Released: 1996, Season of Mist
Reviewer: Night of the Realm
Bethzaida has been on my list of bands to investigate for some time. I had been unable to track much information down about this rather obscure Norwegian band until I discovered a copy of NINE WORLDS up for grabs on Ebay. Knowing only that they played some sort of blackened folk-death, I took the gamble and picked this one up.
Popping the CD into the player for the first time, I am completely blown away by a thin, but melodic lead combined with the absolutely crushing, catchy rhythm of the opening track, “Dawn (Part II);” the first version appeared on the band’s demo. Here is a great example of what I can only describe as “Pagan Folk-death metal.” The track carries on at a mid- to fast pace, reminding me somewhat of an early Immortal, only more melodic. Nearing the midpoint of the track, things slow down a bit to include a doomish, folky interlude, complete with the flute, played by vocalist Lars Hirsch, much like one would hear with the Russian band Rakoth (see my review of their album, PLANESHIFT in the August, 2002 reviews). The chorus, punctuated by Hirsch’s throaty growling, is especially catchy with heavy hitting riffs.
From here on out, things take a different path, somewhat to my disappointment. Following up the amazing “Dawn” is “Dividement,” a slow, chugging death-doom track with a riff that I would swear was stolen from Candlemass’ “Solitude.” After the beating administered by the opener, this change of style is almost jarring. The band still incorporates the folk atmosphere with mellow guitar interludes and flute solos. “…And Then I Turned Towards Darkness” carries along in the same fashion as “Dividement,” with some slower, though still quite heavy, crunchy riffs. One other track that stands out is “Frozen Wastes,” which uses an interesting combination of a somewhat simplistic, thin lead and riff and thick, croaking vocals to create a heavy, ominous atmosphere, made ethereal and haunting by interludes of flute creeping in occasionally. “The Outsider” is the best track next to “Dawn.” In fact, it is similar in style as the opener, though not as fast, using a pattern of tight riffs with forceful vocals. The lyrics are inspired by HP Lovecraft, and this track does a fine job of conveying the horror of Lovecraft’s tales. The last great song on the album is “Burn, Fire for the Ancient Vampire,” typical of the faster tracks I have discussed here.
So where does this album fall short? Bethzaida demonstrates on several tracks, notably “Dawn,” “The Outsider,” and “Frozen Wastes” that they have the ability to create some excellent Pagan-folk death metal, but many of the remaining tracks on the album are going too strong in the doom direction. I find this juxtaposition to be too eclectic for one album, and a style that I feel Rakoth has done better on their albums. I am sure that if the band chose to focus on either end of the spectrum, I would have enjoyed the album much more.
The faster tracks on Bethzaida’s NINE WORLDS receives very high marks from me, and I find the use of folkier instruments such as flute, organ, and upright bass to fit very well into the situation. For the tracks along the death-doom path, they are not bad at all. I admit that after being blown away by the first track, I was hoping for an album more in that style, so for that reason, I find the change of styles among tracks to be too much for me.
When I was searching the net for more information regarding Bethzaida, I found very little. I know they have another album or two under their belts, but I presume that Bethzaida will remain as obscure as they are now. If you come across this album, I strongly suggest that you at least check it out. Any fans of folk metal, as well as fans of bands like Rakoth, Cruachan, and the like should find something to enjoy on this album.