“What I want to convey is just complete desperation.” – An Interview with Bereft
Lands, the heartstrings-ripping debut full-length from black-meets-doom metal quartet is an emotional tour-de-force that has been kicking the crap out of my soul for the past two months. So enamored with the band’s jaw-dropping effort that I dialed up Cade Gentry (bass) and Alex Linden (guitars and vocals) to chat about extreme metal expectations, tour life, and the palpable grief heard on Lands. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
W – How are y’all doing today?
Cade (C): Good man, we’re doing well
All right! So first off, I just want to say, Lands is a hell of an album. I think it really just shows a huge step up from Lost Ages and- I don’t know, man, the first time I listened to it I was like “jeez, this is a) super technical for a doom album, and b) super emotionally heavy for a doom album. What was the songwriting step up that y’all did between Lost Ages and this one that kinda helped y’all get over that hump there?
C – I mean, I don’t know- Alex and Zach write most of the riffs- but I think that we sort of … Lost Ages is kind of what we wrote first, like this is some of the first real songs. Like we hadn’t evolved, we just wrote the first four songs and then recorded them, you know? There were other songs before that but nothing that felt complete, I feel like. No “hey we got four songs, let’s record a record!” And once we got to Lands, it was just-
Alex (A) – I think finding our identity, or the start of an identity as a band, was the difference. I think it was a lot more calculated, the way we wrote a lot of the stuff, at least 3 out of 4 of those songs. I think we had more intentions as to what we wanted to sound like, and that kind of helped out a lot.
C – Yeah, and we’d practiced a lot more, we’d written together, and we had time to just sit down and really work on these songs. And that helped a lot.
And you did a lot of that writing in winter 2015?
C – Yeah, winter into early 2016, because we did a short tour out East in August, and then after that we decided “let’s buckle down and write a record, we’re signing to Prosthetic, let’s write a real album” and that’s kind of what happened.
Right. And you guys had, was it Michael Kadnar of Downfall of Gaia and Black Table, help y’all write this album, correct? Or was it just with the recording?
A – Just with the recording. He implemented most of his drum parts and wrote most of the drum stuff that he did. We kind of gave him a general direction on what we wanted him to do, and then he added his own ideas and spice to it, I guess I’d put it that way.
C – Yeah, he had some ideas when we got there, out to New Jersey or New York, to rehearse with him. He’s like “hey, why don’t we try this?” or “let’s blast here” or “let’s do this” and that worked out really well because up until then, we hadn’t played those songs with a drummer. He had some writing credit.
A – For sure. He added a lot to it
Do you think his influence is what brought out that much stronger black metal vibe? I know that it was there on Lost Ages, but when I listen to a song like “In Filth” or “The Ritual,” you know, there’s just tons of blasting on that. Do you think he had a big impact on that?
A – Yup, he absolutely did. There were parts that we actually wrote that were not meant to be black metal parts, that just kind of came out that way, like “what do you think about a blast here?” and trying to make it a little more filthy, I guess I would say, and that totally changed everything and added a lot to it.
C – You wanted to blast more, we wanted to riff more. Balance!
I think y’all did a pretty good job of tying all the[se] disparate elements, the blasting and then going from the deep growls to the mournful clean singing, really well. How did y’all approach that, though? Some bands, when they’re trying to hit a lot of these different styles, it’s like “let’s do a thrash song and then throw in a little grindy bit here,” and yet for y’all it flows pretty seamlessly together. Was there an overarching goal, or did y’all maintain some focus while doing that?
A – Yeah. So Zach, our other vocalist, he definitely was very instrumental in formulating the vocal parts, so he had a good direction about what he wanted to do, and at least with the first three songs on the record we wrote all the guitar parts out and all the instrumentation. Zach was a vocalist in a band before this, and just the main vocalist, so I think he has a good eye for where vocal parts need to be, so he’s not just focusing on guitar playing. He does basically all the clean singing on the record, so he had a good direction of where he wanted to place those things- where I should be, and where his harsher vocals should be, so I think that was really helpful with everything.
