Bringing Jason Wisdom and Dan Seagrave together for a dive into a sci-fi audiovisual feat.
Words by Aaron (@heaviestofart):
Much like the calcified spaceship that adorns its striking cover art, Becoming the Archetype’s latest opus, Children of the Great Extinction, feels like a far-future artifact, gifted to us from a celestial being who reigns in the heavens above. This is a comeback album in the purest and most exciting sense, as it sees the original, core line-up of Jason Wisdom, Seth Hecox and Brent “Duck” Duckett reuniting after over a decade and creating what is perhaps their crowning achievement and certainly among the best albums of 2022 — a remarkable feat, considering the band’s accomplished past output.
Once more, the band commissioned the inimitable Dan Seagrave to create the stunning and otherworldly album art, which we named as one of the best album covers of the year. This marks the fourth collaboration between BTA and the legendary painter. In true BTA fashion, the music itself is brilliantly composed and masterfully performed; cascading melodies give way to punishing riffs, underpinned by a high-level science fiction concept that unfolds in Jason Wisdom’s lyrics. BTA was always one of the unsung heroes of the early 2000's Solid State metal wave, and even after all these years, they don’t skip a beat on Children of the Great Extinction. The album fits right in with their previous efforts, sounding like something of a transfusion between the crushing Dichotomy (2008) and the more prog-leaning Celestial Completion (2011).
We are honored to welcome Jason Wisdom to go Behind the Cover of Children of the Great Extinction and once again pick the brain of Dan Seagrave, the honorary “fourth member” of BTA and their immense artistic vision.
Jason, for old-school Becoming the Archetype fans like me, it’s a big deal that you and Duck are back in the band. When did you guys start to talk about writing new music together? How was the writing process for this album different than past albums?
Jason Wisdom: We actually started talking about all that before COVID. Basically, more or less right before COVID, we all got together to start writing some riffs and messing around with ideas. Then when everything happened, that sort of put everything on hold, but at the same time sort of opened up some doorways for me personally. Seth is a pastor and Duck is a construction worker, so neither one of them stopped working. I was a substitute teacher then and substitute teachers were super hard because there’s no salary, and there’s no jobs to go sub for, so I just drove straight as far as I could into music.
I did an album with Death Therapy, my other band. I did an EP for that band of video game music. I started writing lyrics for the BTA record even before we had music, so what I’m getting at is that it was difficult, but it was an opportunity to really get creative for me. It was a busy year, 2020, and then moving into 2021, the wheels started turning again. By that time, we just kind of went full steam ahead and spent almost the whole year, 2021, working on the record.
You stayed active throughout it all. Jumping into the visuals, who are again done by the legendary Dan Seagrave, what were those initial conversations like with Dan? Were there any references made to the previous covers he’s done for you?
Jason: I sort of just gave him an even more distilled version of a particular scene from the climax of the record. I thought it would be cool if we did something like that and then he just went with it. With all of the artwork he’s done for us, it’s always been that way. We don’t have to lead him along too much. It’s just sort of like, "Hey, this is what’s happening on this record," and then he goes from there. He’s awesome. He’s the best.
He doesn’t know this, but we literally shifted plans with this record and budgets and other things to make sure that we could afford to have him do the artwork. There was a point at which we thought, "We may not be able to afford Seagrave." We couldn't have that. The art is literally as important as the music. A lot of people discovered our first record because of his artwork.
I don’t want to say that we were the first band on Solid State Records to do a cover with him, but I think we were. I guess what I’m getting at is I don’t know that anyone in the Solid State Records, 2000's Christian Metal world had seen his art style. Obviously, people who listen to Suffocation and those kinds of extreme metal bands were super into it. In fact, I remember hearing stories about how our first record was too scary for Christian bookstores, and people put a sticker over it in the bookstores to cover up the art. It’s not that scary. There’s an angel choking a demon. How is that scary? [laughs] It’s a cool relationship we have with Dan. His presence on this record is like a fourth member.
Seeing as he's responsible for developing the band's visual identity, he's most definitely that fourth member. Dan, tell me about the initial conversations you had with the band in planning this cover art. How did you perceive their ideas when presented this time around?
