By Carl Begai
I don’t have much use for God these days.
With that in mind, when December 25th, 2011 rolled around I decided that I wouldn’t be celebrating the birth of some overblown, fictitious, omnipotent phantom as I gave gifts to my loved ones, turned the music up louder than usual, and drank more than I should have. Hell no. I chose instead to celebrate the life of my friend, David Gold.
David was taken from us on December 21st, 2011. He was 31 years old.
He was the voice and mind behind the band Woods Of Ypres. Not to discount or dumb down the invaluable contributions of the band members that worked with him over the years, but thanks to David’s efforts – seemingly superhuman and borderline insane at times – his music touched people around the world. He put Canada on the map amongst doom metal fans, and for anyone fortunate enough to lock into Woods Of Ypres, the name joined the likes of Rush, Annihilator, Voivod and Strapping Young Lad as a band to be revered when discussing metal spawned on Canuck soil.
I was introduced to David via a suspicious package that arrived on my doorstep in 2002. Living in Germany as BW&BK’s European correspondent, packages in the mail are nothing new, but a parcel sent from Toronto that I didn’t request or wasn’t warned about beforehand was odd. The name on the return address rang a bell, but I couldn’t place it. Inside was the first Woods Of Ypres CD with a hand-written note from David, introducing himself and the band, asking me to take a listen and offer my thoughts.
To this day I have no idea how he got my address, but I’m grateful to whoever gave it to him.
We stayed in touch from that point on, and I did my best to push the band on people whom I figured would enjoy the music. I admired David’s drive and his belief in what he was doing, and I was convinced he deserved a record deal. I was happy to pass his albums to my label contacts in Europe, and I was always surprised when they turned down the opportunity to add Woods Of Ypres to their respective rosters. There must have been moments in David’s career when he felt like packing it in thanks to music executives turning him a blind eye, but music was his life whether they liked it or not. He forged on and the metal world was better for it.
In 2007 I learned just how deeply serious David was about Woods Of Ypres. He sent the promo CD of Woods III: Deepest Roots And Darkest Blues, asking me if he could send “a few” copies of the album my way when it was finished to pass around to the labels. The album blew me away, so of course I agreed to it (although I would have done so even if it had sucked). A few weeks later 10 copies arrived at the German Customs office; it was an out-of-pocket expense for him, and it wasn’t cheap. I received a terse letter in the mail telling me to pick up my package, and don’t forget my receipt for the purchase or I’d be paying through the nose to get it. In the end I sweet-talked the Customs official into giving me the box of goodies tax free, and when I offered him a copy of the albums as a thank you, I could tell he was tempted to say yes. Alas, accepting a Canadian post-transaction “bribe” wasn’t permitted. David got a good laugh out of that.
Woods III also figures prominently in my life for having brought me together with former Woods Of Ypres keyboardist Jessica Rose and her husband, Kyle. Based on David being a mutual friend, I invited them to stay with me while on a trip through Europe without having met them before, and I’m happy to say they still figure prominently in my life. They’re great people, which doesn’t surprise me given the company David kept. In fact, it was Jessica that informed me during that first encounter – and David later confirmed it – that the original artwork for Woods III looked too penis-like to be taken seriously and had to be renovated accordingly.
David and I spoke a couple times in the time between Woods III and Woods IV: The Green Album, emailed back and forth quite a bit while he was in Korea. We discussed his work with the band Necramyth and his plans for The Green Album. A package with big bag of Korean green tea showed up unexpectedly one day, simply because I’d mentioned I drank the stuff like it was going out of style, and he was living in a region where they harvested it. It was a gesture of friendship, no expectation behind it.
He often joked that Canada Post hated him because he would show up with dozens of packages at one time to be sent out, whether it was merchandise going out to the fans or material being sent to the press. Often, it was both. When I received what David mailed out as a “standard” promo package for The Green Album, I had a better understanding of Canada Post’s desire to ban him from all of their locations. It was a monster, and when I was finally able to extricate its insides after battling the miles of industrial strength tape sealing it shut, it was a Woods Of Ypres Christmas: copies of the new album (complete with the Necramyth album), Korean beer and ramen noodles, patches, buttons, stickers, a metal Woods thermos (green, naturally), and a bottle of Korean soju (that remains unopened on my bar). All of it sent to the press on his own dime, bagged and tagged on his own time (and, I imagine, the help of friends and family) as a “thank you” for efforts on Woods Of Ypres’ behalf past, present and future.
The last time I saw David was August 2010 in Toronto. We took in a sushi lunch on the Danforth and talked about all things Woods, everything metal, musician-sized Sapporo beer (the mega-king cans), Sault Ste Marie, and because we were both shameless fanboys of the band, the unique origin of his Headstones ring.
And the beard. I’ve been losing my hair for 20 years, and he was able to shave and grow a beard to ZZ Top proportions in 10 days. I had to respect that, too.
I look around my apartment and David is all around me. It’s not just swag on the shelves, it’s not just a logo slapped onto the drink fridge and my guitar amp, it’s not just another metal shirt or yet another Woods Of Ypres CD to add to the collection. These seemingly insignificant things are reminders of someone who was passionate about his music and worked his proverbial fingers to the bone to bring it to the people that gave a damn, constantly earning more fans along the way. Writing and recording albums with no guarantee of outside help, selling merchandise and organizing tours through Canada and the US, putting his trust in the fans, the kindness of strangers and fast food joints while doing those tours, working on outside projects like Necramyth, L’Anguisette, Thrawsunblat or The Northern Ontario Black Metal Preservation Society, and David did it all for the love of music.
And regardless of how dark the music was, no matter how bleak of a picture he may have painted with his lyrics, David met the challenges of the life he chose head on and pushed back twice as hard. He has a loving family, a host of real world friends, and a worldwide fanbase to prove it.
Sitting down to write this, I was shocked to realize just how long David and I had been in contact. Almost 10 years. Only days before he was taken from us, we had been working out days and times to discuss the new Woods Of Ypres album, Woods V: Grey Skies And Electric Light. I still can’t believe he’s gone.
I was listening to the new album constantly weeks before David passed away, and I suppose there’s some small comfort in hearing him in the office every day.
On the new song ‘Adora Vivos’, David sings “We shouldn’t worship the dead.” Perhaps not, but I will always hold him in higher regard than any religious figure, suit-and-tie executive, or gazillion-selling musician.
You were one of a kind.
You were an inspiration.
I am proud to call you my friend.
– The Lost CBC TV Report (2003)
– ‘A Meeting Place And Time’
– ‘Your Ontario Town (Is A Burial Ground)’
– 2010 Tour Vlog #1
– ‘Wet Leather’
– ‘You Were The Light’
– 2010 Tour Vlog #2
– ‘Adora Vivos’
In Memoriam photo © 2012 by Carl Begai