Are you feeling depressed during lockdown 2021? Missing human interaction at all? Wait….no? Maybe you are even starting to enjoy it? And perhaps even hoping it lasts a bit longer? Well, then, you might be pleased to know that you are not alone in being absolutely fine with being alone – a useful skill, after all – and BETHLEHEM’s ground-breaking lonesome dark-suicidal-black-metal album ‘Sardonischer Untergang im Zeichen irreligiöser Darbietung‘ is getting a cassette re-release over at US label Sunshine Ward Recordings this coming month, so you can listen to it again in a new light, or maybe embrace its anguish for the first time? Well, regardless, if you’ve read this far you should probably just immediately order yourself a copy. And what’s more, BETHLEHEM are still going strong and, yes, they are still writing new music, so, whilst we are mostly thinking about their third album in this piece, I urge you to also hear the latest ones too, because this site is all about what grows, not just what stands still, and with that in mind, I am fortunate enough today to chat with bass player / composer / producer / artistic visionary Jürgen Bartsch to see how he feels about those old releases, his influences at the time, his favourite 80’s punk and death metal bands from tape trading days, how Onieiar and Velnias ( Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult ) persuaded him to get the band back together after he nearly gave it all up, the post-Covid future for touring, and lastly, what with global unrest, virus mutations and the climate crisis looming, we also ask – how is humanity going to survive the inevitable deluge of band lockdown albums with ‘rubber pad’ sampled drums?
Hi Jurgen, it’s the beginning of 2021, and a strand of dumb RNA is still holding us hostage in our homes. What are people saying in Germany? How has lockdown affected you?
We have no idea mate. All the waffle about it doesn’t bother us. Of course we hope to continue playing live one day but basically the lockdown doesn’t affect us cos we always were & still are extreme mavericks, loners, sociopaths, all living a life in solitude.
Given the first three albums’ success and the impact they had on people, how do the old releases make you feel, as you look back now?
Dunno, from time to time we listen to these first releases, all together or with friends. Some of us got highly inspired by certain albums, S.U.i.Z.i.D. for example was for Ilya Karzov from Russia. This album was available on (Bootleg) MC in Russia in the past and influenced his generation a lot. That’s how we got in contact, via MySpace, Karzov made a cover version of “Teufelverrückt Gottdreizehn” with a Fear Factory touch by his band “Bog Morok”. Bog Morok is a Russian New Metal / Industrial band. Me, Onielar & Velnias like “Dictius Te Necare” a lot cos of some special album atmospheres which harshly remind us to the past. Torturer has no fave ones, he loves to play all of those songs. He’s the typical 24/7 drummer zombie. However, tho’ we still like the older Bethlehem stuff, we much more are into the new one. Obviously.
In the late 80s my friend was a goth / dark-waver – I used to listen to the music and think it was really good, artistically European, avant-garde, whatever, but mostly it was just a bit ‘soft’. But the black metal of the early 90s, to my ears, put that right. Yet most BM bands only cite metal as their influences. What were you listening to when you started the band?
Personally spoken I listened to Goth from the 80s too but also to “Charged GBH , Discharge, early Napalm Death, Asphyx & Pestilence”, really can’t name ’em all here. All sorts of extreme Metal from the 80s & early 90s. A lot of Blackmetal underground either. I also was a tape trader, as almost everyone I knew was, and therefore owned a variety of extreme bands from the entire planet. Generally, I never limited myself with music, whether it’s mainstream or underground, it’s always a matter of taste, isn’t it ?
S.U.i.Z.i.D still sounds really good today. It’s fractured, artistic in a fin-de-siècle German opera kind of way, yet has lots of bursts of melody and groove, and of course lots of pain. You must have realised you had produced something quite special?
Err….probably not. Suizid was nothing but a personal snapshot back in 1997/1998. We never followed a mainstream attitude or something but expressed ourselves instinctively, in a pretty natural way. As you might be able to tell, our songwriting was a pretty “naive” one.
Thinking how vocals often get drowned out in practice rooms, did you finalise the S.U.i.Z.i.D sound in rehearsals, or did it only really come together in the studio?
We all came together in the studio. It was the first time we met Cathrin Campen there, it was her 18th birthday at the day she arrived together with a classmate. Same was with Shane S. Davison from Australia who was on a visit in Holland, at a band mate’s home. We had never met him before. A pretty spontaneous way of recording the vocals lol…but it worked alright ‘cos I had the overview or at least a “vision”.
Just today I listened to the recent Deinonychus album – it is a real return to form….Do you still keep in touch with Marco?
No, I’m not.
Bethlehem is a satanist endeavour, people might say? However, if the music on S.U.i.Z.i.D ever had an ‘evil’ agenda, it is definitely not one of arrogance….more like vulnerability, honesty, and therefore, perhaps, personal freedom? How would you summarise the philosophy of the band; to a new listener, or someone interested in that subject?
