emotional onslaught of the album.
"3rd Nocturnal Prayer" resumes the descent into the blackest regions of misery and torment. It begins with slow doom riffs that truly feel as if they are pulling you down, deeper into an abysmal melancholy from which you know there is no escape. There is almost a sense of beauty in such irrevocable hopelessness and ruin. In a way, this only works to prevent you from even trying to turn back, as you are strangely attracted to the tenebrous landscape before you. Though the things briefly pick up speed, it inevitably returns to the listless pace from bearlier Another organ passage adds a layer of sorrow and soon you see a crypt that is illuminated by funeral torches. A coffin waits for you, wide open and so inviting. Another guitar melody rises from the murkiness to shred your flesh and allow the crimson stream to guide you toward the eternal grave. With the final notes, you finally realize that no one will be there to weep for you. As you pass from one level of hell to another, it becomes clear that you are already forgotten and that you shall perish in utter solitude.
From the very first moments of "Funereal Owlblood", you can feel the life being drained from your body and all energy dissipating in the cold night sky. The depressive guitar riffs are joined by some of the deepest vocals to appear on the entire album. The drums are crushing, yet simple, while the primary focus is exactly where it should be: the hauntingly miserable guitar melodies. During these moments, the listener is imbued with a profound sense of emptiness. By the middle of the song, there is a dynamic shift as the songs takes on a faster pace and the vocals are much thinner than before. Sections like this give the album its Black Metal feel, though it is rather brief. As things slow down once more, untold horrors are visited upon your mind, as you soon dread what is to come.
"Veiled Irreligion" contains more sorrowful melodies that carve right through your chest like a freezing cold blade. The pace is varied, going from lethargic and oppressive to rather upbeat in a strange way. While the slower sections are truly anguished and create a sensation of pressure on your chest, the other parts alleviate this just enough to allow you to pass through, relatively unscathed. However, just as you think you are out, the final austere notes wrap around you and give one final squeeze.
The album ends with "Gepriesen Sei der Untergang", which is even slower and more ominous than some of the previous tracks. The atmosphere is less depressive and more hellish. It is at this point that your own cries die down just enough to hear the demonic laughter emanating from the shadows, as your journey through the realm of eternal flame begins. A few sombre chords from a clean guitar signal the end of the proceedings, as your pathetic soul wanders deeper into endless torment.
As common of a saying as it may be, Dark Metal is not for the faint of heart. If any sense of despair or melancholy resides within you, the bleak melodies and soul-crushingly oppressive riffs will allow it to wholly consume you. While doing so may be dangerous and leave you in a pool of your own blood, this album is best appreciated in the solitude of the nocturnal hours. Whether it owes more to Black or to Doom Metal is inconsequential, as this record should appeal to anyone that wishes to immerse themselves in something truly dark. Take it for what it is and get this immediately.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Because of its perceived length and evolving time span, it should be made clear that the feeling here on Bethlehem's 'Dark Metal' isn't mythical with epic fire-breathing sounds and proportions. Gallantly riding a horse to battle hymns or away into the sunset with pride or nationality. This isn't brutal or ravenous, or even twisted or crude. Belching from the charred corpse that was sauteed on the ol' human barbeque pit. Though on its own it sustains the solemn, dark moods musically from black metal with some characteristic pacing from the genre of doom, along with a certain oppressive feel from the calculated combination. Coming out as a thinking-man's-experiencing-man's riddle wrapped in a massive dose of pro-depressants.
Bethlehem had their own niche going for them back at the time of their debut release. Where some releases in extreme metal would be more blunt in purpose, delivering those notes with full-frontal regard. Letting it be known where they came from with loud shouts and informal acknowledgments. Though 'Dark Metal's atmosphere is like seeing a tumbleweed move by, slowly rolling, twisting and turning, yet with that building anticipation of the coming ominous wind and weather. Like black and grey clouds are perpetually hovering over your head with near dark shade. Creating music that umbrellas surrounding light into something that dims the room, roughens objects' visibility with long and hard shadows, and makes this varying grey ambiance out of the entire experience. And in turn, an experience that is hard to shake free of.
