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'Lebe dich leer', Google Translate tells me, means 'Live Empty'. Hmmmm. Specifically, according to their press release, it means "Empty Yourself by Living". Because I'm not German, nor overly philosophical, I don't know what that means. What I have learned is Bethlehem are something of a veteran act, forming in 1991, consisting of ex-Morbid Vision members. They've released a good few albums in that time and have run the gamut from Extreme Metal to Industrial. Their latest album is described as being predominantly a fusion of Black and Death Metal, with quasi-Industrial/new-wave touches. They also claim to have invented the genre of Dark Metal with their debut release of the same name. Dark Metal? Seems a bit vague to me.

Twenty-five seconds in and, wow, those vocals are not going to be to everyone's taste. They're perfect for the atmosphere the band generates and, at times, echo some of Peter Benjamin's more impassioned wailing in Voices. I really quite like them. Here, they deftly back up the crushing riffs, which plod along with menacing purpose. They're simplistic in their execution, but they convey the atmosphere well; not dissimilar to latter-day Satyricon. This album is not a showboat for technical prowess, serving to convey an atmosphere that guitar wizardry would probably swamp. What elevates this beyond mere also-ran metal, though, is the strong use of melody. The guitars, despite their leaden riffing, do layer some delightful tremolo-picked and staccato melodies throughout; reminiscent of Janvs or Drukh, to some degree. So what may have been a solid, if plodding, journey through some lyrical faux-philosophy becomes a tasteful exercise in beauty. Strangely, for an extreme metal album with howling vocals, the overall atmosphere is upbeat (even if they are prone to bouts of brutality; see 'Ode an die Obszoene Scheusslichkeit').

If I have a criticism, and it is slight, it's the occasional use of extended range guitars, sprinkling nu-metal/djent garnish where it's really not needed. As it's used so sparingly, though, it can easily be forgiven. Keyboards, a staple of industrial and symphonic black metal, wash in like the tide to provide another layer to the atmospherics. They're not there for tokenism, as they really do provide substance to the songs and are used sparingly. I only wish I knew what the lyrics were, so that I could understand how, or if, each song follows the title's concept. And, just when you think you've got the band figured, they throw in a brief jazzy interlude toward the end of 'Bartzitter Flumgerenne', before exploding back to extreme metal for the last few seconds left of the album. Superb.

My initial reaction to this album was somewhat lukewarm. It didn't take me long to warm to the vocals, which will no doubt be a polarising style to many. However, it was on my third run-through that I started to notice, and absorb, the melodies. And, as I said earlier, it is those that really make this album shine. The arrangements are well thought out and do a good job in making sure that the songs don't blend into one. Dark Metal, though? This is far too bright for that.
Review by Steve Cowan
17th May 2019
1) Verdaut in Klaffenden Mäulern
2) Niemals Mehr Leben
3) Ich Weiß Ich Bin Keins
4) Wo Alte Spinnen Brüten
5) Dämonisch Im Ersten Blitz
6) An Gestrandeten Sinnen
7) Ode An Die Obszöne Scheußlichkeit
8) Aberwitzige Infraschall-Ritualistik
9) Bartzitter Flumgerenne
"Strangely, for an extreme metal album with howling vocals, the overall atmosphere is upbeat..."