Satanic ? Who ? Us ? Depends on a “satanic” definition I reckon. We always did what we wanted, without a compromise, that is true. And without the urge to please someone. In whatever sense. Sure, our logo contains certain symbols, the usual heavy metal sort of cliche, we don’t see a contradiction in this but a declaration of the content – being a heavy metal band. Tho’ not being devil worshippers based on Christianity, the beast, 666, whatsoever. All of my lyrics exclusively reflect on myself, my experiences, dreams, visions, insanity and whatnot. Sometimes I play with metal cliches, for sure, but they never have gotten the main aspect of Bethlehem in general. We’re anti everything I guess, naturally, without a (too) cocky attitude or motto.
If almost no one makes any money from music anymore, isn’t that liberating, in a sense, because artists can be free to do whatever they want? ( With lockdown, perhaps you are also unfortunately ‘liberated’ from a financial income… ). Have you ever enjoyed pursuing other musical avenues – electronic / sequenced music and so forth over the years? Do you ever get irritated with musical small minded-ness?
Each to their own. I never cared about the music police telling you why your music sucks or give you bad school notes in their gloss magazines. In Germany almost all of our albums like “Dictius Te Necare” for example got zero points in the glossy mags. This never bothered us. It more was the opposite, we laughed our asses off from all the nonsense which was written about us in the past. Some mags still do. We were “too extreme”, “too weird” or just “too new” in the past, had a lot of troubles with local authorities, stuff like that. Albums such as Dictius… or Suizid got slaughtered everywhere in Germany, just a handful of kids visited our live shows. This first changed in the middle of the new millennium when we suddenly were named the “godfathers” of this DSBM movement. “Influencers” as they might tell today. Indeed, we no longer earn a dime in the pandemic, it’s a financial catastrophe for us. Live shows in combination with merchandise/record sales ensured our monthly incomes. Tho getting paid still didn’t change our artistically freedom, our listeners know what they have to expect from us – nothing.
Onielar as vocalist was such a good choice for the latest line-up, both sound-wise and artistically. How is it working out? Doesn’t her really long hair get in the way sometimes? Has Onielar enjoyed singing the older songs, live?
Sure. She grew up with the old songs. The truth is, we only play three of the older songs, all others are taken from the last two albums. Other than that it wasn’t a “choice” getting her into the band. Basically she got me back into the band cos I no longer felt any lust for it. That’s why Onielar & Karzov were the creators of the new line-up, not me. In the meantime Karzov has gotten the main songwriter, basically he wrote all songs for the next album. Myself just writes the lyrics and works as the band’s producer in the studio. It’s easy working with her cos 1) she has a powerful & strong voice which doesn’t die too quickly and 2) is open for all sorts of ideas. Her bloody long hair doesn’t get in the way cos it’s subdued as an endless pigtail.
You probably have enough albums recorded now? Or are you planning more? Any songwriting tips?
More ! Mr. Karzov, the Russian master of wicked songwriting, already pre-produced another album containing 9 new songs + 2 bonus ones for the premium pack. Myself wrote 9 lyrics, 2 are in the making. And Mr. Karzov also already wrote more songs for the second next album, he’s some kind of a talented songwriting machine. Originally we wanted to produce the new album in 2021 but prolly it will get postponed to 2022 or later cos every band worldwide is producing a new album yet. We don’t wanna drown in all these releases.
Well, I had my ticket to see you in London 2020, and thanks to the virus it looks like I will be a couple of years older before I finally get to see the legendary BETHLEHEM. Thanks to our Brexit you’ll probably need a work visa too. But I’ll come to Germany if necessary – do you have a plan A, B or maybe a C, for playing live?
No plans, no. We no longer have a choice or option, it’s all in the hands of the government. I can imagine it’s the same in the UK ? Or everywhere else ? But we’re confident that live shows already continue in 2023 or so. After the planet got immunized for a while, until the next pandemic arrives. No worries mate, a UK working visa for musicians certainly isn’t a problem, you definitely can join us in some years. Promised.
Now you are older, maybe you enjoy disappointing young people who look up to you for advice? Or perhaps you are feeling philosophical after all? So, any words for old and new Bethlehem fans?
If you only knew ! Almost always kids are asking me for advice at each venue we play. I already am feeling like daddy or grandpa. They seriously should take me to the next wall or animal sanctuary ! Philosophical ? Me ? I still am the weirdo I always was. But a soberly one, no more drugs, alcohol, cigarettes. Boring. There you go.
US Bethlehem fans preorder your tape here
European Bethlehem fans – contact the band directly to get info on how to get hold of a copy.
Official Merch here
Washing your hair tonight? Here’s the short version….