Nov 252016



(Andy Synn prepared this trio of reviews for new albums by three German bands.)

Synchronicity can be a strange thing indeed. Case in point, coming hot on the heels of my recent (and surprisingly well-received) column on “Black Metal” here we have a triple-header feature on three bands who all sit somewhere under the big black umbrella, but whose actual adherence to the term “Black Metal” varies pretty drastically.

Not only that, but they all just happen to be German in origin, which means I can collect all three groups under the “Best of German” banner which I first used (here) back in May, and pretend like this whole thing was part of some grand plan of mine, rather than a completely random sequence of events that just happens to have lined up in a way that appears to be thematically significant.

But I’ll take what I can get, because these three albums are all absolutely hervorragend





That there are those who would argue against the “Black Metal” part of the “Avant-Garde Black Metal” tag which has been given to Nocte Obducta should come as no surprise. It’s a big, wide world out there, and you’re always going to be able to find someone to object to even the mildest of assertions.

But the fact of the matter is that there’s more than enough blackened backbone to the songs on Mogontiacum (Nachdem Die Nacht Herabgesunken), the band’s tenth(!) full-length album, to justify that part of the label, even if the rest of their intoxicating (at times, infuriating) recipe harvests its ingredients from some distinctly esoteric and unusual sources.

Let’s take a look at/listen to “Glückliche Kinder” and “Die Pfähler”, two of the album’s best and brightest numbers.

The first is all odd, jazz-inflected drum beats and artsy keyboard ambience punctuated by sudden bursts of pulse-pounding intensity and ashen, noir-ish melody, while the second marries a sense of gritty, almost Shining-esque groove to a bleak, Prog-Doom undercurrent, and yet both still carry that indefinable aura of Black Metal despite (or perhaps even because of) their more unorthodox leanings.

It’s a thin tightrope for the band to walk, of course, and certain tracks – particularly the proggy bombast of “Ein Ouzo auf den Nordwind” – definitely lean more towards the “Avant Garde” side of things, but numbers like “Am Ende des Sommers” and the desolately dreamy “Im Dunst am ewigen Grab der Sonne” are reminiscent of Assassins/Addicts era Nachtmystium or the shimmering psychedelia of Oranssi Pazuzu at their finest, both bands famous for (among other things) their tendency to think outside the Black Metal box.

It’s a tad frustrating (in my opinion anyway) that the chaotic black-jazz assault of “Löschkommando Walpurgisnacht” and the punk ‘n’ blast attack of “Am Waldrand” feel ever so slightly underdeveloped, both tracks clocking in at less than two minutes in length, but there’s no doubt that the sheer lunacy of each one makes for a brisk and brutal palate cleanser, particularly when the album’s centrepiece, the labyrinthine “Desîhra Mogontiacum”, is a nineteen-minute smorgasbord of unexpectedly aggressive twists and unconventionally ambient turns powered by a mix of caustic, cathartic vocals and complex, erudite drum work, which serves as a veritable microcosm of the band’s many influences and ambitions.

And make no mistake about it, this is certainly an ambitious album. Ambitious in scale. Ambitious in scope. Ambitious in its mix of styles and sensibilities. And while that ambition occasionally leads the band to stumble a little, at ten albums into their career it’s satisfying to see that Nocte Obducta are still refusing to settle down.











If categorising Nocte Obducta as some form of Black Metal is controversial to some people, labelling Bethlehem with that same tag is possibly going to be even more divisive, particularly since the band themselves have long-preferred to refer to their style of music as “Dark Metal”.

But since “Dark Metal” generally translates (to me at least) as a mixture of suicidally bleak, blackened vibes, artfully angst-ridden and doom-laden deviance, and manic-depressive Post-Punk energy, I don’t feel too bad about including them here.

Of course it helps that their new, self-titled album, is easily their most overtly blackened and morbidly aggressive since their earliest days, and that the band’s new line-up (long-time linchpin Jürgen Bartsch joined here by returning drummer Wolz, new guitarist Karzov, and vocalist Onielar, also of Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult) feels like a real rejuvenation of their early spirit.

Opener “Fickesel Bomber Panzerplauze”, for example, is easily one of, if not the, most savage tracks the band have written in twenty years, Bartsch and Wolz immediately locking into a tight, punchy groove over which Karzov’s bristling tremolo lines and Onielar’s spiteful invective spit fire and venom without restraint.

“Kalt’ Ritt in leicht faltiger Leere” too showcases a more tooth-and-claw approach from the band than we’ve heard in a while – though this is partially balanced out by the song’s unexpected interjections of eerie piano parts – as do the steamrolling “Die Dunkelheit darbt” and the menacing “Verderbnisheilung in sterbend’ Mahr”, with each track demonstrating why Karzov (who apparently took on the lion’s share of the song-writing this time around) and his monstrous eight-string riffs were exactly the right choice to fill the band’s vacant guitar spot.