Very cool! I guess tied to that question: extreme metal fans can be pretty picky about subgenre cross-pollination. Are y’all worried about that with this record?
A – No.
C – I don’t know, it doesn’t matter …
A – It’s not one of those things where I’m like … well, you obviously want people to appreciate the album you put out, but we’ve stressed from the beginning as a band that we’re doing this because we want to create this music. I don’t care what people … like, if they have negative ideas about everything, that’s fine, but we’re going to keep on writing what we want to do because it’s what we feel like playing. And if people don’t like that they won’t buy it, and that’s fine! We just want to write music that we feel like playing. That’s it.
C- Yeah, it’s ‘cause we both like really riffy doom metal, and Alex likes a lot of black metal, so we want to play both!
A – We want to take elements of things that we like, and try and make it our own, I guess.
C – And I guess that’s the challenge, too, is making those transitions work well. Because you don’t just ring out and play fast, then ring out and play slow, you gotta have a nice up and down. So I think that’s what you were talking about is trying to transition well, making a doom riff flow into a blastbeat without “whoa, where did that come from?” or something.
Well, it comes across as authentic to me. And that probably is what helps it stand out from the millions of other stoner bands out there, where they’re just writing stuff that is what the stoner fans are going to chew up. So our guy who’s reviewing the album, Joaquin, he asked me to ask y’all about the lyrics. In the EPK it said y’all touch on a lot of social issues and religion, that sort of thing. Could be kind of standard metal fare, if you will, but at least to me it sounds very emotionally convincing, I think I mentioned that before. A) would you mind touching on what those lyrics are, and then b) Alex, a more specific question for you would be: do you go to any specific emotional place when you’re singing, to try to bring out that cathartic experience?
A – Well, with the first part- so Zach writes most of the lyrics. At least on this record he actually wrote all the lyrics. We collaborated on the first one, but I felt better about his placement and the way he did things with the first record, so I let him take that over. And I know a lot of what he writes about comes from his personal experiences, and I don’t want to completely speak for him, but through conversation … he came from a heavy Lutheran Christian background, and I think it’s kind of him coming to sorts about his views on the world, and the way this world is shaped based off religious ideologies. Again, I don’t want to completely speak for him, but a lot of it comes from that, it’s a lot of political ideologies that he has as well.
And with me, I guess the way that I … what I want to convey with my vocals is just complete desperation with the way I feel, because Zach and I feel a lot of the same ways on a lot of issues. So you know, you think about your deepest thought and the thing you care about the most, and try and convey some humanity and humility through what you’re doing. I just want it to be as raw as possible. I think about an issue and “this is how I’d scream about it if I was protesting against something like that” or whatever the situation may be, but you know, it’s a rawness and it’s something I give a fuck about, so it’s important to me, it’s not that I want to, like, be harsh or scream because that’s what metal entails. It’s just shit I care about so I’m emotional about it, I try and have it be as real as it can when it comes out.
Is that hard to maintain when you’re playing live, night after night? Caring that much to keep digging into that spot?
A – Yeah, definitely! You have good shows and you have bad shows, that’s just the cycle of playing live music. It’s definitely harder when you feel like people don’t give a shit about it, but you just give it the best shot that you can. Zach has a lot of good explanations about playing music. It’s not as dumbed down as saying that you should play as hard as you do in front of a thousand people as you do ten, but you should give it the same emotion and the same … it should be just as important because if you have anybody who gets entrusted in your music, and if you can change the way people view music or the way they view politics or the way they view religion, or anything through what you’re doing musically, that’s really fucking important. That’s a good thing.
C – You never want someone to leave your show and be like “yeah, they didn’t play well because there was only ten people there.”
A – Right. You don’t want anything to be half-assed. I’m sure people do it, and I’m sure we’ve done it before, but we try to give it our all as much as possible.
