The Pickering Trio steps out of the studio and into the hot seat for some deep talk!
Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):
As the 2020 live show drought carries onward into 2021, a new normal has settled in where live musicians are taking a backseat to studio groups who continually put out worthwhile content to the world. Groups who traditionally receive minimal exposure due to being outside the tour circuit are starting to flourish in the COVID world, in a big way.
Our band in the spotlight today is from Pickering, Ontario. In the vein of Depressive Suicidal Black Metal (DSBM), the genre typically features an aesthetic of grim hopelessness, with the instrumentals of traditional Scandic Black Metal to match. The group known as BEGOTTEN, though, knows no such shoehorn, and has chosen to buck the atmospheric norms of the genre, in favor of a hybrid style of sound that both contrasts and directly contradicts its predecessors.
The group is a trifecta of talented individuals; featuring Bobby Prentice as a jack of all trades on guitar, bass, piano, drums, and clean vocals, Thomas Learner as the group's multi-faceted harsh vocalist, and Dave Sherk on guitar, as well as the group's in-house mixer and producer.
It's no stretch to state that they've been busy. In 2018, the boys from up north released their first full-length album, A Waning Silhouette, as well as their E.P., And The Wind Cries Death, back to back. At the onset of the global pandemic in March of last year, they released their second album, If All You Have Known Is Winter, leading to a surge of new followers and fans alike.
Most recently, their lockdown efforts have brought their newest E.P., released on day one of the new year — a three-part tragedy known as Nothing Worth Remembering, the sounds of 2020 come full circle, in a handheld package. If there's anything for certain with BEGOTTEN, it's that their best surprises come in small packages, and this one is no exception.
Tactically melancholic, suitably full of depth and intrigue, and a testament to the transformative energy of Black Metal, the group has embraced the idea that extreme music carries a duality of sound, and have consistently used it to their advantage; Nothing Worth Remembering treads a fine line between dark and funky, a pendulum of rhythmic riffs that traces an appreciation cultivated by classic sounds and an ear for steadfast consistency that embraces the present and doesn't live to try to mimic an album long past. It samples elements that can be construed as theirs, and the boys inject a new signature that sets the tone for the release. This time, that signature resonates with Tom Learner bringing a new raw range to his vocals, taking falsettos in his stride. Another change is the pace of the E.P., which jumps dramatically from a swagger to a sprint, a trait that their latest full-length did not debut until the final track.
Taking a moment out of their schedules to talk shop, the world during COVID-19, and some of the secrets behind their formula, Bobby, Dave, and Tom sat down for a chat with Heaviest of Art; it was the kind of talk that was anything but depressing. Let's dive in!
Hello Dave, Bobby, and Tom! It is such a pleasure to finally talk to the dudes behind such glorious sadness! Thanks for taking the time for Heaviest of Art today; we're fans of the most shameless order and your music has really been one of the highlights of 2020 AND 2021, so props to you all for keeping the flame burning in these dark times. Let's jump right in here!
At the turn of the new year, when the clocks struck midnight and we all breathed a sigh of relief that we survived the vicious year — listeners everywhere were treated to your newest offering, the three-part EP known as Nothing Worth Remembering. That was a bullshit title btw, since this started the new year off with a bang. It's phenomenal, and your group is moving forward in more ways than one. Surprising, because you keep revealing new tricks, and comforting, because your group has monopolized what I would call "groovy DSBM," a sound that seems to belong solely to Begotten. How has the reception been so far to the new EP?
Begotten: Thanks for having us here, and thank you for the incredibly kind words. The reception for the new EP has been crazy, way bigger than we ever anticipated. It feels like every time we do a new release we end up saying that but it always comes as a bit of a surprise to us. The reaction to this EP was above and beyond any of the others though.
So, let's not dodge the elephant in the room. 2020 was a pretty terrible year overall, and COVID put a damper on the livelihoods of most touring musicians and the live scene, in general. But — how has the pandemic affected you and your group specifically, being a predominantly studio project?
Begotten: As you said we're a studio project so we don't have to jam or practice, and we never play live, so there was no loss of momentum for us musically. We released our previous full-length, If All You Have Known Is Winter, right as the world went into its first round of lockdowns and restrictions, which likely played a role in how well that one did -- it was a time of uncertainty and fear that no one had lived through for over a century, and people often look for music to compliment their emotional state, and in a case like this, depressive black metal was it. It was around this time when we were all in isolation that Bobby wrote the entirety of what would become Nothing Worth Remembering, so it really captures that point in time thematically and emotionally.
Canada's DSBM, and more so its Black Metal scene as a whole has been flourishing in recent years, primarily in Montreal and other cities in Quebec. Is there are a large metal community in Pickering to compliment the growing Toronto metal scene? Or are you one of the chosen few to keep the faith where you live?
