From Here to the Unholy Land
CoC interviews Jurgen Bartsch of Bethlehem
by: Aaron McKay
In the not too distant past, I spun Bethlehem's new MCD, _Reflektionen auf's Sterben_ [see CoC #38], and found myself reeling on the floor from its severity. After an elongated recovery period, I possessed enough presence of mind to dial the number for Bethlehem's label, Red Stream, get them on the phone, and set up this interview. Damn fine move, too, even if I do say so my damn self, thank you; otherwise I would not be able to share some of bassist/founder Jurgen Bartsch's insight with you, the devoted CoC reader. I highly encourage you to pour over the e-mail exchange between myself and Jurgen keeping in mind the periodical translation predicaments that arise when your interviewee is as German as the eccentric music that he creates. Enjoy!

CoC: Before we get into some of the complexities of Bethlehem's music, can you relate a little bit about the band's history for the Chronicles of Chaos readers, maybe to include Klaus Matton and Marco Kehren's departures from Bethlehem, please?

Jurgen Bartsch: Bethlehem was formed late summer 1991 by Jurgen Batsch (bass) and Klaus Matton (guitar). A first demo was done in September 1992, another one followed March 1992 and was re-released as a 7" _Thy Pale Dominion_ in August 1993 by Nightmare Records (a skinhead label) in our hometown [re-released by Red Stream in 1995]. [At the] end of 1993 we got our first record deal with Adipocere Records from France, which resulted in the _Dark Metal_ CD, which was released in August 1994. After the debut album, we changed record companies again, [this] time to work with the masters of pure horror and sickness, Mr. Red Stream. This partnership resulted in _Dictius te Necare_ (1996), _SUiZiD_ (1998) and the _Reflektionen auf's Sterben_ MCD (1998). Bethlehem is destined by lotsa member changes, because Klaus and me [always] want to sound different from album to album. That's the reason why Marco Kohnn just did the _SUiZiD_ album with us, although he never got [to be] a main member. He just did the vox thing for the last album because we just needed some more help. He was never planned as a full member, although he can [be] seen in the photos in the CD booklet. This just shows what friendship means to us, because Marco still is one of our very best friends ever. Probably he will add some vox lines on the next album too. [I] must think about that. Just Cathrin stays as full member and mainly will sing the next album again [the] way she did on _SUiZiD_, although nearly everybody thought her vox were sung by Marco Kehren. <laughs> Marco [is] now on his fourth full album with Deinonychus. This time [I] play the bass. The album will be recorded in August 1999 by Marco, myself and probably the new/old Cradle of Filth drummer.

CoC: Tell me about "Wolfsstunde" ("The Wolf Hour"). What possessed Bethlehem to rework this particular song from the _Dark Metal_ album? And how, in light of these new versions of "Vargtimmen", does the band look upon the original song?

JB: The original song is quite okay, but we like new versions [better]. They're just better played, arranged and, of course, recorded. Doing covers of [our] own albums has a long tradition in Bethlehem and started with "Verschleierte Irreligiositat" on the _Dictius te Necare_ album. This song is a _Dark Metal_ cover song of "Veiled Irreligion". Damn, we liked the idea [of] covering ourselves instead of other bands, although we did an Iron Maiden cover of "Where Eagles Dare" [_Piece of Mind_]. But this song was originally done for an Iron Maiden tribute, but never was used for this. It can now be heard on the Red Stream compilation CD under the German title "Tiermutter", which [translates] in English to mean "Animal Mother". Basically this song [was] more [of] a Bethlehem song than an Iron Maiden one, because we don't like just copying the original version. This would bore us to death and still is another reason why we hate doing covers of other metal, or whatever, band. No, we go on copying ourselves because this means pure fun, sickness and horror. <laughs>

CoC: As far as you know, was there a cry from Bethlehem fans for more of a return, if you will, to Bethlehem's pioneering primeval material found on _Dark Metal_?

JB: No! Definitely not. T'day, folks more are interested in the new stuff, I guess, although _Dark Metal_ sold thousands of copies in Europe (and still sells).

CoC: Why did the band opt to place "Vargtimmen", in different forms, in two distinctive ways on the MCD _Reflektionen auf's Sterben_ ("Reflections on Dying")?

JB: I dunno. Maybe this time we fell too much in love with our own covers and wanted to have it [on the release] twice. One version destined by keys and vox; the other by loud guitars.

CoC: What exactly is taking place with regard to the discussion on the final track, six, on _Reflektionen auf's Sterben_? Whose music or what song can be heard in the background toward the beginning of the track?

