Begotten, 2018 Demo EP: The Trichome’s Growth

Posted in Reviews on January 2nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

begotten 2018 demo ep

New York riff-stompers Begotten began playing shows again a couple years ago, having been long defunct following the release of their lone, self-titled album in 2001. That record was remastered in 2018 with the addition of two previously unreleased tracks, “Nomad” and “Apache” (premiered here), and has held an auspicious place in heavy rock trivia for being the final release on Man’s Ruin Records before the storied label went under. The band followed suit soon enough after, spending the intervening years, as they tell it, with guitarist/vocalist Matt Anselmo being diagnosed with throat cancer, bassist/vocalist Amanda Topaz losing much of her ability to hear, and drummer Rob Sefcik joining anti-genre purveyors Kings Destroy. As to the impetus for a reunion, I couldn’t possibly say, but it’s resulted in the first new material from the band since their debut in the form of 2018 Demo EP, which brings forth six songs of nodder riffs and loose-feeling-but-nonetheless-heavy groove. The recording, helmed by Kol Marshall and Joe Kelly at Suburban Elvis Studios (also Eternal Black), was done over the course of two days, and sounds and feels live with an intent toward rawness and grit.

A demo, in other words. And it was unquestionably released in 2018, so that settles that. What I’d argue with as regards the title, however, is the “EP” portion of it. 2018 Demo EP, which slogs through a four-minute introduction with “Surrender to the Doom” before loosing the roller “WhiteOut” — which I’m just gonna guess isn’t about fixing typographical errors; think “Snowblind” in concept and sound — is 38 minutes long. That’s a full-length. While I’m sure Begotten have more material hanging around, their dirt-caked sludge has enough time in these songs to demonstrate its variety of composition and overarching flow, the dynamic in swapping vocals between Anselmo and Topaz, and the shifts between harsher, Bongzilla-style crust screaming, as on “WhiteOut” and the cleaner melodies of “Cold Earth,” “Levitator ADX” and “Apache,” which follow and each hover on either side of eight minutes long, thereby comprising the bulk of the offering, growing more immersive and more spacious as they play one into the next.

That in itself speaks to 2018 Demo EP as an album, and while I don’t want to get hung up haggling over the delineation — as, yes, I know, I do — the fact is that EPs and LPs are regarded on different levels. This is a demo, clearly marked, so that’s its own consideration as well, but especially as “WhiteOut” unfolds into “Cold Earth,” and especially with the instrumental intro “Surrender to the Doom” and its companion outro “Into the Trichome” at the end, 2018 Demo EP moves like an album. It has two sides — somewhat uneven in length with a split after “Cold Earth,” but still — and it seems to reach further as it plays through until the final deconstruction and ringout at its conclusion. Particularly with a production that’s so willfully raw and a live-seeming recording method, there’s nothing missing here to stop it from being a full-length demo. That said, the fact that Begotten call it a demo speaks to a desire on their part to refine what’s here or otherwise progress from it.

begotten

Not that it’s fair to compare something from 17 years earlier, but indeed, the self-titled had a cleaner sound, if like-minded in terms of the space captured. It’s hard to know their future intent, but if 2018 Demo EP is a precursor to a record to be made either with this material — you’ll note “Apache” already showed up on the first LP’s remaster — or other songs building off it, then this release only bodes well and shows the three-piece as ready to take on that task. What concerns me about that is the idea of this six-songer as an EP, as though a complete album would require more; either more songs or more runtime. It wouldn’t. If Begotten wanted to take the lessons from this demo and hit the studio to churn out the same songs in the same order, they’d have a tight, effective full-length. They have that now, just with a barebones, straightforward production that, by my estimate, doesn’t really hurt the songs as it is. In the post-Sleep largesse of “Levitator ADX,” one can hear hints of the psychedelic spaces the band are reaching for via the late wah of the guitar, and as a demo, that’s how it should be. That can certainly be expanded in a final version of a track, with layering, etc., but if Begotten are thinking a full-length needs to top 50 or even 40 minutes to be effective, all they need to do is listen to their own demo for proof to the contrary.