But for all this renewed venom and aggression the quartet don’t shy away from expressing their weird side – such as the creepy, in-your-face oddness of “Gängel Gängel Gang”– or their more melodic proclivities either, with the goth-tinged glamour and rumbling grooves of “Arg tot frohlockt kein Kind” and the majestic “Verdammnis straft gezügeltes Aas” being two of the main highlights in this regard, with the latter in particular being a prime example of “Dark Metal” at its very best.

It might interest you to know that I recently conducted a short email interview with Jürgen Bartsch himself, who went to great lengths to stress just how much the two new members – Onielar and Karzov – truly lived and breathed the aesthetic of the band, making special mention of the fact that Onielar had been a part of the group’s wider circle for many years, and that Karzov had already been crafting riffs and songs in the Bethlehem style since well before his own induction into the band.

And it’s this sensation of belonging that truly helps tie the whole record together, making it no surprise that Bartsch elected to make this, the band’s eighth album, a self-titled affair, as it feels very much like a welcome rebirth from one of Metal’s most interesting and unconventional forces.

Bethlehem will be released on December 2 by Prophecy Productions.












Although nowhere near as consciously “Progressive” or “Avant-Garde” as either of the preceding entries, Converging Sins is still a ferocious, if imperfect, example of Germanic grimness which, at times, manages to be both nightmarishly atmospheric and subtly melodic without sacrificing an ounce of pitch-black power (while also avoiding most of the pitfalls of the so-called “Atmospheric” and “Melodic” Black Metal scenes).

It kicks off with the titanic “The Night Took Her Right Before My Eyes”, which builds from a solemn, clean-picked melody, backed by swathes of eerie keys and fulsome bass lines, into a raging torrent of bleak, blackened riffage and blasting fury, atop which Chris Noir (bass) and Ralph Schmidt (guitar) shriek and growl and rage against the dying of the light.

Over the course of the track’s near eighteen-minute length the quintet (completed by guitarist Ralf Conrad, drummer Manuel Schaub, and keyboardist Andy Rosczyk) delve in and out of moments of atmosphere-drenched minimalism and brutal, death-tinged intensity, every moment swamped in layers of malevolent melody and driving distortion, in a manner reminiscent of both Wiegedood and Death Fortress at their finest.

Track two, “Mirrors In A Black Room” throws a major (but not unwelcome) wrench into the works with its dreary, doomy sensibilities, the sublime guest vocals of Rachel Davies (Esben and the Witch) immediately taking centre stage amidst a glimmering tapestry of chiming, arpeggiated chords and silken bass notes, eventually culminating in a howling, convulsive climax of pure cathartic release.

The album’s shortest song, “Athame | Bane Emanations”, doesn’t quite hit the same high mark as the rest of the album’s more monolithic compositions, although it still has its moments. But these moments ultimately pale in comparison to the hypnotic intensity of “You Will Learn About Loss” and its blistering blend of spiralling tremolo melodies, seething riffs, and darkly majestic keyboard accoutrements, or the doom-laden, post-apocalyptic overtones cast by the climactic “Fear Lights The Path (Close To Our Hearts)”.

The latter in particular is a stunning piece of work, with all the electrifying energy and brooding promise of a thunderstorm cresting the horizon, and over the course of the song’s almost seventeen-minute running time you may have to occasionally remind yourself to take a breath, such is the level of tension and anticipation it creates.

If I have one caveat to add to the end of this review it’s that the high shrieks of Noir/Schmidt (unfortunately I’m not sure who does the high and who does the low vocals) occasionally have an unusually strained edge to them, which takes a little getting used to. They’re not as off-putting as the crushed-testicle caterwauling of Ghost Bath (you know it’s true), but it might take a listen or two for them to “click”.

In the grand scheme of things of course it’s a small complaint, and I don’t doubt that ultimately Converging Sins will offer up more than enough dark delights to please even the most cynical and jaded of blackened hearts.


  1. Whoa, Bethlehem kind of sounds like Bethlehem again, instead of Rammstein! Neat.

  2. I actually really enjoyed that Ultha album…better than I expected

    …about German black metal in general…While there are lots of bands that come out of that country that I like, I’ve never found them particularly distinctive in their style. It’s usually some variation of traditional Norwegian black metal

    • I was really blown away by the Ultha album, even better than I expected, and my expectations were high based on what they released before this. I’m very glad Andy chose to include it here.

