Jürgen Bartsch (Bethlehem) interviewed

** Bethlehem have crafted one of the best albums of the year in Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. Strange, heavy, explorative, and dark are all adjectives to describe the group's seventh full-length. As a concept album, Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia picks up thematically where Mein Weg left off. Prepare yourself for a journey from a black, dangerous mind. Jürgen Bartsch's mind. Have you lost your mind? Jürgen Bartsch: Oh surely. There are always troubles with this band. There’s all the hate we get. People leaving the band. I think I have a talent for it, if you can call it talent. I’m like an engine. If I start it, the engine stops when it’s finished. I give a shit. I’m always working against all odds. It’s my fate. Albums like this make me nuts, too. I don’t do anything else but this shit for months.

Musically, the new album is accomplished. It’s diverse. Jürgen Bartsch: That’s true. I only say this because we do what we can because we can. We have no limits. We did Mein Weg and A Sacrificial Offering to the Kingdom of Heaven in a Cracked Dog's Ear with Niklas [Kvarforth] from Shining because we can. Black metal people asked us why we’ve done what we’ve done with Bethlehem. We can. That’s the only answer. I don’t want to be limited to black metal. We love music. We grew up with black metal and progressed with it, but why should black metal be limited? It shouldn’t.

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is a concept album, right? Jürgen Bartsch: Yes. This album is the final album of a trilogy. Schatten aus der Alexander Welt, Mein Weg, and the new one are part of a concept. I wrote this concept in the ‘90s. This was done on purpose, by the way. I wanted the lineup for this album to be special. Open-minded people, to open up the concept. Sure, it took too long for us to complete. Something like 13 years, but we didn’t mean for it to take that long. We were robbed of time and energy. Now that it’s finished I never want to do it again. The concept times are over for us. We will go on. We won’t be doing the S.U.i.Z.i.D. album again as well. I think this lifestyle is dead. There’s no reason to go back to the old days. We do have a screamer in the band though.

It doesn’t sound like Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia was an easy album to write. Jürgen Bartsch: Not so easy, I would say. And I’ve been doing Bethlehem for 23 years now.

The new album grows on you. Almost like a movie soundtrack. Jürgen Bartsch: This was done on purpose. The final chapter always has to be unique and special. The album before was a mixture of different styles and sounds. Of course, this album is over-the-top with it. We had like 200 song ideas. We had to carefully choose from those ideas. Every song had to stand on its own. Each song has its own character. That’s why it’s taken so long. We were checking off ideas, transforming them into songs.

There are some really different songs on the album. “Egon Erwin's Mongo-Mumu”, “Ich aß gern' Federn”, and “Letale Familiäre Insomnie” aren’t normal Bethlehem. Jürgen Bartsch: True. Some of the songs are based on Olaf’s guitar ideas. He’s not a metalhead. He’s the only member in Bethlehem to not be a metalhead. He comes from the indie rock/punk scene. Therefore, he has a different input. I don’t have that input. He has a different feeling than I do. The album is clearly split into two. Olaf’s songs and my songs. Myself, I can easily write metal songs or sick songs. I have the right feeling for it. Olaf can write songs from a different viewpoint. He writes melodies that I’ll never think of. This is the last album with Olaf. It’s more a thank you for all the years of comradeship.

Is there a sense of duality in Bethlehem? I don’t get the sense you’re telling people death is the only way. Jürgen Bartsch: We represent life and death. Just celebrating one side of whatever—whether it’s black and white, life and death—isn’t natural. We’ve always had humor in Bethlehem. There can’t always be only aggression. First of all, it’s boring. Second of all, it’s unreal. It’s not part of the whole. Our melancholic songs and lyrics about suicide and death had another side, but most people don’t realize it. Our songs were also pro-life. They weren’t exclusively pro-death. I hate just doing one thing. That’s probably why we have aggressive as well as positive, melodic stuff. There is a melancholic undertone to our positive, melodic stuff, I must say that.

I really like the vocal production is great. Guido sounds very full, robust throughout. Jürgen Bartsch: Don’t tell me this. The whole album was mixed in two and half days. The mastering took two hours. I’ve been producing Bethlehem albums since 1999. I definitely have an idea of who we should sound. Markus Stock, who I’ve been working with for years, also knows how we should sound. We are on the same level. The longest period is recording the music. We wanted a spontaneous product.

Tell me about the title, Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. It’s a mouthful isn’t it? Jürgen Bartsch: I have problems speaking about how I came up with the title. When I wrote the concept it was 16 years ago. I was a different person. I was addicted to drugs. I had strange ideas about life in general. The basic concept was inspired by my visions. Of course, these visions, now that I look back on it, were from my drug abuse not from something spiritual. Anyway, the concept was about a serial killer specializing in killing young girls. Schatten aus der Alexander Welt describes this world and the demons that live within it. Mein Weg was the answer. How to get rid of your own demons. A way out of the world. This resulted in the fear of 666 or the demons Therefore, Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.

"Nazi Zombies mit Tourette-Syndrom" sounds very David Lynch. What’s the story there? Jürgen Bartsch: "Nazi Zombies mit Tourette-Syndrom" was a gag between band members on the flight back to Germany from MDF 2012. We thought it was funny, so I kept it for a song title.

** Bethlehem's Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is out now on Prophecy Productions. It's available HERE, unless you fear 666. In that case, double down on your most spiritual of fears and get the 10-LP limited edition Hau Ab boxset, HERE. If you don't know what "hau ab" means, click the link. That's a German language lesson for the day.

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