Bedemon // Symphony of Shadows
Rating: 4.5/5.0 — Before there was vest metal, there was flowered vest metal!!
Label: Svart Records
Websites: bedemon.com | myspace.com
Release Dates: EU: 08.24.2012 US: 10.23.2012
Here’s something really and truly out of the past. Bedemon has been an on and off (mostly off) American doom band with roots going back to the early 70s, thus making them one of the oldest doom acts from these shores. The band was the brainchild of one Randy Palmer, who was closely associated with the members of Pentagram. In fact, he spent several years in Pentagram, and Pentagram‘s Bobby Liebling and Geof O’Keefe spent time in Bedemon. Though they churned out a series of crude demos over time, there was nothing officially released until the 2005 demo compilation, Child of Darkness. Apparently, the tracks that would become Symphony of Shadows were written by Palmer as far back as 2002, but tragically, he passed away later that year. To honor Palmer’s memory and music, O’Keefe, bassist Mike Matthews and new vocalist Craig Junghandel set out to complete the album. Clearly a labor of love and a decade in the making, we finally get the first (and I assume last) proper Bedemon album. It was worth the seemingly Herculean effort, since this is an odd but awesome old school doom gem. The sound is unsurprisingly close to the first two Pentagram albums, with elements of Wino-era Saint Vitus and even Danzig, thus making things meaty, heavy and satisfyingly old and moldy. While all the material is of high quality, there are a few monumental doom masterstrokes here that staggered me and made me wish I could expect more in the future. If you love that classic doom sound pioneered by Sabbath, Witchfinder General and Pentagram, this is a no brainer and will likely be one of the big surprises of 2012.
As soon as “Saviour” hits your speakers, you’ll be greeted with top shelf doom loaded with sweetly heavy, groovy riffs, Ozzy-meets-Wino vocals and a BIG, memorable chorus. Its pure class and it’s a great introduction to the band. There are similarities to Phil Swanson’s work with Hour of 13 and everything screams old timey doom. This track alone is worth checking the album out and it’s one of the best doom songs of this year (by far). “Lord of Desolation” is like a lost track off Pentagram‘s immortal Day of Reckoning opus, and in fact, sounds very very close to the song “Evil Seed.” I’m unsure if Palmer had some writing credit for the original or if it’s a homage, but either way, it’s a very good song with an eerie atmosphere. Elsewhere, there’s a palpable Sabbath swing to “Son of Darkness” and it has bigtime doom riffing and rocked out solos from a bygone era.
Another big winner is the Finland-approved gloom rock of “The Plague,” which sports a wonderfully morose lead riff and a Katatonia-meets-Ghost Brigade vibe that makes the song very immediate as it revels in downbeat glory. “D.E.D. (Dying Every Day)” is accessible doom rock not far removed from classics like Saint Vitus‘s “Dying Inside” and it’s another big triumph of writing and playing. The riffs are groovy and fat and carry you along as the whiney, depressive vocals remind of “Electric Funeral.” Even the admittedly overlong wind-out where Junghandel repeats “I feel like I’m dying every day” ad nauseum doesn’t sink the ship. The Danzig influence creeps in among the rock and manly chanting of “Kill You Now,” and even though it seems a bit out-of-place, it’s an enjoyable number.
Things wind down very well with some epic length tracks of true doom. The Pentagram worship of “Godless” (with some traces of the Ghost sound interwoven therein) is made memorable by crushing riffs and outstanding vocals. Equally long “Hopeless” adopts a Sabbath style from their Sabbath Bloody Sabbath era and the relentless riffing weighs you down as Junghandel channels vintage Wino and weaves tales of suicide and anxiety. This one will grow on you, especially the epic riffing and solo-work starting around 3:10. The beautifully dramatic playing starting at 5:50 isn’t the kind of light speed tech-fest some bands strive for, but there’s so much damn feeling and emotion to the playing, it has to be heard. Brilliant stuff there.
As with any doom album, it’s the riffs, stupid! Scene veterans O’Keefe and Matthews know what needs to be done and boy, do they ever deliver a doom beat down. The riffs are classic and the solos are perfect for the songs, down to the last note. Symphony of Shadows features some of the most simplistic but hooky doom riffs I’ve heard in years and they make even the long-winded tunes plow right by in the blink of an eye. Keeping up with the Boneses, Junghandel does himself proud with a classic doom delivery. At one point or another he references all the greats, from Ozzy to Wino to Liebling and does them all proud. He makes the material shine, despite being less than a traditionally “gifted” singer.
Steel Druhm wants to bitch about something so as to appear objective, but pickings here are mighty slim. I don’t like the end of “D.E.D.” and “Kill You Now” seems a bit of a sudden departure from the material around it, but that’s about it. Hell, even the supermega retro production won me over with its early 70s analog goodness and the satisfying thunk of the drums. I suppose when you take ten years to do something, there’s lots of time to get everything right (unless you’re Axel Rose).
Yeah, this review reads like a big old fanboy eargasm, which is odd since I never even heard of these guys until a month ago. Well, live and learn because this album is the shit. I can’t stress this enough: if you like classic doom, you MUST hear this thing. Bedemon may already be long dead and over, but Randy Palmer’s legacy and these songs need to live on because they’re that freaking good! Support excellent doom or Steel Druhm will add your name to the “Unsupportive Enemies List.” You don’t want that, do you? R.I.P., Randy and thanks for these songs.