Kelly [Prosthetic PR Rep] said that y’all have an upcoming tour in support of this album. How big are your shows getting right now, and kind of like what you just said about how you want to go out and inspire people- have you seen any of that come out of your live performances?
A – There’s definitely been a change since having Prosthetic behind us, that’s definitely increased our outreach as far as playing shows and our social media …
C – Yeah, they’ve helped a lot there.
A – But definitely playing even locally, we’ve seen a huge difference there. Kinda sucks that people start giving a shit about you when you get signed to a major label, or a bigger metal label, whatever it may be, but you know … it’s been a positive thing. Definitely seen better turnouts because of that, I think.
C – We’ll see, though, for sure, ‘cause we haven’t done a tour yet, really.
A – At least off this record.
C – We’re touring with Aseethe, who’s got some name recognition, I think, and they’ve toured this route before. I think we’ll have a good turnout.
A – And their new record’s coming out on Thrill Jockey, and it’s really fucking amazing, so we’re happy to tour with a band of like-minded people, and people where we really enjoy their music.
So you just added Jerry McDougal to the band on drums, right? How does he match up against Kadnar? [Are you] worried a little bit at all about him picking some of this stuff up, or is he just nailing it?
C – We probably played with him three months before we played a real show. ‘Cause it’s just … Michael’s drumming is amazing, he’s just unbelievable, he just destroyed the album. I don’t envy anyone who has to learn that! So Jerry’s done a great job and he’s really stepped it up, I mean he’s drummed before but not in a few years, until we convinced him to start playing with us. I think he’s getting really good, he’s getting better every practice. Michael’s top notch but so is Jerry, in a lot of different ways. He brings a lot more than just his drums, too- he’s a gearhead, he just got done building two 8×12” cabinets for Alex and Zach, and he’s built the bass cab and the bass amp I play through, and all our pedals … it’s crazy.
A – We’ve talked about it with a couple people, but his influence on our band, it’s not just drumming- he’s helped us dial in our tone and everything we’re doing, so it makes a big difference for us live. Like, the way we want to come across, he’s helping us get to that point, and it’s been invaluable. He’s a phenomenal dude and it’s been really helpful.
So at least for the mixing and engineering process, y’all went with Kevin Antreassian. How did y’all get that connection, and what was that like working with him?
C – So with Michael, he agreed to play drums on our album, and he had just finished recording with his band Black Table at Backroom Studios. So when Michael joined up, or agreed to record with us, he said “you should record at Backroom, and you should go with Kevin ‘cause he’s amazing.” So we did. That way Michael wouldn’t have to travel as far, and it worked out amazing.
A – And they recorded with Billy Anderson, Black Table did, so they hadn’t worked with Kevin. But Michael knew Kevin, he knew that it would be very productive for us to work with him. So it was just kind of happenstance, it just kind of worked out that way.
C – It worked out really well, ‘cause Kevin was fantastic- he knew really what we were going for, and was super open to trying things. Dialing in the drums was amazing, watching him set up the kit, putting mics on there. I know that’s not easy but he made it look like second nature, he’s super talented. He’s a really good guitarist and obviously he’s got the best ear … he plays in Dillinger Escape Plan, how could you not be?
A – He helped us out a lot. Our album would not sound like it does without both of those guys, so we’re really thankful for it.
The press kit made it sound like Michael was fanboying over Kevin a little bit, because of Dillinger Escape Plan.
A – He’s a huge fan, he told us that beforehand, so he was pretty happy to work with him. I think he said they’re going to work with him in the future, too, so a positive experience for both ends.
C – They had a good vibe together, I think. They’ll be friends for awhile.
Connecting onto that point, what are some other bands that have influenced y’all?
A- Well, I can go back to- I know I’ve told this story a couple times- but Zach and I, when we started the band, both of us were … I had just gotten done with my last band, I wanted to do something else but had no idea what I wanted to play, and him and I went and saw Thou and The Body in Madison, and I had never heard of either of them before. Zach was a huge Thou fan and was like “come see this band” and it kind of changed my outlook on music and we kind of went from there. They were kind of an early influence on … we wanted to do kind of a sludgy, heavy thing, I mean it’s changed a lot …
C – Because that was 2011.
