A little bit Iron Monkey, a tad Raging Speedhorn, Beggar‘s excoriating sludge may wear its influences rather patently on its sleeve, yet with the pioneering, Iommi-fuelled turbo-blues and grit ‘n’ groove of the NOLA scene coursing through its veins, this is the sort of succinct Sabbathian riff worship that metal fans the world over will instantly embrace. Drop a hearty spoonful of death metal grotesquery and blackened atmospherics into the mix and this UK foursome become something altogether more compelling, their USP a straddling of genre lines that will have you grinning ear to ear at the sheer, obnoxious savagery of it all. It’s as if Unsane had relocated to Louisiana and become obsessed with Obituary and Darkthrone. With debut full-length Compelled To Repeat due to drop imminently, we spoke to the band about all things Beggar.
For people that haven’t heard your music, could you briefly explain the history of the band?
Beggar are a four-piece based in London playing a kind of sludge and extreme metal hybrid. We started in Bristol in about 2011, and at first it was just three of us and a half stack in the basement of a big creepy student house that we were living in. Jake joined soon after as a second guitarist and our original drummer, Ant, tapped out in 2016 for Bert, who added masses of technicality and drive to our sound. It’s been a super fun journey to where we are now, about to release our first album Compelled To Repeat, and somehow we’re all still friends.
In the lyrics to your 2019 single ‘Nine Atmospheres’ there seems to be a lot of existential angst, about urban living, mental health, climate catastrophe etc. What influences the lyrical content of your songs and do your lyrics help to externalise issues that affect you?
That’s exactly what it is with ‘Nine Atmospheres’. That song is just about just getting pressure-cooked by all those things.
Does singing about those things help to externalise them? I don’t know. It’s meant to, I think. Metal has always been about catharsis to a huge extent. But internalising things like environmental breakdown or financial pressure is a huge problem for a lot of people in this generation and it comes at a significant mental cost. You could think of a lot of these tracks as a cross-section of a mind that has internalised too much of the world and begins to reflect and repeat those same shitty values and priorities.
The lyrical content is a mixture of the real-world and the literary. A lot of it is taking overheard soundbites that you might get from the debt collector or the middle-manager or the business mogul and showing how grim and inhuman it can all be. If in ‘Nine Atmospheres’ we say, “Can’t you see I’m on the way out”, it’s in the same voice as, say, the monologues in David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It’s a burlesque of these characters that we encounter all the time and who shape the world around us, and the point of it is to invite self-reflection.
Across the whole of Compelled To Repeat the biggest point of reference which is quoted all over the place is Emil Cioran’s A Short History of Decay, which is the most incredible bout of pessimism ever written. He just reduces humanity to its very basest most solipsistic self and it fits the kind of thing we’re talking about perfectly: “those who trembled in the caves / tremble now in the skyscrapers…’” He’s everywhere on this album.
We’re also using a lot of [T. S. Eliot’s] The Waste Land, which is the perfect stripping back of the urban environment, revealing its awful claustrophobia, revealing the fact that it’s built on misery, repetition, sadness, and you’re a part of it too: “…and the dead / in the streets, / handsome and tall as you.”
Your songs are rooted in classic sludge metal, but move freely across genres as well, touching on crust and noise like Dystopia or mixing in grind and death metal like Primitive Man. Is that combination of genres something that comes from a combination of the band’s individual tastes, or are you mostly on the same page musically?
It’s a big spread, to be honest. There are a lot of different influences within the band. Some of us are coming more from a death metal place, some of us are coming from a grunge kind of place… but we kind of get more on the same page as time goes by.
When the band formed Charlie was an extreme-metal-only kind of person, who wouldn’t listen to anything else (almost on political grounds), and Abe was a massive Alice In Chains and AC/DC fan, which was essentially intolerable. Now that Charlie’s moral compass is utterly fucked, AC/DC gets blasted all the time in his car, wails ‘n’ all. Vice versa with Abe, who is now a worshipper at the altar of Slayer and Death and stuff. On the other hand, as far as we can tell Bert still only listens to Nasum, and Jake keeps writing acoustic folk ballads.
Over time, it has become apparent that our varied roots have begotten this rotten tree we now find ourselves with. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Having played everything from tiny venues to Bloodstock, how do you go about translating the intensity and claustrophobia of playing somewhere like The Dev to a summer festival stage? Do you have a favourite kind of show or venue to play?
Smaller is better for sure. We sweat a lot and we want that sweat to go on people.