Begotten: Our hometown (Pickering) is relatively small, (less than 100,000 people) so there isn't much of a music scene here, let alone a black metal scene. Toronto does have a thriving metal scene, but as none of us play live anymore we've kind of unintentionally distanced ourselves from it. Québec is definitely the heart of Canadian black metal though, with so many great bands and labels constantly pushing the genre forward.
DSBM is thematically not a genre of music that tends to lean towards the happier side, but your releases consistently manage to inject major chord melodies that give it a flair of ‘hopeful’ sound behind the music. Much in the same way that Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" inspires thoughts of hope and despair, Begotten frets a tremolo into that same space, somehow. As I mentioned earlier, your sound is unique, in that respect. It's groovy and hoppy, sometimes swaying and unhinged from measure to measure, often pacing itself for multiple emotive sound signatures that all seem to share an exclusivity with what only Begotten can offer. Grim and foreboding, even uncharacteristically euphoric, there are times where your songs completely turn 180 degrees from mid-tempo headbangers to gleeful walls of sound that close out with a mournful wail. There are even some tracks that I would go as far as to say you could possibly DANCE to! What brought you to that style?
Begotten: While we are all fans of more traditional DSBM we’ve always tried not to limit ourselves to match what others are doing or fall into the ideas of “needs” to keep the title. Over the years we’ve found that by placing two thematically different ideas in succession it creates a contrast which helps to accentuate the feelings put forth. Taking a more upbeat section and immediately following it up with a downtempo and melancholic one amplifies the feeling and creates a much more depressing atmosphere.
Expanding upon that same juxtaposition we tend to find it easier and more effective to convey emotion with melodic passages, and by preceding or following those up with more aggressive sounds both are accentuated and are able to stand out from the other, while still sitting well together.
As for “groove”, Black & Roll is common ground for all of us and we incorporate it to add pace and a driving sound to the songs. This, mixed with all that was previously mentioned, helps us push beyond the common “droning” sound and hopefully create a bit of a unique sound.
Throughout your catalogue there is a prevailing theme of nature and its unyielding indifference to the human spirit. That same message is a common factor in Black metal as a whole, but so is the idea that we all return to our natural roots, and primal origins. Does that sense of atavism play into your lyrical messages, and does your band feel the same way?
Begotten: Nature has always been a major theme in black metal, likely due to the general misanthropic idea that the genre seems to follow. As far as our lyrical content goes — in the past, nature was a template that we used, but more so as a metaphor to help tell stories of vastness and loneliness, due to the distaste of self, as opposed to the distaste of others.
It has been said that being a musician in the current age is actually two skillsets: being an avid creative mind for art, and being an industrious small business owner. Any truth to that, and how has it affected the way you record and distribute your music to the world?
Begotten: We have been able to split this up — Bobby handles the musically creative aspects (writing, lyrics, etc) and Dave deals with the business side (social media, promotion, merchandise, etc). This allows us to remain consistent with how we portray ourselves as we avoid any conflicting ideas or needing to double down on anything.
In years past, bands would rely on record labels and deals to get themselves out to the world at large, but we are lucky to be alive in a time where that’s not necessary; everyone is connected with the ability to transmit information immediately across immense distances, and we use that to our advantage. We likely use social media more liberally than other black metal bands, but by doing so we are able to not only promote ourselves but show our genuine gratitude towards everyone who supports us.
As of now we are entirely independent — To Dust Productions is Dave's media company so we are not held to any expectations or constraints. We procure and distribute all of our merchandise ourselves which gives us the ultimate flexibility to maintain availability and ensure that each piece shipped out meets our personal expectations, in terms of quality.
Bobby — I know that a lot of multi-instrumentalists tend to approach writing and recording the same way every time. Whether it be ritualistic, or simply favoritism per instrument, for some reason it seems to fall in line like dominoes. Can the same be said for you?
Begotten: The approach that Bobby takes is always consistent — being a guitarist first and foremost; that’s how everything starts. From there he will record rough demos at his house adding drums and then sending it to Dave and Tom to go over and give their input. You would likely be surprised with how close those demos are (musically) to the finished product, usually with very few deviations.
Dave — Having an in-house producer/mixer significantly reduces the amount of time and resources spent closing out each release, but studio tedium is a real thing and can be a consuming process. Do you prefer to be behind the axe, or behind the console?
Begotten: We are very fortunate that our skills and interests intersect how they do for this project, as we are definitely able to save time and money by keeping everything in-house, and are able to avoid the mental strain of working against someone else’s timeline and expectation. Dave is a guitarist of 20+ years with about half of that dedicated to engineering so it’s not as much of a black and white answer but more a matter of convenience at this stage to put more effort into production to compliment Bobby’s writing.