A – Right. So it’s changed a lot, but that was kind of like the first band that opened me up to that world of music, and it made me just want to play really heavy, slow, bleak, fun, you know, music. But I don’t know, we go back and forth with a lot of stuff, we all listen to a lot of shit across the board.
C – Lately, that new Pallbearer. They were huge for me to get into this genre- like, I didn’t listen to much doom before I got into this band. That’s kind of how it goes with every band I’m in, I’m into whatever kind of music I’m playing at the moment. Pallbearer was big, and the new Woe, the new Woe album is- their black metal’s amazing.
A – Same with Jerry, our drummer, too. Pallbearer was kind of a big band that just opened him up to that scene of music, but we listen to … Zach is obsessed with KISS and Def Leppard, Cade listens to a lot of classic rock …
C – There’s a lot of really great seventies bands that no one’s ever heard of, that are super- almost the precursor to doom. They have awesome riffs and they sing about shit like swords and demons and wizards …
A – Right.
Well, I think some of that classic appeal and approach comes across on the album as far as the melodies and everything go. What’s your favorite riff on Lands, if you had to pick one?
A- I definitely know mine, but it’s on “Filth” and it’s just a big open part where it’s, like, the riff I wanted to write when I started this band. Something big and open and heavy and …
C – The chug part?
A – No.
C – Just mouth jam it [hand gestures].
A – I can’t do that. [laughs] There are a couple riffs on our song in “Filth” that I just fuckin’ absolutely love. A lot of fun to play and, again, it’s what I wanted to play when I started this band and I finally, sort of, executed it, or we executed it.
C – I think “Filth” has the best riffs on this album.
A – Same. I agree with that for sure.
C – Yeah, for me it’s that middle part in “In Filth” where it’s just an open chug riff and it’s so simple, all I do is just play an open, but it’s just super heavy and super fun. It’s cool.
So noting that, y’all were hinting that “In Filth” and some of these other songs are pretty long. How much do y’all practice so that when you get out on this tour you won’t be like “oh, I’m ten minutes in and don’t remember what the next part is”?
A – Well, when we were recording, or practicing for the record, we were getting together a minimum of two days a week, sometimes three. And then getting prepared for touring, we’re practicing two times a week.
C – It’s like two or three hours of practice. We’ll probably run the set twice at least, and then work on the parts we screwed up. We’re actually playing a new-new-new song on the tour that’s not on the album, so been working on that as well, and how to transition into that and figure it out.
A – The other thing that Zach and I talked about with this band: like, we want to have fresh things, we don’t want to play the same set to people all the fuckin’ time, so we really worked hard on … like, we got Jerry into the mix, and we’re like “we need to start writing again” … I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s just pure boredom on the part of playing the same songs all the time, but writing music is why we started doing this, and it’s not something we want to stop doing, and we want to have a new record out as soon as possible, so we’re working on that as well.
C – The last one took too long. There were hiccups along the way and it turned out amazing, but it was May of 2016 when we recorded, and now it’s March when we’re finally releasing it.
A- Want to keep things fresh if we can.
Alex, where would you say that inspiration hits you the most? You said you’re constantly wanting to write, so…
A – It might just be pure boredom. I don’t know … we’re on this fucking rock for so long, and I want to write as much music and be as creative as I possibly can, and it’s fun playing new stuff. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s any more important …
C – I know I listen to albums and get ideas and am like “we should do a part like this!” and I’ll say “I like this part in the song, hey guys, make it happen” and they’ll come in to practice with the main riff. And we’ll work on it from there.
A – Zach is also a fuckin’ workhorse. We try and practice two days a week when we can, and Zach’s in there multiple times a week writing new shit, so he’s always on top of it too and it lights a fire under all our asses to just keep writing as much as possible, to write as many songs as we can. We write something we don’t like, we can just flush it down the toilet and have other stuff backed up.