Dan Seagrave: I didn’t speak with anyone from the band directly about the project initially. What they wanted to do was put together a description of sorts and then send it over to me. I got some raw information, which was broken down into four paragraphs. The concept was of an overgrown former colony, human colony on a distant planet that’s kind of been left in ruin. It doesn’t say for how long, and also on that was a description of these creatures swarming around a metal spacecraft capsule containing a human corpse. It’s quite descriptive and the image pretty much follows that description, not deviating much, if at all.
They also had this other thing about the creatures being hollow with feather like skin, caked in mud, protruding veins, and they crumble at the slightest contact. They’re incredibly frail creatures and it's a very hard thing to convey all of those details. I had to design the creatures and whatever this ship was going to look like from scratch. That was really it: I got a description and then it was just a matter of kind of letting that rest in my mind. I then went through doing a bunch of sketches, basically sort of strung together, which then the band got to peruse and think about.
This cover seems most similar to 'Terminate Damnation' (2005), almost like it’s the same world but many years into the future. Jason commented on the controversial nature of it when it first released.
Dan: Absolutely! You're bang on there because I didn’t really set out to do that, but as I was doing a bunch of different sketches, the one I liked the best has a very clear kind of kind of directive arrow shape of the craft with the surrounding landscape. The creatures are kind of clambering. It just became evident that it was sort of like a mirrored futuristic version of that first one. I was thinking about that, but then I was also thinking I don’t want to be tethered to that, so I just let that kind of be implied.
It came about as a natural byproduct and longtime fans of the band have surely already made the connection. Jason, this is BTA’s first full-fledged concept album. Can you tell me about the concept behind the album and how it came to be?
Jason: Some people would probably be confused by the idea that this is our first concept album, because BTA has always been a high concept sort of band. 'The Physics of Fire' (2007) had four songs that were telling a story, but they were shuffled throughout the record in different order. 'Children of the Great Extinction' is the first pure concept record from the beginning of the first song to the end of the last song. All the lyrics tell one story in sequential order and the music sort of complements and goes along with that sort of graphic novel style storytelling, which is what I was going for with the lyrics.
I’m stoked about it. I think it was a challenge that was well worth undertaking because I think it fits the band and what people have come to expect. One of the challenges of doing another record with a band like this is, well, how can we go beyond what we’ve done but not disappoint people and make them think like, "Oh, this is not the band I remember,’" you know? I felt like doing the lyrics that way. I sort of just took everything that the band has done before and took it up a notch.
It's a high mark in your discography! Without giving away too much, can you give a brief overview of the concept and narrative that the album describes?
Jason: The idea of it in a nutshell is the hubris of the human race, or some sort of humanoid race, thinking that they can create a utopia somewhere else in the galaxy to solve all their problems. They then realize that it backfired and in shutting that down, those people that were lost there on that colony are abandoned. The elite group shuts that down. Then, it shifts to following an underground group of people who haven’t given up on those people who were lost. Over thousands of years, they work their way up to reconfigure the technology to travel through dimensions to that other world to try to reconnect with those people. In doing so, they ultimately can send one person through and that person encounters these creatures, these monsters, which you can see in the album artwork depicted.
Side note, but I’ve been told by some people that the spaceship form reminds them of The Lion King Pride rock. [laughs] The protagonist then encounters these monsters, but spoiler alert, it turns out that they are the people who are the descendants of the people who were lost there. They've now become monsters, so he’s faced with a dilemma and he’s confused, and they ultimately kill him. However, in doing so, they find that what he had is what they need to be restored. They find the restoration to be able to go out and reclaim the planet and do what they were supposed to do. There’s more to the story than that, but that’s kind of the nuts and bolts of it.
Amazing how much was layered into this. Were there any works of science fiction in particular that you used as inspiration?
Jason: Well, it was early 2020 and I was really big on getting ready for the movie Dune. I went back and re-read the Frank Herbert book. I’m a huge fan of the book and I’m a moderate fan of the movie. Dune has always been the thing that nobody can pull off, and I feel like Denis Villeneuve pulled off the movie as best he could, and it was good, I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t great, in my opinion. Either way, I was big on Dune.