JB: The "Tiermutter" [Iron Maiden] cover can be heard in the back of this "soap opera". The "discussion" is about drugs. Some lame junky came [into] my flat and asked me and Reiner Tiedemann (the band's roadie) for some hard stuff, though he knows that Reiner just deals with soft stuff. I got pissed about this asshole and tried to beat him up. I'm successful while Reiner tries to save my interior decorations. Reiner and me just wanted to record some guitar/bass stuff before [the junky came in] and therefore everything on this [track] was recorded on an 8-track recorder. We decided to put this on the record to show everybody how crazy and dull livin' in our hometown can be when every damn bastard comes [in] your house asking for some stupid drugs and stuff. It's the hood, man, and [even] today lotsa folks just come in my house without ringing the doorbell; sometimes cops, sometimes [heroin] junkies. It sucks livin' here.

CoC: I personally found the instrumental track, "Angst atmet Mord", and "You Must Play With Yourself" (or "Du Sollst dich Toten") to positively be a couple of the most powerfully crafted pieces that I have ever heard from ANY band. "Angst atmet Mord" has a strain of skilfully laid soulful black metal riffing pumping through the course of the song, contrasted by the next track, "You Must Play With Yourself", creating a torturous hopelessness within both music and lyrics of that song. How is it that the band can be so completely diverse, yet hold everything together from song to song?

JB: Thank you very much, bro. We feel honoured by your words. Thanks. Well, yeah, I dunno again. See, we can't control our songwriting, because it just comes out of us; from our heart and soul and sometimes our balls as well. We never practised a lot for an album, e.g., _SUiZiD_ and _Reflektionen auf's Sterben_ [both were] composed in a [couple of] weeks. We used every idea which came [to] Klaus' and my mind and that basically was it. We always think people will hate that diverse trash which means nothing but fightin' boredom to us. We [take] long breaks during a year; just hanging around, killing the next hippie we see. If we get too bored killing hippies, we join the re-room and "write" another stupid Bethlehem album, which basically is the whole story.

CoC: What is it like to be on the movie "Gummo" soundtrack with some other very impressive groups like Absu, Bathory, and Burzum?

JB: This is nuthin' but K-I-L-L-E-R!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

CoC: How did Bethlehem come to pick "Schuld uns'res knocherigen Faltpferd" and "Verschleierte Irreligiositat" for "Gummo"?

JB: It depends on Spider from Brooklyn who once asked us whether we would be interested in doin' a song for the "Gummo" movie. We, of course, agreed, and therefore she built up the contact with New Line Productions. NLP sent us a contract and some good money and we started to record a song called "Schuld uns'res knoch'rigen Faltpferd's" (the song was written wrong on the soundtrack CD). Unfortunately this can't be translated into your language. This song was one of the two last songs we recorded with Landfermann in the Burnt Gus music studio. Klaus had the idea for that song and it was done in a day and a half. Personally, it's one of the best Bethlehem songs ever, because it has ultra sick German lyrics and fantastically combines different styles and directions from fast black metal to soft commercial atmospheres. [I] guess NLP liked that song most, because it [can] be heard [at] the end of the movie instead of just the few seconds [during the movie that] every other band and [their] songs [get]. [NPL] also bought "Verschleierte Irreligiositat" from the _Dictius te Necare_ album and used some notes [from that song] for the movie, too.

CoC: Winding down, are there any plans to tour the United States? What does touring in general look like for Bethlehem in the coming months?

JB: There are no plans to tour the States, because there's no money in goin' overseas. We're really poor, and this is the truth, and no promotion... We haven't got money to buy new clothes, CDs or whatever. We just have some money to fuckin' exist! Definitely -no chance- of goin' overseas! Definitely not! Although we, of course, would all worship the idea [of] playing live in the USA, one day. In the coming months there will be no touring in Germany because Klaus and me want to start searching [for] new band members for another full [length] album on Red Stream sometime in 1999 or 2000. As I said before, [I] must concentrate on Deinonychus, as well as on another band that I am going to form with some dudes. This new band will have nothing to do with metal in general, but more with kind of commercial mixtures of techno, club-house, drum and bass, trance and thrashy guitars, bass and extreme vox in the German language again. Therefore... no time for playing live at the moment.

CoC: I want to congratulate you and Bethlehem for being a powerfully superior band in an ever increasingly crowded genre. Thank you VERY much for your time and agreeing to do this interview. Please end with anything you would like to relay on to the Chronicles of Chaos readers.

JB: Thanks again, man, for your gigantic words and HAILS to all US metalheads [Don't forget us Canadians! -- Gino]. Thank you very, very much for your grateful support and help in the last years. YOU ALL RULE!!! We luv ya -- Gepriesen sei der Untergang.

(article submitted 19/5/1999)


ALBUMS
1/15/2011 C Drishner 8 Bethlehem - Stonkfitzchen
4/28/2003 A McKay 6 Bethlehem - Suicide Radio
4/12/2002 A McKay 6.5 Bethlehem - Schatten aus der Alexander Welt
3/14/1999 A McKay 9.5 Bethlehem - Reflektionen auf's Sterben
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