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An Interview With D. Orthner of Begrime Exemious

Over the course of the last decade, four full-lengths, and several splits and EPs, Edmonton’s Begrime Exemious have slowly but surely been refining their sound and carving out a niche for themselves in the crowded North American death metal underground. One of the original signees with venerated Dark Descent Records (Horrendous, Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice), they’ve always offered a slightly blacker, thrashier alternative to the more ‘cavernous’ death/doom metal for which the label is best known.

On their most recent album, last year’s The Enslavement Conquest, the band has hit what is thus far their creative peak with both the best sounding record in their discography and their strongest overall collection of songs. They’ll be hitting Black Circle Brewing on July 30 as part of their upcoming Midwestern tour, and we here at the Vault couldn’t be more stoked about it. Guitarist/vocalist D. Orthner was good enough to spend some time answering a few questions ahead of the gig.

Indy Metal Vault:  First of all, congrats on The Enslavement Conquest. It’s been out for a little over a year now – what’s the response been like? Have you done a lot of gigging behind it since it’s been out?

D. Orthner: Cheers! We’ve been receiving quite a warm response to the record. It’s certainly been selling faster than any other release we’ve put out, whether it be selling copies on the road or through mail order. Plenty of gigs have been played in support of it – we did a cross Canada tour shortly after recording it which helped hype it up, a west coast US tour last summer, and will be heading down to the midwest in July/August to continue supporting it.

IMV:  In a couple of ways, the new record seems like a bit of a departure from your older stuff. For starters, it’s easily the best sounding album you’ve put out in terms of the production. And because of the cleaner guitar sound, it’s a bit easier to pick out some different aspects of your sound. Like, Begrime Exemious always had a fair amount of thrash in their DNA, but that influence seems far more pronounced this time around. And intro section in particular on “Subconscious Nemesis” seems to be pushing in a different direction from what you’ve done in the past. Were you consciously trying to do something different on this record, or are those elements more noticeable because of the cleaner production?

DO: This record is the most “true” to ourselves we’ve ever sounded, in my opinion. We’ve just been able to push ourselves to a level where we’re writing the exact kind of stuff we’d want to listen to. With the production, both myself and Lee [Norland, longtime drummer for the band] have been working hard on the recording aspect – Lee renovated his basement to have an awesome recording room in it, and I’ve been recording my side projects/friends’ bands to further hone my skills in that department. I feel like these elements you’re mentioning have always been present in our songs. Every record we’ve done has as slow song where we try to utilize some dissonant chords, and “Subconscious Nemesis” is just the latest example of that. We’re all also big thrash/punk fans and think those parts work really well in our music, and I think our improved production has helped those parts really hit the listener hard.

IMV: You seem to have moved in a different direction lyrically on this record as well. In the past, you’ve done more of the occult/Satanism thing, but The Enslavement Conquest appears to be a much more political album with more of a focus on war. What prompted that change in focus?

DO: The main reason for the lyrical shift is all my fault. Previously, we had two different vocalists and we’ve always let them do their thing lyrically. However, since our previous vocalist wasn’t able to tour much, I ended up doing vocals in addition to guitar from 2011 2013 on the road, and officially took that job over after he quit. I didn’t want to write occult or Satanic lyrics because it’s really not my thing – instead, I decided to incorporate my love of science fiction into my lyrics, which enabled me to come up with various themes surrounding war, dystopian futures, and the overall dismal future of mankind. Naturally, these topics have some political leanings, but we’re not really a political band in the sense of talking about current issues. I feel it ends up being a blend of Bolt Thrower and Voivod lyrically, two bands we enjoy thoroughly, so it’s a nice fit for us.

IMV: You guys have been with Dark Descent for quite a while now. How did you hook up with that label? Given when they launched and when your first full-length Impending Funeral of Man came out, you had to have been among the first handful of records they put out, right?