“Cold Earth,” “Levitator ADX” and “Apache” play out in order from shortest to longest, and as each one takes hold from the other, Begotten bring the listener deeper into a wide-open murk that still holds a foundation in the crunch of their tones. Sefcik is a grounding force for some of the jammier aspects, but well fluid enough in his style of play as to give Anselmo and Topaz room to explore riffs and melodies around that solid rhythm, and the upfront buzz of “Levitator ADX” and comparatively far-back riffing of “Apache” are indicative of the ability of the trio to shape their sound within the reaches of a mix. That only adds to the molten, classic stoner vibe so prevalent throughout 2018 Demo EP, and though the rest of what follows remains colored by the sludgy surge of “WhiteOut” early on, Begotten show that more than a decade and a half on from their debut, they have something to add to a New York heavy scene that’s cycled through a generation of followers in the time of their absence.

Given the length of time they were inactive, I won’t feign prescience as to what they’ll do next, but a demo says they’re evolving. You do a demo before you make a record of one sort or another. If that’s where Begotten are headed, they’ve given themselves some crucial lessons to learn with 2018 Demo EP, and in more than just nomenclature. One only hopes that if and as these songs do lead to another outing, the band holds firm to the aspects of their approach that seem to have carried over so effectively from their debut: their range, their ability to fluidly shift between tempos and aggression levels, their penchant for leaving structure behind when it suits the song, and so on. Strange to think of a band that got their start 22 years ago as holding promise, but Begotten‘s 2018 Demo EP is so much less about retread and so much more about looking forward that one could hardly do otherwise.

Begotten, 2018 Demo EP

Begotten on Thee Facebooks

Begotten on Bandcamp

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Live Review: Shroud Eater, Eternal Black and Begotten in Brooklyn, 09.05.17

Posted in Reviews on September 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

shroud eater photo jj koczan

You ever have one of those bands you just can’t seem to see? I’ll try not to bore you with the barrage of internal links, but I’ve been writing about Miami’s Shroud Eater for eight years since their demo (review here) arrived on my doorstep in 2009, and yet, at every opportunity when I’d otherwise see them, something has come up, the show has been canceled, I’ve moved out of the state, whatever it might be — point is it’s always been something. Well not this time, god damn it. This time I was going to finally see Shroud Eater.

The good news is it worked out. The Floridian three-piece hit Brooklyn’s venerated Saint Vitus Bar with support from reformed riffers Begotten and the doomly Eternal Black for a Tuesday night lineup that had no dip front to back. The bad news? Pretty much the only reason I was able to be there was because I was on my way to New Jersey for my grandmother’s funeral later in the week. Further bad news? Shroud Eater canceled the rest of their tour and were turning back south after this show in order to prepare for Hurricane Irma, which had already been called the strongest storm ever seen in the Atlantic Ocean, begotten-Photo-JJ-Koczanto make landfall in their peninsular homeland.

Even with these things hanging overhead, though, the most was made of the night and I can’t speak for anyone else, but from where I stood the show was killer. Begotten were onstage when I walked in, guitarist/vocalist Matthew Anselmo immediately placing himself in the running for the title of “most New York dude ever” as he led the band through a soundcheck and asked afterward if that wasn’t the start of the set. Bassist/vocalist Amanda Topaz and drummer Rob Sefcik (the latter also of Kings Destroy) confirmed that, indeed, the show wasn’t yet starting, the sound guy told everyone to hit the bar for a couple minutes, and all seemed more than happy to oblige.

When they did get started with the show proper, Begotten‘s post-Sleep lumbering came through with due thickness, Topaz‘s Sunn amp sitting precariously atop her bass cabinet while Anselmo‘s Marshall JCM 2000 stood like a totem at the head of a full stack. This was only the second show Begotten have played since reuniting, begotten-2-Photo-JJ-Koczanand they did four songs in the set, among them “Apache,” which was among the lost tracks that premiered here last October to mark their getting back together, and “Judges,” which was the opener of their 2002 self-titled debut, released by Man’s Ruin Records. They actually had that disc for sale, as well as an original Frank Kozik poster for the release in metallic ink that was nothing short of stunning to behold, but the highlight was that they also played a new song, giving a clear signal that they’ll move ahead toward the creation hopefully of a second long-player.

