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The biggest musical sensation of 1996 (in my personal opinion), Germany's Bethlehem have emerged after a period of silence with their brilliant second full-length "Dictius Te Necare". It's a release that in terms of sheer intensity, darkness and all-around insanity is hardly matched by anything else out there. The band's main leader, bassist Bartsch tells us more about the band's beginning, their personal tragedies that have had such a profound impact on their life and music and last but not least the legal repression that this band has been exposed due to its image...

Let's start with the traditional basics: who's in the band right now? I hear you are contemplating some line-up changes?
We changed the drummer because STEINHOFF's private situation changed drastically. He no longer has the right time to play in our band and this made it impossible for all of us. Damn, it was quite a hard decision 'coz STEINHOFF started playing drums in Bethlehem in autumn of 1991 and therefore was a "foundation-member". He will stay a very good friend and hell, we spent a rather cool time together. Man, he will forever stay part of our "family" and of course keep on playing drums in his own goth- (or gothic band, if you wanna...) band that he formed some years ago. The new drummer is LOSEN whose former band did long tours in the USA and released four full CDs. The rest of his band bought a house in Florida and decided to stay in the USA. LOSEN went back to Germany and besides Bethlehem he plays drums in a blackmetal band too. We've all known the guy since years and of course he's a very good friend. The thing is that all Bethlehem members should be friends and not just "partners" in a musical project, right? Anyway... LOSEN's drumming is quite different than what STEINHOFF played in the past. More "dynamic" and "power-blast" if you know what I mean? This lets it all sound more technical and straightengine. The new songs with LOSEN on drums sound different than "Dictius Te Necare", "Dark Metal" and of course "Thy Pale Dominion"...

What was your purpose when you created Bethlehem back in 1991? What did you want to do that made you feel you were going to be different from most other bands?
There was no direct purpose, but let me tell you the whole story, okay? In 1987 I started playing in a hard-rock/sleaze band and some years later we released our debut album. In Germany the album sold 30,000 copies and one tour followed after another. After a while I really got bored by that because I was more into metal in the 80's and damn pissed off by livin' in cheap motels and rude flats of ugly bitches and other faggots. Therefore, I left the band and changed the city. In the German ROCK HARD magazine I read that a band called DARK TEMPEST was searching for a bass-player and I decided to call 'em. It was the first time I spoke with MATTON and in less than a second I realized that this guy would become important for the rest of my musical experiences. Therefore, in 1990 I joined DARK TEMPEST which played a mixture of old school heavy metal/thrash- & blackmetal. This was quite OK but really unsatisfactory after a while and first myself and a bit later MATTON decide to leave the band because it wasn't possible to add those depressive and melancholic parts which made Bethlehem that typical, right? In summer of 1991 we met CLASSEN and STEINHOFF and decided to form a new band called Bethlehem. Steinhoff came from a Speedmetal/Thrash band and only CLASSEN never played in any band before. In winter of 1991 we started practising and CLASSEN wanted us to play blackmetal and in the beginning we tried a bit, but this was quite unsatisfactory too because MATTON & myself were basically more destined by darkness, death & suicide and therefore, started to work out our own concept and style. We decided to call it DARK METAL not just for havin' a new cliche or whatever but just to define our own music which seemed so different in 1991. Damn, you must face the German or maybe European situation in 1991: there was nothing except lots of deathmetal bands.. No blackmetal bands in Germany, just a few European ones such as Mayhem, Grotesque, Impaled Nazarene. Beherit, Dark Throne, Rotting Christ and maybe Blasphemy from Canada. Bands who mixed different styles to a new one were just Paradise Lost, Tiamat & My Dying Bride. When we released our first demo in September 1992 lotsa folks compared us to Paradise Lost & Co., a thing we never understood because how can one compare a shitty underground band as Bethlehem to a band such as Paradise Lost, etc.? ...we always felt honoured to be compared to those band...the only quite irritating thing to every Bethlehem member is the need to always compare us to other bands?! Anyway...the darkmetal thing started and we more and more progressed in a special mood and style. It still isn't over yet and we really can't imagine where it all ends. The "difference" was never planned but just a "melting-pot" of four individuals who always put all their slope and negative emotions into a thing folks call music and poems. In 1996 there are lotsa bands who mix different styles of metal and whatever. In Europe some new metal bands call their style darkmetal too and play in they style that we realized n the "Dark Metal" debut CD. This is quite okay we think, because metal must progress and never will be the same thing again as in e.g. 1982 or so.

