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“Let that part be empty”: Bereft honors the life of Alex Linden

A November 12 show will lay the Madison metal band to rest and raise funds for music-lesson scholarships in honor of Linden, who died in December 2021.
A photo shows Alex Linden playing guitar during a show with this band Bereft, his eyes closed and his hair swinging about his head as he stands in a lunge-like posture.

A November 12 show will lay the Madison metal band to rest and raise funds for music-lesson scholarships in honor of Linden, who died in December 2021.

Alex Linden, guitarist/vocalist of metal band Bereft, died on December 11, 2021, at the age of 36. Only a few days before, Bereft had played a set at Crucible, consisting entirely of one long new piece. 

Bereft dealt in furious, cathartic songs. The band’s two albums, 2014’s Lost Ages and 2017’s Lands, unpack some of life’s most painful experiences—grief, crises of faith, the relentless suffering that people inflict on one another. They set out not to over-awe people with heaviness but to rip off the band-aid, channeling an anger so raw it alchemized into vulnerability. 

The remaining members of Bereft—guitarist/vocalist Zach Johnson, bassist Cade Gentry, and drummer Jerry McDougal—will play their final show under that name on Saturday, November 12 at BarleyPop Live, where Linden worked and Johnson still does. At the same time, Johnson hopes this will only be the start of honoring Linden’s as both a person and a musician. All the proceeds for the show will be donated in Linden’s honor to a music lessons scholarship fund at Madison Music Foundry

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“This way, his memory carries on and it helps other people, whether young, old, whatever, play music,” Johnson says. “We just thought that was the way to do it.”

Also on the bill are five bands Bereft developed close ties with over the course of its existence: Aseethe, Corridoré, The American Dead, P.V., and Whisky Pig. The lineup celebrates not just Linden’s own music but also the wealth of connections and fond memories he left behind as a longtime participant, friend, and fan in the music community. Linden grew up in the Madison area and began playing in bands when he was in high school. 

“When someone passes so young, it’s not like you had time to talk about what they wanted after they were gone,” Johnson says. “But I think all of us that knew him close know that this is something that he would be so fucking proud of, to be able to have an event that helps other people. Just that on the face of it, whatever the thing was, if it was helping other people, it would make them very happy. But if it’s gonna help people with music, even happier.”

The band’s emotional depth was, in part, rooted in the close friendship between Linden and Johnson, who began writing songs together in about 2011. After bassist Cade Gentry and drummer Neil Weiss joined the band, they became an integral part of the writing process, as did drummer Jerry McDougal, who joined the lineup after the Lands sessions. (Between the two albums, Weiss amicably left the band, and drummer Michael Kadnar of German metal band Downfall Of Gaia played drums on Lands.) 

“The way we wrote, all of us together—it wouldn’t be doing him justice, it wouldn’t be doing the band justice, to keep trying to play Bereft songs, or trying to write Bereft songs,” Johnson says. “I think it’d just be a futile effort.”

During this final Bereft show, the band and audience alike will be facing down Linden’s absence in a very direct way.

“We were going to play it as a four-piece with our good friend, Kyle [Roessler], who was actually going to be joining Bereft. [Before Linden’s death,] we were planning on having three guitars at some point,” Johnson says. “We rehearsed it a couple of times [after Linden’s death], and we all, Kyle included, came to this conclusion that it had more of an impact as just the three of us. Because in this way, his absence isn’t just seen and felt, it’s heard. There are parts that don’t sound full, because we’re not full anymore… as time went on, we really started to embrace that [awareness]: ‘Let that part be empty. It’s supposed to be, because that was his.'”

Johnson doesn’t want to tip off too many specifics about what Bereft will include in this set. “Each stage of our music will be represented. I’ll just leave it at that,” he says. Those stages included an epic black-metal influence on Lost Ages and a dramatic shift to scorching doom on Lands. All those elements were in play as the band continued writing new material after Lands; how this powerful and expansive band might have developed further, we’ll never know. Linden’s death, the end of a deeply felt musical collaboration—this event is a celebration, though it also piles loss upon loss.

“The three of us have known this for months and months, but now that [the show is] getting closer, I think we all are, but I can say for myself, I’m really starting to feel the weight of that, because through all the chaos in the last decade-plus, this has been the one thing that hasn’t changed,” Johnson says. “It’s always been there. And so the feeling of it being gone, it’s a lot to take on. It’s cliche, but it’s truly like closing a chapter in our lives.”

Getting ready for the show is also proving to be a part of helping Linden’s bandmates go forward—Johnson, McDougal, and Gentry all plan to keep collaborating on a new project afterward. Johnson says the process has been “lighting a fire for us” and that “we’re getting more excited with each practice to work on something new.” It won’t be Bereft, of course, and Johnson can’t share a lot of details, other than to say he’d like to make music that balances out the blistering heaviness: “We’ve all talked and just want to introduce light more than darkness.”  

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