So when’s that new song coming out? Do you have that planned for a later album, or…?
A- Probably for the next record, minimum of a year at least.
Cool. I think the press kit said Sam Alvarez, who did some covers for Bongripper, was the one who designed y’all’s cover for Lands. How did that connection come about?
A – I reached out to him, seeing Bongripper’s designs. I saw some stuff on Instagram and so I reached out to him to do a T-shirt design for us, and he ended up doing two shirts for us and then the album cover as well. We really loved his aesthetic and he’s really easy to work with, asked good questions about what we want. We were just like “hey, go with what you want, we’ll give you a general idea” and every time it came out amazing and we love the shit he does, so it works perfectly for us. And we kind of had an idea and a concept for the album cover, and we gave it to him and he fuckin’ killed it, did a great job.
C – There was never a time where, like, “hey you should tweak this or that”- he just drew it, and it’s perfect.
I think it fits the aesthetic pretty well. Are there any other artists you’d like to reach out to in the future, for a cover?
A – Yeah, I really like a guy named Nate Burns, he does some really good stuff. It’s kind of in that vein, he and Sam have a similar aesthetic. I like the idea of working with different artists and getting a different feel for a particular idea, but Sam has been killing it with everything he wanted to do, so we’ll probably keep working with him as long as the ideas keep working out and how he displays them to us and everything.
So you’d probably want to keep kind of conveying that emotion and sorrowful aesthetic that Sam’s able to bring out?
A – Yup, absolutely, as long as that’s what we’re going for with lyrical content and how we want to display everything musically, definitely.
Are there any famous works of art or books that evoke that same feeling that inspire y’all?
A – Not really. I mean, we kind of talked with Zach about that earlier … lyrically, he really draws on his own, kind of, interpretations about life, and what he’s gone through, so I don’t think he takes a lot of inspiration from other stuff. I could be wrong about that, but he hasn’t talked about it with us, so that’s kind of the best answer I have for it.
Cade was talking about how “I listen to a lot of albums” … I hear stories all the time of bands who are touring and are like “man I’m so sick of listening to metal, we’re jamming pop or something in the van the whole way,” so … “y’all still listen to metal in the van?” is my question.
C – Yeah, that bothers me. You’re in a metal band and you don’t listen to metal? I don’t understand. [laughing] Maybe if you’re in Mastodon and you’ve been playing metal for 20 years …
A – I think it’s stupid.
C – It’s bullshit. We like heavy music, we write heavy music, this is metal.
A – If that’s what people really truly listen to, that’s great, but I think it’s bullshit.
C – How can you evolve? You’ll just get stuck in the same old stuff if you don’t listen to what other people are doing.
A – I mean, we run the gamut, we’ll listen to a lot of classic rock, Cade has a great playlist for that, and then we’ll listen to Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle, Tupac, and then just, like, I don’t know, we all listen to different shit. Like, to say we don’t listen to metal, we listen to a lot of other stuff too, so …
C – But then we’ll put on an album like the new Pallbearer, I’m sure we’ll get a lot of spins next week on the road. There’s other bands, I just can’t think of things right off the top of my head. The nice thing about Spotify and Google is that you can just listen to all this stuff on the road.
It’s crazy. I’m not that old, but as far as access to music, I remember when I was a kid you’d have to go out and buy a CD, and then hope that you find something cool and pick a cool cover. That’s how I ended up getting Death is this Communion from High on Fire. But now there’s Spotify and Bandcamp and there’s just so much music out there, do y’all ever …
A – I mean, I’m with you- I’m thirty-one, and I did the same thing, I’d go into a fuckin’ record store, I’d look at stuff and if I saw an awesome album cover, “fuck it, I’ll buy it.” It’s twelve bucks, worst case scenario it’s not good, who cares. You learn about a lot of cool music that way, you know?
So what are some cool bands you’ve found from blogs, then?