After 15 years since the debut, I don’t think anyone will be in a rush to put a timeline on that, but it was welcome news all the same. When they were done, Eternal Black took the stage quickly, sharing drum gear — guitarist/vocalist Ken Wohlrob noted the Kings Destroy kickdrum head on the kit through which drummer/best-guy-ever Joe Wood was playing, eliciting a chuckle from all, including bassist Hal Miller — and set about rolling forth their likewise dense-toned doomer grooves. Their self-released debut, Bleed the Days (review here), came out Aug. 8 and was still pretty fresh in mind, and their straightforward and roughed-upeternal-black-photo-jj-koczan take on classic, traditionalist riff-led doom was no less welcome from the stage than from that disc. If anything, more so for the voluminous onslaught through which the persistent roll seemed to emanate.

I dug that record — I dig that record. A lot. And granted, I’m biased as regards the band because of my overarching love of Joe Wood (who really is the best guy ever; it’s like his thing) and because I find the gritty edge they bring to Maryland-esque doomery speaks to a particularly Northeastern, particularly New York intensity that always seems to remind me of home. Music like Eternal Black‘s has to come from someplace crowded. Population density is a factor, and I don’t think you could produce a song like the downtrodden “Sea of Graves” without it. One way or another, Bleed the Days is easily among the best doom offerings I’ve heard in 2017, first album or not, and the three-piece made it clear at the Vitus Bar as they had when I saw them at Maryland Doom Fest last year (review here) that the process of their coming together as a band is still veryeternal-black-photo-jj-koczan much at its beginning stages. That is to say, they killed and they sound like they’re only going to keep getting better.

And then my brain finally got to process Shroud Eater live. I’ve had bands-I-should’ve-already-seen out the wazoo over the years, but few have had the kind of consistent stretch of Shroud Eater. Yet, as I stood in front of the Saint Vitus Bar stage and tried my best to snap photos of them in the drawn-down lighting, I couldn’t help but feel like it was somehow serendipitous to catch the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Jean Saiz, bassist/vocalist Janette Valentine and drummer Davin Sosa in support of 2017’s Strike the Sun (review here). Released through STB Records — whose honcho, Steve, was also on-hand for the show and someone else I was long overdue to meet in-person — the second Shroud Eater full-length is hands down the band’s best work yet, and though it was shroud-eater-photo-jj-koczanobvious in talking to them that concerns of family back in Florida and the impending potential for storm destruction were weighing heavily on them, let alone the general bummer of having to cancel shows in the first place, they were nonetheless devastating onstage.

A performance that galloped and slammed and crashed and careened and lumbered and did all that stuff that means it basically kicked the living shit out of the room, Shroud Eater‘s set came through with density to match either of the acts that preceded them and a sense of motion that was all their own. Songs like “Awaken Assassin” from the new record and the furious 2015 single “Face the Master” (video premiere here) brought forth groove and pummel in kind, and with samples between various tracks, traded vocal parts from SaizValentine and Sosa, and an overarching intensity that came through even the most atmospheric of stretches, Shroud Eater made me so fucking happy I was finally getting to see them that I’m not sure I can shroud-eater-photo-jj-koczanhonestly say I’d trade having done so at any point in the last eight years for the experience of watching them play this set. That’s as sincere as I can be about it.

So — clearly not a night for critical impartiality. From feeling lucky to see Begotten on their second show back to having Eternal Black in the middle as the icing on an evening the cake of which just happened to be a long, long, long-awaited Shroud Eater set bludgeoning my consciousness, what the proceedings might’ve lacked in my emotional distance from them, they more than made up for in my raw enjoyment — which, if it’s going to be one or the other, I’ll take. When Shroud Eater were done, I’m fucking proud to say I was the first person to shout for one more song and even prouder to say they played it, and as I stood among friends in the crowd like Kings Destroy vocalist Steve Murphy and guitarist Carl PorcaroClamfight drummer/shroud-eater-photo-jj-koczanvocalist Andy MartinDave from Made in Brooklyn SilkscreenersSteve from STB Records and others, I was reminded of how special some nights can become when the planets finally align just so in order to make them happen.