DO: I started talking to Matt from Dark Descent back in 2009, prior to label putting anything out. I sent him a video of us playing the Noctis festival in Calgary, which prompted him to give me his mailing address. I sent him our Set Ablaze the Kingdom of Abraham EP alongside a rehearsal of several tracks we planned on recording for the debut album. Impending Funeral of Man ended up being the first full length and second overall release on the label. I finally got to meet Matt in person last year when I visited Colorado, and he made sure that I got a taste of the local brews and herbs available in the state. Anyway, that trip ended up being well timed, as the CD copies of The Enslavement Conquest arrived while I was there!

IMV: I’m always curious as to what a band’s songwriting process is like, especially ones that are a little more on the technical side. Also I love how there’s more lead guitar in your music than a lot of bands that play in a similar style. How do the guitarists divvy up the solos? Are those planned out before hitting the studio, or is there some spontaneity involved?

DO: There’s nothing too special in regards to how we write our music. I’ll usually come up with some riffs at home that work around the same tempo and have a flow together. Frank [Thibaudeau, guitarist] and sometimes Lee often come up with some other riffs that work together with mine, and we work on the structure together as a group. Some songs end up featuring more riffs from one person but the process is constantly met with feedback from everyone until we are satisfied. When it comes to writing an album, we’ try to have variety between the songs’ tempos, so we’ll consciously decide to write something slow, midpaced, or fast as we develop ideas. As for solos, there usually seems to be a riff that ends up being ideal to put one over, and sometimes it just feels right to do trade offs. Listening to rehearsals tends to help with this too, as we might realize where a song needs that extra bit of spice.

IMV: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the band’s name. The meaning has always seemed kind of oblique to me, which may have been what initially drew me to the band. Can you unpack the meaning behind ‘Begrime Exemious’ a bit, or do you prefer it to be a bit more vague?

DO: “Begrime” means to cast filth upon, and “exemious” is a Latin word for light. It essentially means destroying what others see as truth; mocking what the sheep follow.

IMV: I always like to ask at least one gear question. Can you talk us through your live rigs? Are they essentially the same as what you use for recording?

DO: Both Frank and I currently play through Peavey 6505+ heads and Marshall cabs. I was previously using a Marshall JCM2000 for years. I recently acquired an Ibanez Star Destroyer and Frank’s been using a BC Rich Ironbird, both are right out of the 80’s. Additionally I have several effects pedals, including a Boss Space Echo, MXR Analog Delay, and a Boss BF2 Flanger. We actually used a bunch of different amps that Lee has in his home studio, including a Lee Jackson rig, some Mesa and Engl heads, and we even used an HM-2 pedal on one of the guitar tracks. The Peaveys are great on the road and easy to dial in, but we just get a lot more options to use in the mixing stages when we record multiple other rigs.

IMV: I’m also curious as to what it’s like for a Canadian band trying to tour the US these days? Unfortunately, it seems like more European bands are having trouble getting visas under this administration and having to cancel dates or entire tours. Do bands from Canada have to go through the same process as ones from the EU to be able to tour here?

DO: I’m going to go against the general narrative that people have about the US being stricter lately and say that it’s really not that hard, you just have to follow the directions. That being said, I am aware it is far more costly for international bands outside of Canada to enter the States. It seems like most of the stories I hear about bands cancelling due to visa issues all have to do with missing deadlines or trying to get in on a tourist visa instead of a work visa. Simply put, if you are an international band heading to the states, you need a work visa, no matter if you are getting paid or not. We do have to fork over about $1500 CAD total to get ourselves across the border, and funnily enough, our visas for this upcoming tour were approved faster than any other time we’ve gone (24 days this year vs 97 the year before). I hate the fact we have to pay to play small gigs in our neighbouring country, but we really enjoy playing in the US, so we work hard to ensure it happens.

IMV: Last question: what’s next for Begrime Exemious? Any new splits or EPs on the horizon?

DO: Not only do we have a new 7″ coming out later this year (featuring a new song and a cover), but we will be recording 11 tracks over the winter which will be spread out between a new LP and a split. Of course, we’ll hit the road again next summer and are already talking about where we’d like to go. The madness never stops, we truly enjoy the cycle of writing new songs, recording them, and getting out on the road as much as possible.

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