    • I agree. Some bands are fairly easy to pinpoint on the map, and most country have its flair, but German metal, not just the black type, is located, like the country, in the middle, and with German precision, they nail every god damned metal style. The list of great German bands are long, but for some reason, I don’t really think of them as German before I read where they’re from.
      If someone have a deeper contemplated philosophical answer to this riddle, than fill us in.

      I don’t think of German black metal as a copy of the Norwegian one, by the way, even if they adopted it, as they have such a rich and vibrant scene, packed with quality.

      • Germany: where even high-dimensional chaos is mechanized in atomic precision.

      • I would agree that these days it’s hard to pinpoint any particular German sound in metal. The most obvious difference between Germany and its northern European neighbors is size. It seems to me that typically when specific countries develop their own brand of a type of metal (Norwegian BM, Swedish DM) it’s because everything comes out of the same relatively constrained scene where everyone knows each other. Germany is bigger and there is a lot more variety, meaning that there are a ton more bands copying what they hear elsewhere, but also a fair number of innovators who rise to the fore. They’re just not coming from one or two corners of the country. Perhaps at some point we’ll talk about particular strains of Cologne black metal or Berliner metal, but right now I’m not hearing it. But I don’t live there, so the locals might disagree.

        By the way, every time I see a commenter or reviewer refer to a supposed “machine-like” or “precise” or whatever sound in German bands I throw up a little in my mouth. I mean, it’s not the worst stereotype to be confronted with, but it’s such lazy writing.

        • BUT DUDE


        • I believe you really may be on to something there. Perhaps some Germans could shed som precision light on the matter 😉

          Pointing out “precision” is indeed a bit lazy, or rather very unoriginal, but I’m not here to elaborate widely, and in general, I feel that Germans are good at being thorough, perhaps more nitpickingly so than many others, but that’s an impression I, and seemingly many others, are stuck with. It’s a stereotype, and as such it is a generalization that doesn’t apply to everyone. It also definitively doesn’t mean that the same trait isn’t true for many a band from other areas.

          Also, just to add it, even if it practically goes without saying, ze Gremanz may have musical idiosyncrasy when it comes to a few metal genres. Teutonic thrash and cliché power metal in particular.

          Also, pt. II: Kishor’s reply is killing me 🙂



            …I’ll show myself out.

    • Funnily enough most of the bands I like from Germany tend to be Black Metal (or Black Metal adjacent)… but not in a traditional way. Agrypnie and Secrets of the Moon being perhaps the two “big” ones for me (though there’s loads of others, like the ones I covered in Part 1).

  3. Nocte Obducta have, as Andy states, released a good number of albums. These albums have varied immensely, something that has practically become a hallmark for them. Indeed the albums aren’t just unique compared to one-another, but quite singular set against nearly anything. From the harsh necrotics of Schwarzmetall, to the beautiful dreamy melodic atmospheres of brilliant Nektar…
    Sure, everything they touch don’t turn to gold, but all in all, it’s a rather brilliant band.
    I discovered Mogontiacum… after reading about a Ctulu album released by the same label on Angry Metal Guy, and I really want to hear it.

    Bethlehem has evolved quite a bit them selves. Mein Weg was a peculiar and strange one, mixing black elements with Rammstein ünd Eisregen. I love me some strangeness, and I’ll happily allow them to keep the oddities that Andy mentions as valued seasoning. Still, as Kishor more than implies above, it’s good to have them back “where they belong”.

    Ultha is new to me, and I’ll await forming an opinion quite yet.

    In general, I raise my tankard for German black (and bleak) metal.
    Prost für de deutsche schwarz metalle!

    • I actually like some songs on Mein Weg, particularly “Allegoria”, though it’s not a favorite of mine all the way through. But they had a gift for imbuing their gloomy passages with a truly vicious vibe on their early material. It’s perfect for when I’m in a bad mood and I have to do the dishes or something. It’ll be cool to hear the whole thing.

      • Their early stuff really helped pioneer the dsbm genre. Or at least that’s the impression I’m left with.
        Mein Weg can be fun for a while, but its 74 minutes in one go is much too much for me.

        • Are you saying that Sinatra cover isn’t worth the wait? 🙂 “Dictius Te Necare” is gut-wrenching, certainly had an impact on bands like Silencer and Shining, but I usually prefer “Dark Metal”; it’s awkward in spots, but the mood and the production just fit together somehow.

          • I’d say this album on the whole is closer to “Dictius…” than any other. Albeit while retaining some of the goth/punk/avant-garde touches from the albums in between.

            The big eight-string riffs as well REALLY work.

