"Dark Metal" is the debut full-length studio album by German death/doom metal act Bethlehem. The album was released through Adipocere Records in August 1994. It was recorded in January 1994 at Tape Productions in The Netherlands. "Dark Metal" has seen quite a few re-releases throughout the years, as the album´s reputation as a "cult" classic has grown.
Stylistically the music on "Dark Metal" is death/doom metal with a blackened edge. The blackened edge is mostly due to the occasionally snarling higher pitched vocals, that resemble black metal vocal style. There are also deeper growling vocals and spoken word sections on the album. So the black metal elements are few and far between and it´s also more death/doom metal type artists like (early) Paradise Lost, Winter, (early) Katatonia, and especially (early) My Dying Bride (without the violin) that the music on "Dark Metal" reminds me of.
The music is predominantly slow and doomy, occasionally faster though, sometimes atmospheric and always drenched in melancholy. The tracks feature pretty unorthodox structures, and while I wouldn´t use the word "progressive" about them, they certainly don´t follow the regular vers/chorus format. Sometimes it´s to an extent where the tracks sound fragmented like the case is with the 11:00 minutes long "Apocalyptic Dance", which is a track featuring many different sections, that doesn´t flow that well. The band even fade some sections out to introduce others, which to my ears is a pretty cheap compositional trick used to disguise lack of compositional skills. I usually hail adventurous and unconventional structures and songwriting in general, but this comes off slightly amaturish.
The good thing about "Dark Metal" is the dark and occult atmosphere, which is backed up well by the equally dark and organic sound production. The musicianship are generally on a decent level too and especially some of the lead guitar themes and the vocals are delivered with conviction. While I´m not as impressed by "Dark Metal" as others seem to be, I can understand the "cult" classic label, that the album has been given, and if you can hear past the occasional compositional glitches, it is indeed a very strong blackened death/doom metal release. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.