Your debut "Dark Metal" on Adipocere was probably one of the best things that label ever put out. How was the response of the underground scene to that first release?
Man, this was gigantic and guess, such a thing will never come again. In 1994 when blackmetal started getting more important to European underground folks, we came along with just another interpretation of dark music, right? Some folks were shocked for they expected pure blackmetal or whatever and most kids & mags thought this would be pure blackmetal. Personally, we meanwhile got a bit bored by an album such as "Dark Metal" because all songs are so heavily slow. This gets boring after a while, although this album represents the beginning of a metal band and the wish to bury ugly parts of life into music. People still hail that debut album and in Poland & Russia it was re-released in 1996. Folks still like that music and basically, we still like it too although we can't listen to it as often as in the past.

Where you satisfied yourself with the style and sound that you presented on "Dark Metal"?
Style & sound were okay and especially MATTON wants to have that guitar sound on the third Bethlehem album in 1997 again.

Explain what sort of impact have your personal encounters with suicide had on Bethlehem?
Honestly, if all these things would have never happened in the past I doubt a band such as Bethlehem would ever exist. Those suicide/death events base on things that happened in MATTON's and my own past. MATTON's father died by hanging himself & shortly after his mother died of cancer. Myself I lost all my former friends and dudes due to suicide. My pregnant girlfriend hanged herself and the only thing I could do was cutting the clothes-line she used for the suicide. Ten of my best friends and dudes followed in two years and this made me a complete drug-addict and nervous wreck. I spent lotsa energy getting back to the light but all these things still engage MATTON and myself and the very best thing about "talking" about this all is Bethlehem and it's possibility to channel negative and horrible experiences of a former life. That's why we dedicated "Dictius Te Necare" to all suicide victims, it shall be nothing but a bulwark against forgetfulness.

In your opinion, how important is personal pain and suffering when it comes to creating music. Do you think Bethlehem would still be as dark and violent if all these horrible events had never occurred?
Definitely not! Personal pain and suffering must find a valve otherwise they 're gonna destroy one day. Music, poetry...good valves are the chance for quite a happy and satisfying life. I guess without art we would surely break to pieces or remove ourselves from what people call "personality". Generally, this is a typical human aspect because all important works of art were done in kinda "dark millenium", where pain and suffering were elements of every second and became deeply rooted to every breath. Bethlehem really helps us to be conscious of what happened in the past and what hinders us to bury emotions deep inside.

Since all the lyrics on "Dictius Te Necare" are in German (and thus unreadable for most of us), could you go over some of them and explain in detail what are they about and what sort of feelings/messages they convey?
Oh, my God...Last time I tried to answer such a question it was in German and heck, it wasn't possible. Absolutely impossible. But okay, don't wanna be an asshole or so and therefore, I'm gonna try to explain the theme of just one song, okay? I really can't explain in detail because this would last a hundred pages of a book or would definitely transform me into a complete lunatic. Well, all poems are rather deep and one can't really write the whole meaning in just a few words...
Anyway, let's do "SCHATTEN AUS DER ALEXANDER WELT", but just the basic theme, okay? I really can't explain every word or sentence although every word means a lot to me. Here we go: all religions keep it easy with different aspects, things such as "good & evil", "ying & yang", "black & white", etc. are distinguished not clear. The christian ethics speaks of decisions & deeds in order to achieve a moral, pure and personal activity. An aware behaviour shall be the base and the question is whether the behaviour is good or evil. All these religions or should I better say "individual faith" make sense to lotsa folks and basically, one shouldn't charge such a thing. My personal problem in all those years is that such a "sense" was always refused to myself. For example, in early youth the archangels Gabriel & Michael often appeared in my dreams. It always took place in a large, dirty and dark room in the "ALEXANDER WORLD". There was no furniture in this room except a large, dirty simple table without any ornaments or scrolls. The table stood in front of a fireside and some kind of creatures made of matches dancing to a sick & bizarre melody. Together with both archangels I watched the creature dancing to the point when it inflamed in an ear-splitting raising of that melody. During that kinda ceremony both archangels spoke to me but I couldn't imagine the sense of what they told. I really can't translate the words they told me into English language because such words don't exist in your language. I experienced the "Alexander World" since my early youth and it happens like this: it often starts at night when I suddenly start remembering different smells and odours. Then I enter kinda "world" for some seconds or few minutes... it's not the same as dreaming but similar. Sometimes it lasts like half an eternity but as I told before it never lasts longer than some seconds, okay? Well, "SCHATTEN AUS DER ALEXANDER WELT" talks about one of these incursions into that "world". Under a highway bridge there was a rotten, old house. You know, one of these with red bricks? I entered the house and on the second floor there was a room. It seemed to be a room of a young girl. The whole room was full of blood, on the bed, on the ground, on the walls, on the ceiling. It was a perverse stench, not just rotten but fresh...such as fresh, slaughtered meat. I took a look around and watched the shelves with girl-toys on 'em. I watched the vanity bags with small, floral patterned handkerchiefs & lace scarves. After a while I discovered three diaries bound in black letter and the title on each book was "SCHATTEN AUS DER ALEXANDER WELT". I started reading the book and quite often went back to this place and rotten atmosphere. I read the whole story of that young girl, everything was so clear, evident & unadulterated. Just the pure essence of a tender, small life...until death...until the moment when that life was murdered quite brutally and animalistically and beyond. To read such a thing and to read it in ethics defined, moral behaviour disclosed a sheer inconceivable dawn upon my myself,a dawn I witnessed just one time before. The more intense dawn however was, that I meant I would enjoy it...and probably I did. Such things force myself to write it down or translate it into music. Sometimes after having a good joint, or a good fuck or whatever, my head is full of these things and I must write 'em down. Such an attack no longer lasts more than some minutes and that's the chance to write a poem for Bethlehem. If it's written down I never changed it again because just the first chosen words make sense to me, no other person can possibly understand it. Bethlehem for example likes the special mood but never understands the poem by itself. Personally, I never wanted to spread a "message"...these poems have to disappear out of my brain and subconsciousness, otherwise one day I'm gonna explode and would probably take my life or others. I don't know and never will join such a situation. All these words are part of myself and on the other hand they're so clear and evident but on the other hand so damn strange.

