Happy New Year! ...Well, almost. It's the final edition of Rumblings From the Underground for 2016 and it will also be the last one period. It's been a lot of fun getting the chance to highlight a metric s--tton of underground music this year and hopefully I was able to expose you to some of your new favorites and even open up your metal spectrum to sounds you had never known existed.

For this final column, you'll find an interview with dark metal progenitor Jürgen Bartsch of cult icons Bethlehem. He possesses one of the most intriguing minds in the nebulous black metal scene and his thoughts on the new record as well as his changing outlook on life and death over the last two decades and beyond can be found at the bottom of the page.

As for the album reviews, allow me to muck up your speakers one last time with not only Bethlehem's stunning return to a mostly classic form on their self-titled release, but the primitive efforts of Blood Tyrant, Maniacal Violator's black / death debut, Sacrificio's Hellhammer rampage and Spectral Apparition's claustrophobic nightmare of death.

Thanks for reading everyone! You can also check out my personal Top 5 Albums of 2016 below as well.

Album Reviews

Bethlehem, 'Bethlehem'

Prophecy Productions
Prophecy Productions

German dark metal cult legends Bethlehem split up briefly in 2015, regrouping before year's end, so they've never effectively gone anywhere, but with Bethlehem they're back. This record returns to the morbid atmosphere that's been mostly lacking since Dictius Te Necare with an aggressive black metal style coupled with their sinister atmosphere.

Recruiting Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult frontwoman Onielar on vocals, her performance gives this record a distinct, maniacal edge that makes this style finally feel genuinely horrifying again. Shock value is mostly gone these days, but Bethlehem can scare the hood off a nun.

Listen to Bethlehem | For fans of Silencer, Shining (Norway), Sarkom

Blood Tyrant, 'Aristocracy of Twilight'

Iron Bonehead
Iron Bonehead

Don't you miss black metal made the way they used to? Blood Tyrant's Aristocracy of Twilight is a visceral effort that basks in that raw, lo-fi production of albums like Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Under a Funeral Moon if we're going for the easy comparison.

It's increasingly difficult to find black metal played like this, with the addition of chilling keyboards padding the background with a minimalist but necessary effort. Aristocracy of Twilight is like some Hellish wormhole opened up, transporting you to the basement of the infamous Helvete record store in Norway.

Listen to Blood Tyrant | For fans of old Darkthrone, Plaga, Judas Iscariot

Maniacal Violator, 'Dead and Out of Control' EP


How do you not see an release titled Dead and Out of Control and not give a listen? Maniacal Violator formed earlier this year and already have a promising start with this five track EP. Walking the tightrope with death metal on their left and black metal off the right, this quartet has the perfect balance of both styles (think what Revocation does for thrash and death metal).

This seesawing of genres has been mostly played out at this point, but Maniacal Violator provide a fresh, rejuvenating take with just the right tempo changes that speaks to their abilities as songwriters. Keep an eye on these guys as Dead and Out of Control only seems to hint at future greatness.

Listen to Maniacal Violator | For fans of Angelcorpse, Abyssal, Azarath

Sacrificio, 'Guerra Eterna'

Iron Bonehead
Iron Bonehead

Spain's Sacrificio consists of three former members of Proclamation, so there's an endorsement already. Ramping up the Hellhammer worship on their Guerra Eterna debut, this trio powers through eight tracks of riffing might with a blackened twist on Tom G. Warrior's innovative efforts.

For a style that's been aped for over three decades now, it never grows tiresome when a band does it to this effect. The fire-lit cave exemplifies the gritty sonic inferno of Guerra Eterna as if the band had selected the spot for Hell to open up at, keeping it warm for His arrival.

Listen to Sacrificio | For fans of Hellhammer, Sarcofago, Necrovore

Spectral Apparition, 'Manifestation'

Invictus Productions
Invictus Productions

I hope this cavernous death metal craze never ends. Newcomers Spectral Apparition are keeping it going strong with their debut, the Manifestation EP. Three tracks of swirling black muck gradually covers every far-reaching corner of light's expanses, draping the world in darkness by the end of this release's 20 minutes.

Like a death rattle from the depths of the cosmos, Spectral Apparition's ability to stretch their riffs becomes trance-inducing at times, playing with tempos and drumming patterns that come off clean in their transitions to maintain that spellbound effect.

Listen to Spectral Apparition | For fans of Vassafor, Adversarial, Mitochondrion

Bethlehem Interview

Prophecy Productions
Prophecy Productions

Bethlehem's status in the underground is of legend, namely for their first pair of records, Dark Metal and Dictius Te NecareBoth offerings authentically channeled Hell-born atmospheres fueled by drug abuse and crippling thoughts of death and suicide. There's no equal to these albums and the band often catches flak for drifting too far apart from this style, but on Bethlehem, they're concretely back in familiar territory, much to the delight of fans who had been begging for a slab of music this ominous and threatening.

