Following a 30-date tour, Bauhaus set out to Southern Studios in London to record their first album. As the band had a clear conception of what they wanted the record to sound like, they opted to produce it themselves. While most of the album was completed with the planned release date of September 1980, the group found it difficult to record a version of "Double Dare" as good as the one they performed on disc jockeyJohn Peel's BBC Radio 1 programme. Bauhaus applied to the BBC to use the Peel sessions version, but due to obstructions from the Musicians Union, the process took over a month.
In the Flat Field was released on 1 October 1980 by record label 4AD. It was met with a negative response from critics, but topped the independent charts and made the UK Albums Chart for one week, peaking at number 72.
On 19 October 2009, 4AD/Beggars Banquet reissued the album as an "Omnibus Edition", featuring the 24-bit remastered CD of the original nine-track album in a replica mini-LP sleeve (with corresponding inner sleeve featuring the lyrics), plus a 16-track bonus disc of singles, outtakes, alternate recordings and original versions. The set came inside a semi-long box, coupled with a 48-page book that included comments from band members, photos, complete lyrics, complete tour date information for 1979 and 1980, and an essay by Kevin Brooksbank on the formation and creation of the band, the singles and the album.
While In the Flat Field received positive reviews in fanzine publications, the album was "absolutely slated" by the British weekly music press, according to Bauhaus biographer Ian Shirley.NME's Andy Gill described the album as "nine meaningless moans and flails bereft of even the most cursory contour of interest, a record which deserves all the damning adjectives usually leveled at grim-faced 'modernists'." Dave McCullough of Sounds' was also negative: "No songs. Just tracks (ugh). Too priggish and conceited. Sluggish indulgence instead of hoped for goth-ness. Coldly catatonic."
In his retrospective review, Ned Raggett of AllMusic praised the album, writing "few debut albums ever arrived so nearly perfectly formed".Trouser Press described it as "a dense, disjointed patchwork of sounds and uncertain feelings, supported by a pressured, incessant beat. Delving deep into the dark side of the human psyche, Bauhaus conjures up unsettling images of a world given over to death and decay."
Ned Raggett of AllMusic wrote: "In the Flat Field practically single-handedly invented what remains for many as the stereotype of goth music—wracked, at times spindly vocals about despair and desolation of many kinds, sung over mysterious and moody music". In 2012, Sonic Seducer magazine listed In the Flat Field at number 4 in its list "10 Key Albums for the Gothic Scene", calling it a work that had shattered outdated ideas of rock music. Music author Dave Thompson described it as "one of the most courageous albums of the age."