A – Bell Witch, for sure.
C – In the Company of Serpents.
That’s a cool one too!
C – They just put out a new album, it’s phenomenal.
A – I found out about Downfall of Gaia through a blog, and Michael plays in that band. And I ended up booking them in Madison because I heard their record and fuckin’ loved it, and someone reached out to be about booking the show and it’s, like, we established this connection with Michael to record on our album, and you link it back to finding out about a band on a blog. That’s amazing, that you can form connections to people and meet people through that spectrum of music. I think it’s amazing.
How’s the reception to Lands been so far, as far as blogs go?
A- It’s been pretty good, as far as we can tell. Decibel gave us seven out of ten and that’s fantastic, we’ve never been reviewed in there and it’s our first full length, our second album, so we’re excited that we’re even reviewed in there, that’s amazing to us.
C – Didn’t Subterranean, they ran …
A – They did our first song, and then I think Metal Hammer is releasing our album tomorrow up on …
C – It’ll be available for streaming.
A – So yeah.
C – We’ll see what the real reception is tomorrow.
A – So far as we can tell it’s been pretty positive so far.
C – It’s been humbling! And kind of surreal. We spent all these years going to shows and watching all these other bands play, not just metal but all over the place, and now I’m on the other side of the fence, it’s happening to my band and it’s weird. But also super, like I said, humbling. I don’t ever want to take it for granted. It’s cool.
A – Definitely.
Tying that back to what Alex said earlier about staying in touch with what’s going on, so your band evolves and your sound continues to grow, where do you see Bereft going from here?
A – Well, we’re going to start writing again, obviously. We’ve made a conscious effort to just write what we want and what we want to play, and not the music we want people to hear … I don’t know, I know it sounds- it might sound shitty but it’s like, we don’t care if people like it or not, we just want to write what we like playing, playing heavier stuff and incorporating more black metal. Maybe a little bit of death metal. Try to make it all flow as well as possible, write the most cohesive thing we can do.
C – And I think that as far as what we do next, it’s to get better at those transitions, for me. I think there’s some stuff we can improve on my end, and we can do better with that. Make songs flow really, really well, and layer the guitars so you don’t know how it’s gonna change- it just transitions from one part to the other, and you’re in the next part without really realizing it happened. And I think that’s a big challenge. You could just play riffs all day, they’d all be at the same tempo, but it’s cool when things change, so I’d like to get better with that.
A – Agreed.
Well, y’all have answered pretty much all my questions! I guess the last one I have would be “what venue are y’all looking forward to playing most, or what city”?
C – St. Vitus, for sure.
A – This will be the third time we’ve played in Brooklyn at St. Vitus. The venue’s amazing, we always have a good time. We played a fest there last time, it was Silent Fest, it was Michael Kadnar’s record label, we played with So Hideous and North and a couple other bands. But every time we play there it’s just, the sound is amazing, I mean you’re playing in fucking New York City, it’s a great experience.
C – You know, it’s like a metal venue- the metal venue out there. People, like, just
go there to see metal and they’re not necessarily there to see your band, but they enjoy it ‘cause they’re like “hey, new band!”
A – And the first time we played there … we had a canceled show on our tour and just hopped on a show there, and we had to play last and that was fine, but … there was no one in the room and when we played, people fuckin’ walked in and we sold a lot of merch. People enjoyed it and we were definitely fucking stoked. So yeah, St. Vitus for sure.
That’s awesome. You might run into our friend Matt Bacon there; he’s always hanging out at St. Vitus trying to interview people.
A – I know the name, don’t think I’ve ever met the guy but if I run into him I’ll remember that.
Cool. Well, thanks, guys! I really appreciate the interview, I’m stoked to share it with the blog.
C – Let us know, we’ll post it around.
A- Alright. Well thank you very much, man. Really appreciate it.
C – Thanks for the great praise on the record, too. It means a lot.
(h/t Vladimir Poutine for transcription; you’re the best)
(Cover Photo VIA)