Tom — Metal vocals are a challenging, physically demanding aspect of the genre that most people take for granted as incoherent guttural noise. Even more difficult is the task of providing "raw" vocals such as yours, that range higher into the falsettos, often sounding like a banshee shriek that spans more than one octave at a time. How long have you been practicing harsh vocals, and do you have an A Capella background? Or are you self-taught?
Begotten: In a genre like DSBM, the vocal performance relies heavily on the raw emotion and the feeling as much as it does the tone, which is something that Tom has been able to shape on his own over the last 10 or so years.
Many people were surprised and excited to discover that you contributed to ‘A Heart of Gold’ with your version of ‘The Sea of Immeasurable Loss’. As both black metal artists, and huge Woods of Ypres fans yourselves — what does David Gold mean to you, and how has Woods of Ypres' legacy and influence changed the face of the genre?
Begotten: Their first album, “Against The Seasons…” is likely the most influential piece of Canadian music in our early days, and we are honoured that we were able to participate in the tribute album. That album has a very raw, but melodic feeling to it, that creates a unique atmosphere that wasn’t really found anywhere else at the time of its release. It’s an album that has been an influence on so many of the melodic and atmospheric bands that came after.
You can wrangle acoustics (Nostalgist), artfully make clean vocals your centerpiece, (Nostalgist, And the Wind Cries Death II, Nothing Worth Remembering II) and you can do the Chorus-pedal melancholy solo, all while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with even the legendary Agalloch, or Metallica themselves. It's a driving factor for the ease of access to your music, and it's a beckoning hand to new listeners trying to find their way in the world of extreme metal. When do we get to hear some more of that magic?
Begotten: We never really know what the future holds for us musically, but nothing can be ruled out; we approach every album without expectation or a list of needs. While we never intentionally stray too far from black metal or DSBM, we’ve never shied away from incorporating elements of our influences outside of the genre (acoustic, guitar solos, clean vocals) to help convey the feelings and atmosphere that are being put forth.
Your 2018 E.P., And the Wind Cries Death, is one of the hardest hitting short-play extreme music numbers of the last decade, and that — excuse the pun — is a hill I would die on. It scratches an itch that just can not be found easily, and in just two parts tells a dismal story of confusion, hopelessness, and tragedy in a way I think many people can empathize with, even if they've never seen the blinding beauty of a blizzard. I have a hypothesis, though, and I'd like to see if I'm close to the marker here.
Is this E.P. — specifically part II — a tribute to Valfar (Terje Bakken) of WINDIR? His fated final hike ended tragically and suddenly in the midst of a Nordic blizzard, and his status as a black metal legend is beyond question at this point. Given the tone of the song, the lyrical content, and the tear-jerking roller coaster of the entire E.P., it struck me at one point that it could potentially be referencing the man himself. Any truth there, or am I romanticizing?
Begotten: Purely a coincidence. While not in anyone's head at the time the song was being written, there is undeniably an overlap between it and the story of Valfar’s passing.
We're coming to the end of our chat here, but I have two last questions for you, staples of my interviews that have just become tradition at this point.
Firstly, what are you listening to currently? What tunes have kept you all sane during this pandemic, and is there a group out there that you believe deserves some serious attention that is criminally unappreciated?
Begotten: We are all avid listeners and/or collectors so its hard for us to narrow it down, but for metal: bands like Akitsa, The Suns Journey Through The Night, Sadness, and Hellripper have been on a pretty heavy rotation. Outside of that we tend to lean into some of the more depressing sounds like Benjamin Todd, Townes Van Zandt, and Dan Barrett (Giles Corey - Have A Nice Life),
Though “criminally under-appreciated” may not be the right term for it, the Métal Noir Québécois collective is one that should be on the radar for fans of black metal.
And lastly — Do you believe that great suffering breeds great art? Or is it merely that — adversity for the sake of, with no purpose but to hinder? (Who better to ask than the DSBM philosophers themselves?)
Begotten: Suffering itself isn’t necessary for the creation of art, but the ability to connect with your inner self and your emotions, plays a huge role in it. And in niches like ours, those feelings are often negative. As a whole, we are not unhappy people, but we are also in a unique position that others aren’t, where we are able to express ourselves through this and other projects.
On behalf of Heaviest of Art, thank you all so much once more. You're shooting stars of the underground, limitlessly talented, and we wish you a triumphant future in the days ahead! Take care, and stay safe guys!
Begotten: Thank you again for speaking with us, and for showing us the love that you do.
BEGOTTEN are currently riding a victory lap of their latest E.P., Nothing Worth Remembering, and you can snag yourself a copy HERE! Check out the *EVERYTHING* bundle, and get a foot-hold on one of the strongest studio numbers in the Canadian scene today!