bethlehemStarting out as a black/doom metal band in 1991 in Germany, 25 years on and many many more line-up changes later, bassist/guitarist Jürgen Bartsch is the only remaining founding member, with long time drummer Wolz retaking his 12 year post after a 5 year absence. Russian guitarist Karzov and Polish vocalist Onielar only joining the band this year but delivering rather well in my opinion. Granted I’ve never listened to any of their earlier material, so it’s possible this supposed ‘return to form’ may not be anything resembling the truth, however I find it rather well written and extremely well played. The arrangements of catchy riffs with sometimes eye clawing vocals are all melded together in such a way it nothing sounds amiss.

“Fickselbomber Panzerplauze” opens proceedings with its rapid drumming, very Motorhead-like bass rumble then quickly joined by the as fast guitar riff, but it’s the anguished vocals with a large dose of venom that bring it all together.

Nope, I don’t understand German at all, so they song titles and lyrics mean naught to me, but “Kalt’ Ritt in leicht faltiger Leere” is even faster and more ferocious than the first song. During the beautifully saccharin piano interlude played by Bartsch, Onielar put her voice through the paces going from high pitched shrieks back to black metal rasps and all spat out with the required pace to make sure your hair stands on end while she does so.

On a completely different tack “Kynokephale Freuden im Sumpfleben” brings to mind leisurely strolls through alpine meadows with pretty flowers growing in grass while Onielar whispers in your ear over the gently played guitar, but as soon as the distortion kicks in the tone of the whisper changes subtly and if you aren’t sprinting away, then you’re a braver man than I.

The blasting on “Die Dunkelheit darbt” gives it a very old school black metal feel to it when accompanied by the hyper-fast guitar, however it’s the rather bassy breakdown that takes the song to a new level as it’s as unexpected as it is heavy.

I have no idea what “Gängel Gängel Gang” is, but it’s as creepy as hell with the slow bass riff, screeching guitars and assortments of arbitrary background noises to go with the insane laughter. Definitely using the music to convey a rather unsettling mood perfectly.

A very Sisters/Nephilim sounding bass tone on “Arg tot frohlockt kein Kind” is joined by an impressively heavy guitar sound while keeping the pace nice and pleasant to give the vocals a chance to sound even more abrasive as they can’t be hurried along.

The driving rhythm on the stringed instruments is counterpointed by the drums’ off beats letting “Verderbnisheilung in sterbend’ Mahr” flow with both a rather trippy but heavy feel to it.

Other than when speaking or whispering “Wahn schmiedet Sarg” is where you are made acutely aware that Onielar is female as her vocals just manage to bring a little extra pitch and wrath. The guitar lead has a haunting melody that seems completely opposed to the rest of the song but still works remarkably well to add something very unexpected.

Going from slow to a breakneck pace in a heartbeat, “Verdammnis straft gezügeltes Aas” swaps between the two repeatedly without missing a beat but more importantly the transitions add depth to the song rather than just being changes of pace.

The final track “Kein Mampf mit Kutzenzangen” has a nice mellow drum tempo accompanied by the keyboard melody and the guitar and bass tune as it gently fades out the album on a very pleasant note.

I think the main attractor to this album is definitely the feelings it evokes as it works its way along. Definitely more mood music than just straight forward aural assault.

(7/10  Marco Gaminara)