Reviewed: December 2001
Released: 1994, Adipocere Records
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
Hidden Gem Review
If you’ve never heard DARK METAL, you’re missing part of the metal experience. Here is an album so slow, so heavy, so thick, and so ultimately depressing that it almost defies description. Anyone who denies the power of heavy metal to change one’s mood ought to take one listen to this icy slab of despair. If Evil G’s metal polls ever tackle the question of what is the gloomiest metal album of all time, expect Bethlehem’s DARK METAL to take top honors.
It doesn’t even really start out that way. The first track, “The Eleventh Commandment,” is fairly standard European black metal, albeit with a doomy edge. But wait until the second track, “Apocalyptic Dance.” Tortured, downtuned, lurching lethargically through several slow sections, spoken German vocals and other niceties designed to remove any shred of happiness or self-esteem from your body, it perfectly sets the tone for the misery to come. “Second Coming” drones on like a funeral dirge – not just slow, but HEAVY. Every crack of the drums sounds mired in molasses. Every guttural vocal growl is like listening to torture in slow motion. It’s so effective you almost feel like someone has doused you with thick, sticky oil. That’s doom metal at its finest!
Bethlehem proceeds at this apocalyptically slow pace for most of the rest of the album, with songs like “Funereal Owlblood” sounding almost like they’re about to grind to a halt. While it’s not exactly Morgion, in 1994 Bethlehem certainly had the knack for the slow and doomy side of the metal spectrum. As you might expect, the album just feels dirty and low. Production is thin and blotchy, like most classic black metal albums made before 1995. Even the cover art – a wispy, smoke-like skull bleeding up from pure black – has a minimalist, nihilistic approach. I don’t know what these guys did, but this music is completely devoid of hope. It’s one of the purest metal listening experiences I can think of, and the emotion that’s presented so purely is sadness. Even happy, well-adjusted metal fans may find their general frame of mind dragged down by this album.
Sadly, Bethlehem never (in my opinion) managed to match the concentrated gloominess they achieved with DARK METAL, and I’ve been consistently disappointed by their other albums. Still, something draws me back to this one again and again. At heart I’m probably a sucker for doom metal. The Candlemass/St. Vitus type sound always appealed to me. Bethlehem did it differently, fusing it with a black metal influenced sound, but the results are on par with any release by the truly classic doomsters. This is a must-have album…but be sure to remove sleeping pills, razor blades and operable firearms from your home before listening to it!
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