We caught up with mastermind Jürgen Bartsch to get his thoughts on the new record, tapping Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult's Onielar as the band's new vocalist, suicide and the lack of genuine shock value in heavy music today. Check it out in the interview below:

Bethlehem have had a revolving door of members. It seems like members must share a similar state of mind. What led to selecting Onielar (vocals, Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult) and what do you look for when seeking new members?

Onielar and myself are best friends. We both share our passion for this bizarre atmosphere our local landscape has to offer. It's a mixture of pristine nature in combination with heavy industry. This gigantic brown coal mine has destroyed everything in the area and basically left dead earth which slowly but steadily will be recaptured by nature itself. And creates spiritual places filled with rusty and rotting machines.

At one of these places I played her my demo versions of actual album songs I've home-recorded on my bass guitar back in 2014. Both demo versions were used for the premium pack bonus CD by the way. However, when we both listened to these songs in the mine area this was the first time we felt this spiritual if not magical moment which also happened in May / June when we entered the studio with the entire band.

This spiritual experience in the mine when listening to my demo songs made it crystal-clear that she had to sing the songs of a possible new album. Because she felt it the way I did. Like we all did. Bethlehem is a feeling band and it's super important doing this with bandmates who have the right feeling for this too. An idea got born which resulted into her indescribable vocals, which, for the first time in 25 years, reflected things exactly the way they were meant to be.

Landfermann also came close in the past although Onielar came much closer. She is the artist myself already was searching for half of my life. Not to mention our close and strong friendship which made things so much easier for all of us. My lyrics are a bit wicked and not always easy to understand, even if giving a detailed explanation of each. Best is if you could feel them because they are based on a pretty metaphoric manner. Personal insanity also is a big help though.

This is the most musically intense Bethlehem album in a very long time. What inspired the writing process this time around? It’s much more black metal focused than dark atmospheres like previous albums, though the atmospheres are present at times on the new album.

This time the biggest inspiration again was lust for music. Nothing ever got constructed. We just play the music the way we feel it. All these comparisons exclusively are up to yourself and be sure there already were (too) many!

I mean, we have thrown the Dark Metal bone to you guys back in 1991. So you have something to eat or play with. Which obviously wasn't enough because of all these bollocks following afterwards. One of the worst comparisons ever was this “avant-garde” crap from somebody who obviously has to press eminently strong if taking a poo.

In the past these people would have been stripped naked, tarred and feathered and been sent to the Western Front, just dressed with a clown's mask. We never played black metal though because we simply never were in Satanism, you know ? However, Bethlehem isn't following a mainstream sales strategy, composing songs is happening viscerally or naturally. If we can feel it and if we like to play it this music probably could be interesting for others too, I reckon.

What was Karzov’s involvement with the writing?

Karzov and myself have gotten the perfect songwriter duo like it once was done with Matton in the past. Each of us wrote 50 percent of the music which got overworked / supplemented via the internet. Therefore his involvement is a big one, without him things wouldn't have been possible the way it happened this time. Bethlehem works the very best with a strong team and with no doubt, Karzov definitely is the Russian master of wicked songwriting though.

How has your outlook on life and suicide changed since the release of Dark Metal?

Age has changed things a lot. Fair enough. Personally seen I was nothing but a weirdo in the past who managed to kill himself via a drug overdose once. Lovely. Since I also managed to survive these life circumstances things have changed a little bit when I grew older. Taking all risks no longer is an opportunity.

I mean, all my mates have passed the 30s and myself already the 40s so exclusively living in the fast lane isn't realizable any longer — body wise, you know? Certainly a reason why suicide lyrically won't play the biggest role these days. Because living in the past or still writing about the past would make me a whiner who just is clamping on a nostalgic daydream. We already broke with the heavy metal rules and traditions in the early days. Shame on us, but there you go.

Genuine shock value is almost non-existent in heavy music today either from transparency due to the Internet or just bands pretending to have a certain image. What other bands, besides Bethlehem, are pushing real boundaries in metal right now?

Good question. I honestly have no idea because I agree, the shock treatments have gone these days. Probably Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult could be an option because when lately I saw them live I got blown away by their super intense live spectacle. Their totally pro and powerful live sound appearance combined with the pig blood drinking and spitting ribald comments was overwhelming somehow.

These first two or three rows in front of the stage were covered in blood as well. The pure slaughterhouse. All other black metal “names” performing too that evening didn't have the puff of a chance against this professionally presented elemental force. Although I have seen it all in 25 years it was shocking to watch my friends onstage acting like furies. Seriously!

Thanks to Bartsch for the interview, Grab your copy of Bethlehem's 'Bethlehem' here or digitally through Bandcamp and keep tabs on the group by following their Facebook page.

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