Bethlehem were one of the pioneers, if not THE pioneer, of an odd sub-genre referred to as "Dark Metal". Many would simply list it as one of the facets of DSBM, but it's something more than that, it's a fusion of the most harsh facets of DSBM with the crushing downtrodden aesthetic of doom, and the constant changes in dynamic common to progressive or melodic death metal.
Dictius Te Necare is probably the best example of this odd little sub-genre that I've found, and subsequently one of my favourite all time albums.
To even bring up Dictius one must speak of the vocals on the album. Rainer Landfermann contributes one of the most dynamic, frantic, and frankly insane vocal performances in recent history and the album is really defined by his performance. From the first second of "Schatten Aus Der Alexander Welt" the listener knows there will be something different about the vocals on this album. The album erupts into a driving rhythm and is immediately accompanied by the piercing shrieks of Landfermann. No less than 30 seconds later the beats drops straight down into a plodding, almost grungy doom passage and Landfermann's vocals begin to show their range, dropping into what almost sounds like weeping proclamation and leaping straight back into the shrieking banshee wail that began the album. Landfermann never lets up on the listener, shouting, shrieking, and weeping his way through the first track with reckless abandon, accompanied by ever changing melodies and rhythms ranging from punkish sounding black metal excerpts to slow doomy sections (accompanied by whispering and weeping), to straight ahead heavy metal riffs. To say that SADAW sets the tone for the album would be an understatement.
The next track (not typing them all out, they're excessively long) follows a much more traditional doom formula which Landfermann's shrieks and mad rantings transform into something more than the sum of its parts. The odd sections with piano and the sounds of water flowing with subdued growlings break away into driving rock with only the heavily distorted guitar sound to tie it into its metallic roots, however soon we're dragged right back into the mire of sludgy doom and rantings, which suddenly explode into pure black metal which frame the vocals in a much more traditional setting. Without warning we're pulled back into a punky section with synthesized wind sounds and then right back into the mire we go. This track is like being stuck in quicksand, constantly grasping for help, but always being pulled further and further back into the descending murk. My only complaint would be how long the track seems to stretch on, especially towards the end.
The beginning riff of Aphel - Die Schwarze Schlange heralds what is to come, and the listener is not left disappointed. 30 seconds in the track explodes into blastbeats and shrieking, but then again at the 1 minute mark drops back into a rock beat, and then down into subdued acoustic and mad ravings, and then exploding back into blastbeats and shrieking, and then right back into the plodding doom of the previous track. Starting to get the idea of the dynamics of this album? Up and down, up and down, in and out, sideways, upside down, inverted, whatever. I hate using the cliché of a "roller-coaster", but that's what it's really like. This whole album is a roller-coaster ride through the bipolar manic-depressive nature of pure suicidal torment. "Dictius Te Necare" does mean "Kill yourself", so that does kind of make sense.
I'm not going to go on to explain note by note the whole album, but there are some huge standouts throughout.
- Verheisung is the most "normal" song on the album, but it has a driving groove that's infectious and provides a mid-album plateau which does wonders for the all around cohesiveness of the album.
- Verschleierte Irreligiositat has some of the darkest, doomiest sections of the whole album. The madness and passion of Landfermann's vocals again permeate the track and are framed well by the instrumental accompaniment. The grimy driving section towards the middle of the track is one of the best "headbanging" sections on the album and definitely one of the most melodic. Great track.
- Tagebuch Einer Totgeburt is another approach to the doom aspect of dark metal without going to the extent of griminess and rawness that Verschleierte or Die Anarchische do. It includes much more of the solo guitar/piano passages with more of the weeping/raving vocals and much less of the "metal" content and shrieking. The true depths of despair are explored in the haunting passages of this track.
- Dorn Meiner Allmacht is a long and grinding finale to the album. Landfermann explores the high end of his shrieks and screams as the track plods along and the rage and hatred are as palpable as ever. He also explores a low end growling aspect which hasn't shown itself much on the album and just furthers the question of "where won't his voice go?". Towards the middle of the track is a guitar section that just SCREAMS Brave Murder Day era Katatonia and really cements the mid 90's doom aspect of the album, though also accompanied by almost Emperor-like synthesizers.
The other factor I HAVE to mention is the fact that this album is in German makes a huge difference. German is such a harsh and yet floral and expressive language, and the nuances of the language lend themselves perfectly to the soundscape that Bethlehem is working to achieve.
I heartily endorse this album and its respective genre and REALLY want another album of ANYTHING with Rainer Landfermann's vocals. The closest I've gotten is his appearance on Anaal Nathrakh's Passion, which shows that his vocal ability and style have only fortified over the years and that he could easily perform on an album like Dictius Te Necare again, and makes me wonder why he hasn't.
The b-sides from this album are also completely worth the time as well. The song Schuld Uns'res Knoch'rigen Pfaltpferd, which isn't even on the album, is my favourite Bethlehem song of all time and also includes Rainer Landfermann's characteristic vocals. The song was featured on the soundtrack to Gummo (coincidentally one of my favourite movies), and I don't know how it didn't make its way onto the album. There's also a cover of "Where Eagles Dare" by Iron Maiden, titled Wo Adlers Wagen, again featuring Landfermann which is also totally worth checking out.
Let it stand that Landfermann is one of if not my favourite vocalists and I would drag my balls through a mile of broken glass to hear another Bethlehem album with him on it.
Please make another album you crazy, genius motherfucker