Also, going back even to the early BTA days, I’ve always been into C.S. Lewis’ 'Space Trilogy'. That played a huge influence on the 'Dichotomy' record. I’m also a big Coheed and Cambria fan. I like a lot of the stuff that they do and I’ve always admired that science fiction graphic novel woven into music kind of thing. There’s lot of that influence in there, but then I really wanted to create my own thing and see where it would go.
Dan, tying in with the album’s concept, this is perhaps one of your most science fiction-themed covers to date. Jason had his influence, but did you look to any works of science fiction in particular for inspiration?
Dan: I don’t because I don’t like to fall into a trap of having direct references. A lot of stuff that I do is just memory-based. I grew up on films like Aliens and Alien, those space and sci-fi films, so I have in my head that kind of architecture crammed up. I can just slip into that gear quite easily.
In my own particular way, I do find that I’m not really a futurist kind of painter in the sense that when I’m doing something like that, I tend to have a natural, kind of retro look about it. My designs of a space craft tend to look somewhere between, like as if someone were trying to design something futuristic from the past. It's futuristic mixed with some kind of a biological or organic idea.
The piece itself is stunning in its composition and sheer amount of detail. How did that “retro-futuristic” look come to fruition as you were painting this cover? The enigmatic figure in the spacecraft in particular is quite captivating.
Dan: Little details like that can create a bit of a puzzle sometimes because if you’re making a scene, think of all these things going in, like the landscape of the colony and the background of this giant ship. Then, you’ve got a figure and you’re supposed to show people that there’s a corpse. With this tiny little figure, it’s quite hard to show the viewer what’s happening. Something like that is where ambiguity kind of plays a role, so I thought it would be cool to have that very much implied.
You can kind of see a figure in this almost like an amber, slightly kind of ominous, a kind of a glow. It’s like the only other color in the picture, really; purples and cyan kind of working together and then the content of a slightly amber-like capsule. I thought that was cool because it shows you the time and how long these things are. You don’t know how long this shifts back; they could have been there for a thousand years. You don’t know how long the colony has been dead. It could be 2,000 years old or 10,000 years, so there’s a whole kind of time displacement where you can’t quite pin down the timeline of events.
Talking about the amber color use, I like amber because it’s the color of antiquity to me. It’s the color of fossilization as well, if you think about insects trapped in amber. It’s got this kind of antiquity about it and is sort of mysterious. To me, you don’t really know if this character is dead or alive or if they’re trapped, like a kind of literally fossilized entity that could be hopeful or it could be poisonous. You don’t know, right? Then, you have these creatures. Are they attacking or are they looking for hope? These are the kinds of things that had not been written down for me, but as you’re painting the picture you started, you’ve got to figure out what the ambiguity is. Things aren’t completely literal, but you can start to ask questions and make up your own story and then put it in the picture itself. You can also just look at the picture for what it is. It's a pretty literal looking picture, so it kind of works, whether you think about it or not.
Jason, did Dan’s final cover art have any bearing on how your lyrics and the concept of the album took shape?
Jason: We were done with the recording sessions when that happened, but obviously when we saw it, it was an immediate, "Yes, okay, that’s it." There was no question. I will say we saw some sketches that he did probably closer to when the album got turned in, but we had it done and we knew what it was going to sound like. Dan just has that way of getting and capturing it. The record sounds like the cover art looks.
I agree, and it speaks volumes of that audiovisual synchronicity you all excel at. It’s no secret that BTA has a thread of faith-based themes interwoven into your music. In closing, what bearing do these themes have on your creative output?
Jason: We’re doing this firstly because we love metal. We’re doing this because we love art and you know, we come from a Christian worldview, so our lyrics are going to reflect that. That’s just where we’re at. We’re not trying to make any political or sociological or evangelical statements in what we do. I wouldn’t necessarily say that BTA is a religious themed band, but we certainly have it. I would say more that more than that, we’re like a geeky, nerdy, epic band, but with Christian undertones, sort of like Lord of the Rings or Narnia death metal.
Children of the Great Extinction is available now via Solid State Records (Order).