The ideal for us is a smallish venue with a big but complementary range of genres on it, with free entry or as cheap as possible so the crowd is as random as possible. We cut our teeth in Bristol playing the Stag And Hounds (though I don’t think it’s still doing the same kind of music), which had two stages, both nice and small, always free entry, and it’s got huge windows by the downstairs stage so unsuspecting people outside can peer in. We watched and played so many brilliant gigs there that it has sort of defined the territory we feel most comfortable in.
Having said that – we’re looking forward to playing bigger stages. We have started getting billed at bigger festivals, like Obscene Extreme Fest in the Czech Republic, which is fucking awesome.
How do you feel that the band’s music has progressed, from your early EPs up to the latest album? Have you moved in a particular direction, and are there things you can do now musically that you couldn’t do at the start?
In the beginning it was a really weird sound – lots of disparate elements to it that probably didn’t make much sense. For a long time we seemed to only be playing with punk bands, then we were only playing with math rock bands. We had one foot in Kyuss and Bongzilla and one foot in Rage Against The Machine or even Every Time I Die – we were just pooling the influences that we could all relate to. Take the Shingles + House of Man EP, which is quite old now: it’s got one tune that’s kind of doomy and the rest are trying to sound like The Jesus Lizard.
The more it’s gone on, the more we have started to get the kind of synthesis that we want, and our playing has improved a lot. We’ve focused our tone and our delivery, and Bert’s drumming has given Beggar a backbone that it didn’t really have before. We’re determined to keep evolving the sound, without losing the cornerstones that we always depend on.
Your members have made some interesting career choices – aid work with Medecins Sans Frontieres, law, academia etc. Do those day-to-day experiences feed into Beggar’s sound and outlook?
Jake’s work with Medecins Sans Frontieres is the most interesting of the lot for sure. He and his partner have just come back from the Democratic Republic of Congo where they’ve been for the past six months, coordinating emergency responses to outbreaks and conflict. Some of those weird experiences have fed into the riffs Jake has written, like the opener of the album, ‘Blood Moon’, which has a grim backstory behind it.
As the man with the pen, Charlie’s experiences in London absolutely feed into what has been written for Compelled To Repeat. ‘Matryoshka Brain’, for example, is all about the treadmill where we all put in these mindless hours, without knowing who it ultimately benefits, without a conceivable endpoint – all these hundreds of thousands of people just little cells of productivity.
It’s so precarious on a planet that’s taking a beating from humanity while all our best minds busy themselves in these hives of activity, keeping this shiny faceless machine ticking over. Meanwhile everyone feels that they’re an individual, out there doing their thing for themselves. It’s fascinating and it’s kind of frightening. It’s like looking at a seething mound of termites – all this industrious self-perpetuation. If people can relate to that then hopefully they’ll get where we’re coming from on this album.
What is it like working with APF Records? Are there any bands in particular on their roster that you enjoy playing with or share common ground with?
Working with APF has been incredible! We’re extremely lucky that [APF owner] Fieldy wanted us. You’ve got to remember that this time a couple of years ago we knew we were ready to do an album but it felt like there wasn’t really anyone in his position who knew us or was interested in us. We were self-releasing EPs for years – which was great and we were having loads of fun – but to think that someone was actually interested in investing in and backing Beggar to the hilt like he has was a huge trip. Plus he is a genuinely solid and lovely person.
The APF roster is heavy as balls and full of the best people. It’s a cool spread of styles but pretty much all with sludge or stoner close to its heart in some way, and whether it’s violent paranoiac hardcore or straight up Eyehategod worship or whatever it’s always good quality. Mastiff, Under, Barbarian Hermit, Battalions, Possessor… way too many good bands to name drop.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Do you have any tours or more recording lined up?
We’re doing a long weekender to launch Compelled To Repeat at the end of March in London, Bristol, Sheffield and Manchester [check the band’s socials for updates regarding postponements due to COVID-19], then a bit later on we’re playing some cool shows like Stonebaked Fest in Leeds in June, and the APF 3rd birthday party in Bolton. We’re also heading north with Desert Storm in November, which is gonna mean our first wild ride in Scotland.
The thing we’re maybe the most excited about is playing Obscene Extreme Festival in July – they’re doing a “random” Wednesday this year meaning we get to play alongside Author & Punisher, Deafkids and Conan so that will be pretty insane… for now, as soon as everyone’s back in London, we’re gonna start seeing what new riffs we’ve got in the trunk.
Compelled To Repeat is out 3rd April on APF Records. Order here.
Interview: Andrew Day
Intro: Tony Bliss