The rest of the week? We’ll see how it goes for things like familial grief and category five storms — I wished Shroud Eater safe home and safe afterwards; spent the last eight dollars I had to my name on a copy of their Three Curses and Strike the Sun tapes (wanted the CD but didn’t have the requisite $10 and wasn’t about to be like, “Hey you need to buy bottled water for survival this week, can I get a free disc?”) — but this one was restorative on just about every level possible and a show I hope not to forget anytime soon.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Begotten Stream Two Lost Tracks Recorded in 2001

Posted in audiObelisk on October 19th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

begotten

Just how far ahead of their time were New York riffers Begotten? Take a listen for yourself to these two lost cuts from 15 years ago and find out. I’ve gone on at some length over the last couple years about the effect that a changing social media landscape and generational shift has had on a period of heavy rock in the late-’90s and early-’00s, so I’ll spare (most of) that, but like NYC compatriots in Atomic Number 76, Kreisor, Puny Human, M-Squad and a host of others — The Brought Low might be considered survivors — the trio Begotten were a prime example of a band about to have their time who found it cut short. Tracked in 2000 and released in 2001, their self-titled debut was the final CD to come from the groundbreaking Man’s Ruin Records, and like many of that imprint’s acts — Suplecs, MassCavity, etc. — they were left wondering what to do next when label honcho and design artist Frank Kozik pulled the plug. The record, a quality offering of post-Sleep tonal weight with flashes of New Yorker edge and more psychedelic impulses, never got the push it deserved, and they never did another. End of story.

Yes and no. The MySpace era and many of the acts who thrived in the day may have dissipated, but in the case of Begotten, before they went their separate ways, they took part in what seems to be numerous studio and taped rehearsal sessions after the album came out, and it’s from those that “Apache” and “Nomad” come. The two songs — other versions of which you can actually still find archived on their MySpace page, linked below — are presented here in somewhat raw fashion, but give credence to what I’m talking about as regards those years in general, which is to say that if it showed up in my inbox today, the work of guitarist/vocalist Matthew Anselmo, bassist/vocalist Amanda Topaz and drummer Rob Sefcik — the latter of whom would resurface years later in Brooklyn’s Kings Destroy — would fit right in.

Insert your favorite cliche about the old being the new here, but listen to Begotten lumber their way through “Apache” in the context of what bands like Monolord are doing now and I think you’ll hear the adage is easily applied. In tone and the emergent jammed-out feel of “Apache,” as well as in the more intense initial chug that follows in “Nomad” (Sefcik‘s drum intro reminding a bit of Kings Destroy‘s “Stormbreak” from their second album) before that song nears the halfway mark and gloriously spaces itself out, ne’er to return, Begotten‘s emphasis on swing and laid back heft seems prescient in hindsight.

My understanding is that Begotten might start jamming together again at some point, but whether or not that comes to fruition, the three-piece left behind a quality curio in their self-titled, the value of which extends way beyond its tertiary trivia, and “Apache” and “Nomad” show there was clearly a progression underway in their sound that, to-date, remains unrealized. Seems to me that in another 10-15 years — maybe sooner; things move quickly these days — when this era of heavy rock gets mined for reissues the way releases from 1968-1975 have been, Begotten will be more than ready for a second look, whatever else their future as a group may hold.

Sefcik offers some comment on the tracks under the player below.

Please enjoy:

Rob Sefcik on “Apache” and “Nomad”:

So if I remember correctly we went in to record these because we felt we were really hitting our stride. I’m not sure if we had any intention of releasing them at the time but they were definitely a reflection f what we were going for — music that had weight but also an earthy spirit and a sense of freedom. Keeping things super heavy but maintaining a certain loose, jammy vibe is always easier said than done, but we felt like we were getting there with these tunes.

The consensus is that they were recorded late spring/early summer 2001, about a year or so after the record was out. There was a pretty good amount of other material, at least an album or two’s worth. They were recorded in Manhattan but in true stoner rock fashion no one can remember the name…

We definitely have some other recorded material that we have not been able to locate, but I’m sure it will rear its head. For Amanda, these songs for her personally were, ‘an expression of the sublime beauty of the gut-wrenching agony of her existence at the time.’ I was just tying to have a good time, ALL the time, ha.

Begotten on Thee Facebooks

Begotten on MySpace (yup)

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