Why did you decide to write the lyrics in German only for this CD?
Because I'm German and I think in German. I could never think such things in English language and what I did in the past, just translating my German poems into English language wasn't that satisfying, right? I must use my mother's tongue to let out what seems to be buried deep inside and I need every word to get a sense of the whole thing. Translating it in English would destroy & falsify what is so important to me. Therefore, all upcoming Bethlehem poems will be done in German language because it's the only way to interpret deep and dark emotions and to support a kind of musical concept which contains so many private & personal emotions and thoughts.

What happened to your original vocalist and why did you need to use session vocalist Landfermann instead?
Our original vocalist was a bad mistake. He carried the special moods and emotions of our art into his own life and got more and more depressed and more and more pissed off by life in general. After we kicked him out because his sad emotions started to brake our musical progression, he one day hang himself, that's the whole story. Beginning of 1995 SEPHIROTH of the Dutch band OCCULT offered to sing in BETHLEHEM for gigs, new CD's and so on. We started practising with SEPHIROTH and it didn't sound that bad so we decided to use poems in our mother tongue and SEPHIROTH isn't that much into German language. Ja, after a while of practising together with SEPHIROTH he and us thought it would be better to look after another vocalist since SEPTHIROTH got quite busy with his own band OCCULT and his good + extreme voice was too much in the black metal direction we never wanted so directly. A friend of mine who plays bass in the German deathmetal band called PAVOR and sings in a German bizarro-band called SADOKILL offered to do the vocals in our band and we decided to try it since he had experience with German lyrics in SADOKILL. It was a good choice for his voice is the most extreme one we've ever heard in our lives and it totally suited our new songs. From the very beginning he was never a "session-vocalist" but always the new guy on vocals.

Landfermann's incredible vocal delivery is one of the strongest points of "Dictius Te Necare"? Will you continue working with him in the future?
Definitely!! LANDFERMANN became a main-member and will sing & produce all upcoming Bethlehem releases in the future.

What sorts of legal problems with the German police have you had? Are these harassments still continuing after the release of "Dictius Te Necare"?
It all started with the release of our first demo in September 1992 when MATTON gave one of the 333 copies to a fan of our band who was 14 years old. So, after a while his parents (mainly his mother) started calling me at home to tell me that their son had changed/altered. They told me that because of the demo he had built a kind of "satanic altar" in his room, that he had gotten aggressive/vicious and stuff. "Their son could have become a different person and this was our fault"...ja, they (in cooperation with other parents of other damn kids) "promised" to "fight" against our band and the aim would be a ban of our music and stuff. Hell, they called us every day and every night and at first we tried to explain that BETHLEHEM wouldn't be a "satanic" or whatever band but damn, they kept on with these really stupid things. Therefore, we asked our lawyer how to react to such things and he gave us advice to menace them with charges of defamation. That's what we did and after really stupid months of stupid telephone calls it stopped immediately. But it went on after releasing the first full album known as "Dark Metal". Folks wanted us to play gigs in different German cities but it came down to censorship and banning when the "responsibility" (mainly the police) found out that our band should do these gigs. For example, in the city where our drummer lives all BETHLEHEM CDs were confiscated and STEINHOFF and myself were loaded in by organizers of two gigs to answer several "questions". This was a kind of "inquisition" which took one and a half hour and after this they menaced to give CDs, band information and stuff to the local prosecutor's office. All further gigs in our area and also in different German cities were forbidden and so on and so on, blablabla. ADIPOCERE (our former label from France) reacted and censored the lyrics to "3rd Nocturnal Prayer" by not printing them in the booklet because of some words such as "satan", "lucifer" and stuff. It went on like this, e.g. the German police asked me lotsa questions about his and that, gig organizers didn't allow us to play here and there and last but hopefully least the police came to my house and confiscated different rough designs of the second full CD for RED STREAM. I was charged with spreading "violent messages" on CDs, videos and letters and my lawyers worked against that charge. Patrick of RED STREAM told me that in the USA there would be no chance to print the wanted photographs for the booklet and stuff. But this is typical...since our start as a band we had had lotsa stupid troubles (and still have) because of our music and art, e.g. during these stupid questioning by the police they told me that lotsa parents of fans charged us for bein' kinda "satanic sect" and other useless bullshit. We're not sure why adults hate us in this manner and for nearly five years have been trying to stop us. We never understood why we should be so "dangerous" for the "public", really not! After the release of "Dictius Te Necare" nothing happened 'til today which makes us really glad, man.