This has black, death and doom elements. Spilled out, textured and let loose throughout the album. Like a mad paint brush who's possessed purpose is to paint surreal pictures in dismal charcoaled tones. The music on 'Dark Metal' is pretty temperamental, switching up its pacing between mid-paced trotting, down to drifting slower sections, and climbing up to some very rare faster heights. The guitars and bass arguably carry the music with the vocals coming in and out to rightfully take back the stage depending on the particular moment of a song, and a drummer who keeps things together without showing off or distracting you from the gradual, flowing music. The collective here is suspended in something that could be called their own domain, creating unrest from an elevating presence; an idyllic setting where the immaterial drift in and out of coexisting realities. Bethlehem has a forlorn side in this regard: playing guitar lines that should have been reserved for somber violinists; resigned bass lines that a composer for a serious drama wishes he could have grabbed up; and alternating vocal changes that pass as phantoms would through fogged wrought-iron cemetery gates.
The production is loud and decently separated from a studio recording. This isn't raw, hissy or rusty-saw blade inducing, which you might expect out of material as such. Though there are a decent amount of necessary effects applied here to the instruments giving it that extra ounce of hopelessness. Applying it to the guitars with a vast and surrounding quality as he plucks faster melodies or floats with the carrying singly strummed hits. The song writing bottles hours and minutes in an enclosed jar, pulling you away with its dives and dips. Not fashioning it after some strict formula, like the typical intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, verse, chorus structure. Longer songs seem fundamental to their power and purpose. This uses peaking moments to add a melodic side, using tremolo picked guitar lines overtop of a trotting medium beat by the drummer. There are some non-continuous palm mutes as well that might resemble death metal in a way, but without the brutal or hammering it to you part of it. During some of the slower parts, the guitar might hit a continuous note till it fades into another strum. Along with some layered guitar tracks overtop of a repeated section that might resemble a lead because of their highness, and also because they might be played on just a single string with some bending. This also uses some kind of underwater effect on his guitars during some sections, and is as much a coined feature I have to say for Bethlehem as the loose genre characterization of dark metal is to their overall projection. The drummer has some equally enhanced effects applied to his kit. It doesn't have a weighted quality though, even with a snare drum that is sort of a medium, on-the-verge of higher sound.
'Dark Metal' has some uniquely placed bass lines, that might either stand out on their own or are heard clean with the guitar's construction. They are simplistic in execution, but carry as much to the larger scheme of things as the guitars do. There are also select areas with some subtly played keyboards. Generally when a section has repeated itself the keys might join in or during a few peaking moments, and they might be even hardly heard in the background as well. They can be abstract in nature, or traveling over with some more concrete variations even with a track with a short piano segment at the end of their longest track, and another with an organ spread overtop of slowly subduing instruments. The vocals can be a deeper presentation with an extended growl, or filled with more disheartening emotion as a nasally higher tone. The last song has some clean spoken German from a perceived lost radio transmission, with spacy feedback from the guitars, and a section with some basic, prominent sounding bass and slower paced drums with the return of the coined watery guitar effect. In turn being a fitting, penetrative song to wind down and conclude the album. Made to be your last salute and farewell greeting.
Like a solitary ghost, Bethlehem have created something unique and I can imagine will last for many more years as result. 'Dark Metal' is like reading a cheerless epitaph inscribed on a weather beaten headstone. Enclosed in a certain unbreaking thought abandoning everything else and causing a fixation. Having a few genres fused together, but not having one war for control. Because their odyssey travels one moment at a time, one escalating thought to the next using certain musical styles to convey a point. It carries a grave ball and chain, lurching through with a joyless martyr's resonance of conviction. It contains all the essential elements of a building process, mood, and fully accomplished creativity. It is brilliant in capturing precise and shifting emotions through something as tried-and-true as a vocalist and three musicians I feel could have done. It is also an album that can be turned back to and turned back to without losing its enigma, knowing when you put it on it is going to electrocute your nerve endings and jolt your ears as well. I highly recommend you take the esoteric plunge into Bethlehem's 'Dark Metal,' shuffle off this mortal-skinsuit, and extend your immortal-coil from an album's demeanor that can quite possibly send a spine up its shiver.
Ahhh... Bethlehem's Dark Metal.
I actually haven't heard too much about Bethlehem (it may just be my ignorance or that Bethlehem actually isn't a very well-known band) but I was browsing files and I found this album. I downloaded it, expecting a typical mono-rhythmic drumming sequence with piercing vocals, as any other black metal band... I was pleasantly surprised.