            • I’d agree with the Dictius comparison for the vocals, from the little bit I’ve heard. No one will ever quite match Rainer IMO, but there’s some of that pained screech evident in places throughout these songs. Really liked the softer sections in the second track, too. I had no idea they were coming out with anything new until I saw this post, so, thanks!

              • Fun fact, Onielar and Rainer used to be an item, which is one reason why she’s been part of the band’s “inner circle” for a while.

  4. Well, first of all thank you for looking into the German metal scene. As one of these german dudes I really like to see how german bands make their way outside of Europe and cross the great Ocean that seperates us. I have read all three reviews and, by the time of writing this comment, twelve comments. Maybe I am not your typical german fellow so I can’t say much about those prejudices that were made in some comments. Of course I like being punctual and doing my work as good as I can, but thats it :).
    Every time I read some reviews on this site I want to write some reviews too 😀 don’t know why, but the big thing is I don’t have any musical education, I can’t play an instrument neither can I read notes or know which tune a specific melody uses. I don’t know how much musical knowledge one must have to be fit enough in reviewing music.
    By the way nice to see that you (Andy) know Agrypnie as they are one of my favorite “Black Metal”, or whatever you want to tag them with, bands.
    I wasn’t a big fan of Nocte Obductas new album, but hey I gave it a try, maybe it’s a bit too “Avantgarde” for me to really enjoy it. But Bethlehem and Ultha blasted me, although I live in Germany I haven’t heard these two bands before or knew that they existed, what a shame as both bands seem to have some really strong albums. So I have to thank you once again for showing me two new bands.

    • Funnily enough a surprising number of my favourite bands are of German origin:

      Secret of the Moon
      Dark Fortress
      Heaven Shall Burn
      Der Weg Einer Freiheit
      Downfall of Gaia

      And then more recent additions like Ancst and Ast.

      • Nice choice of bands. You probably know more german bands than I do, but I guess that is your job finding new bands and recommend them towards us. I have read your first part too but I couldn’t get into Ast or Thränenkind. I had the feeling that both bands were mediocre and not special enough to dive deeper into their cosmos. Todtgelichter are one of those bands I always wanted to listen to for years, but I am not sure about the female singer, usually female vocals in metal don’t do me any favour. The new Downfall of Gaia was okay, but I liked their earlier works more. I tried to find my way into Der Weg einer Freiheit but I was quickly annoyed of their music. I also want to listen to the new Ctulu record, Fäulnis, Grabnebelfürsten, and of course Bethlehem and Ultha. If I find more german bands and you are curious enough I can send you some bands you might like as well.

    • You don’t need scholar music-theory knowledge, but it helps to know your metal, and you way around genres and terminology of course.

      Speaking of Agrypnie. Their sophomore Exit is a vivid moody meisterwerk in my ears.

      • Thanks for your kind words. I am always up for new bands and try to further my horizont as much as I can, although I still have plenty of unheard music on my hard drive. I would say that I know my way around metal and all the subgenres that come with the term metal, but in comparison to this site I feel like a small fish.
        Agrypnie are one of my favorite german “black metal mixed with something else” bands, not only because of their melodies but also because of their lyrics which always seems to have a deeper meaning, which shows that you don’t always have to write lyrics about satan, which, I know, is a cliché said about black metal bands.
        So cheers!

  5. If I had started tagging our posts with the countries of origins for all the bands we cover, and I had done that years ago, this would have provided an easier means of exploration. Alas, I didn’t. But here are almost two dozen more recommended German bands with releases in the last couple of years (in most cases) that we’ve written about and that I don’t think have been mentioned yet. Many, but not all, are connected in some way to black metal.

    Der Rote Milan
    Division Speed
    Imperium Dekadenz
    Infesting Swarm
    Porta Nigra
    Shrine of Insanabilis
    Sulphur Aeon

    • Dang, totally forgot that Sulphur Aeon were from the land of Germany.

      Also I purposefully left one of those above off my list because it’s going to feature PRETTY prominently in my end of year round-up.

    • Aren’t Odal also from Germany? What I’ve heard of their new record sounded pretty solid. Also, Mosaic.

      Black metal aside, my favorite German band of recent years has to be Ahab. Crushing heaviness.

      On a different tangent, I think it’s interesting that the German language has become so widely used in names and song titles by black metal bands from all over the place (and not of the ideological variety). Perhaps something about the tone of some of these multisyllabic dark/ depressive word constructions is universally appealing.

  6. Ultha–I did not know this band before. On first listen, I almost nixed it due to the vocal style. But i let it go on, and started to adapt to the voice and appreciate its effect. Utter despair. The growls interspersed with a woman’s voice in the 2nd song also helped pull me in. By the last song, I say now that this band is really good. And the last song, which has one of best titles ever (“Fear lights the path”), is totally epic.

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