1991 The year of Bethlehem’s inception. Since then they have released a plethora of LP’s, splits and EPs. The style within those recordings has whipped between DSBM, Industrial, Black Metal and the outright weird. In 2016 the present incarnation with a new front woman Onielar dropped a self titled beast of dark abrasive brutality. Onielar was well known for her bestial work with Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult – check some videos on Youtube if you haven’t already, her performances are amazing.

With “Lebe Dich Leer” the band have continued in the same vein.  Nine tracks of dark, sometimes brooding, sometimes brutal metal but always filled with melody and oozing atmosphere.

There are elements of industrial as on “Niemals mehr Leben” but the mix of banshee shrieked vocals and harsh rasps keep things nice and abrasive.  This is a truly dark album. As someone who speaks no German (aside from cod phrases from old Commando comics) the vocals blasted me like an aural water cannon. The use of whispered phrases followed by raging torrents and mournful howls paint a visceral soundscape. Track three (I don’t have the right keyboard to type the correct characters) is reminiscent of King Diamond in the tale it tells – I have no clue of the story but it terrified me.

“Wo alte Spinnen bruten “ that follows is a mix of groovy black thrash, Celtic Frost and a hint of Dick Dale.  Bethlehem are able to draw on all the influences of their near thirty year existence to change gear at the drop of a pick , from crushing doom riffs to the softest melodies and gentle hi-hats the production ensures each note is resonant.

“Damonisch im Ersten Blitz” is an angry punky slab of avant-garde BM – elements of Killing Joke and post punk in there.  All nine tracks ooze darkness like a stick of Whitby Rock.  The longest track here is under 8 minutes and the shortest under 3. Each song slots perfectly within the album but could also stand alone in any compilation or playlist which is saying something in a genre filled with rambling overstuffed behemoths.

“An gestrandeten Sinnen” has a guitar parts that soar like the most uplifting trad metal and a lick that erupts like Gary Moore. This is a band that truly love rock and metal and wear that passion on their spiked sleeves.  I don’t want to spoil the surprise of one of the intros. Just go with it. You’ll grin then metal gurn and thrust your claw in the air!

Album closer “Bartzitter Flumgerenne” is a whirling bi-polar eruption of brilliance and bookends proceedings marvellously.

Lebe dich Leer is a great album, a real experience . Like a metal circus with no animal cruelty but extra make up and fake blood (at least I hope it’s fake). Roll up roll up!

(8.5/10 Matt Mason)