This album is what the name suggests, Dark Metal. It's of its own genre, I can never classify it as black metal; maybe doom metal. The vocals are extremely melancholic and desperate; the guitars and music in the background also offer a very droning, and sluggish environment. This album continues throughout in each track with this sort of environment, never letting up on the rather awkward and bleak aura.
The vocals, in my opinion, deserve their own little paragraph in this review. Bethlehem's vocalist (at the time of "Dark Metal), Andreas Classen, offers a very unique style of guttural grunts, shrieks, and growls. He is very different then the other black metal vocalists, in that his vocals are emotionally-charged, and not all shrieking with no purpose (as can be seen in a variety of black metal bands).
While the vocals are great, the music wouldn't be complete without the other components. The guitars incorporate an impressive blend of abrasiveness and melody. The down-tuned guitars seem to drone the listener out into a different world. And while all this is occurring the bass is playing it's own exclusive riff on top of the droning guitars. The reverb and delay on the instruments is what creates this sort of confusing, disorderly, musical environment that immerses the listener... This is truly art in an abrasive form.
I think Dark Metal was the beginning of Bethlehem's peak, along with Dictius Te Necare. Dark Metal has made Bethlehem one of my favorite bands, and has prompted to make Bethlehem more noticeable in the dark/doom metal genres. Bethlehem has also pushed itself to be an intrinsic part of any true metalhead's collection.
"Dark Metal" is a melancholic masterpiece.
Every single time I put this on I am captured by the devastation, dismay, yearning melancholy... it is absolutely impossible for me to ignore the fucking amazing melody lines of every single song on this, the ultimate crown jewel of the doom metal genre. I realized it had been quite a long time since I listened to this, so I put it on and once again, I realized that there is no topping DARK METAL in terms of crushing, overpowering, DARK METAL!
Despite the number of people who like this album but consider the follow-up album "Dictius te Necare" to be the epitome of Bethlehem's career, I have no doubt that this is surely the better of the two, and of course their best work ever. They will never top it, and no so-called "doom metal" band probably ever will. The reason for this might be that the style is really so simple, slow, and droning (with only a few faster bits), but at the same time SO incredibly effective that the result is a lot more complex than its simple structure. I can't stress enough just how monumental the atmosphere on this album is.
Obviously the vocals are way less "standout-ish" than Landfermann's on the next album. The key thing is, though, that these vocals are better precisely *because* they don't steal the show, and they are in fact more enjoyable to listen in the end after the novelty of the crazy vocals on Dictius te Necare wear off. Though I really like the second album as well, for some reason Landfermann's vocals just seem so "extreme" that it's like he's trying too hard to sound depressed and suicidal at times. Chassen's vocals on Dark Metal are just as varied, but just less "extreme", that's all, and to me at least, he conveys more of a devastating feeling.
Which songs could I possibly point out as highlights? There isn't a song, or even a moment for that matter, on this album that isn't supreme. Let's see... the first song, The Eleventh Commandment, kicks off the album with some faster but still simple riffing. It takes a minute or two before you start to realize how simple the songwriting is, after the opening riff is just played over and over again, but constantly built on with layered guitars and great vocal work. This kind of strategy is present in basically all of the songs. The next song, Apocalyptic Dance, is perhaps one of the best ones, especially for its emotionally charged bass-only breaks (courtesy of one of my favourite bassists and only current original member, Jurgen Bartsch) leading into great melodies, and the piano section at the end to cap it off.
I won't discuss every song, because for those who haven't heard this you just have to listen for yourself, but I'll make a special mention of what I think is the best song of all. Funereal Owlblood is, I think, the most absorbing of them all, right from the very first killing note. Something that anyone with a good sense of imagination should try is listening to this song (after hearing all those before it, of course) and imagining as lucidly as one can that this will be the last song ever heard before one's death... OK, humour me here, it's about a 7 minute song, so try to convince yourself that you've got 7 excruciating minutes to live, and that this song will play for those last minutes of life... if you're good at focussing on this idea while still hearing the music, just wait and see how you feel when that fast part comes in near the end of the song, with the one and only "blast beat" on the album!! I know the feeling, because I've tried this, and let me tell you, the human mind is capable of incredible fantasies and delusions if you use it right (and if you have the right soundtrack of course!)... anyway, this is a long review, but I'm feeling particularly close to this album right now, so it's the best time to do this. You have to hear this, even if you have before. Hopefully if you didn't like it at first you can see beyond the surface and maybe my conviction will even help that along!