One of the noticeable things on "Dictius Te Necare" is a bolder usage of keyboards and samplers in the darker/doomier sections of your songs. Is that something you will be experimenting with more in the future?
Oh yes, we definitely will experiment more with samples, piano and stuff in the future but basically, guitar, bass & drums should stay the main instrumentation, right? Samples, etc. will just be used to let the whole thing sound more bizarre and sick.

I believe you are already working on some new material (a mCD and a new CD in 1997). How would you describe the new songs compared to your previous material?
We have six new songs and compared to the "Dictius..." stuff they've gotten more faster, sick & melodic, I guess. Landfermann's vocals sound more extreme than on "Dictius...", the poems are more extreme than ever. The new drumming lets it all sound more dynamic and pure although in our opinion it's nothing but a typical Bethlehem darkmetal album. Our own direction & style is still found and we now have to let it sound more extreme than on former records. We never wanna get smooth or so...every album must be more brutal, aggressive and sick than the one before and I swear than me and MATTON as the main songwriters have thousands of other sick and bizarre ideas. Landfermann's vocals have gotten so extreme because "Dictius..." was more of an experiment for him but now he knows exactly what to to enhance the whole thing. One of these new songs will be used for the GUMMO movie and hopefully they will use it longer than just a for a few seconds in the film. It will also be released on the movie-soundtrack and hell, it's gotten rather fast, man. Supersonic-speed, right? The studio budget for the next record in 1997 will be better and therefore, we will have the chance to better kick asses (hopefully...hahaha). Sorry,no... this gives us the chance to experiment a bit more with the new songs. You know, all Bethlehem songs were always finished in the studio and this time we really can't await that session because we have lotsa sick ideas to let it sound more interesting, if you know what I mean? In our opinion, the whole song-concept has raised and progressed into a new dimension for all Bethlehem members. The new album title will be "GEPRIESEN SEI DER UNTERGANG" which in English might be "Hail Ruin" or "Hail Decay". I guess we're gonna write more songs than just six and we're gonna take some for the new album and some for a mini-CD in the end of 1997 - beginning of 1998.

Does Bethlehem perform live at all? If yes, how do you incorporate the keyboards/samplers in a live environment?
In the past we've often performed live but momentarily we are concentrating more on writing new songs and stuff. Of course one day we will perform again but in Germany especially there are lotsa difficulties for bands to play. They pay little money and honestly, we got bored by travelling around hundreds of miles just to get our fuel back, right? Another problem is the keyboards-thing from the last two records. Of course, we're gonna play this live...Landfermann does all that stuff, you know? But, we wanna use a grand piano on stage and definitely no keyboards. All that stuff sounds rather incredible on grand piano and Landfermann plays it right well. Samples will be used too but the keyboards substitute must be a grand piano. Otherwise we won't play. In Germany no one is able to organize a grand piano for a performance and therefore, we've decided to wait until it's possible one day. Maybe call us stupid or cocky but we can present our art best by using "real" instruments. Of course it sounds different than the studio stuff but we always thought that studio and live are two different things and just to let is sounds s on the album should be rather boring, shouldn't it?

What sort of feelings/experiences would you like your listeners to get out of Bethlehem's music?
Hhhmmmmm....a good question. Basically we think everybody should get his/her own feelings out of our music. We really don't wanna influence other individuals with our thoughts, feelings, experiences and so on. Of course we absolutely feel glad if others like our stuff but every other individual has different feelings, emotions, etc. and therefore, it's not up to us to tell them what to do or to feel, right? Every human should be responsible for one's own life.

Any final words?
Man, you make it real hard with your questions and especially to write something about my poems was so brutal by doin' it in English language. Otherwise, it was possible for all of us to give a bit away from what we damn are and to make things a bit more clear, right? Thank you very much for this experience! Hail to all American folks who support us that well. Thank you very, very much. People, support INQUISITOR from Holland...their debut album killz, killz, killz. It's extreme Thrashmetal which blows you away, really.
Gepriesen Sei Der Untergang.

Interview taken from Corridor of Cells webzine.