Symphony of Shadows
posted on 9/2012 By:
One thing that Geof O'Keefe is sure to clarify: He cannot speak accurately about the meaning behind many Bedemon lyrics, due to the demise of founder Randy Palmer. Such is the case with any posthumous release, because regardless of how involved the survived members may be, no one can speak for the dead.
But Geof can talk music, oh yes. Like how his drumkit gathered dust in the garage, plus Mike Matthews had not picked up a bass for some 25 years, both focusing on guitar in the meantime. Further, because of their guitar experience, Randy actually wanted them to tackle the solos on Symphony of Shadows (with the exception of “D.E.D.” -- more on that later). The text-only PDF of liner notes that came with the promo helped exposit the extensive backstory behind this album's creation; coupled with my interviewing Geof himself, I must say it's fortunate this album came together at all, let alone this surprisingly well.
Even the simplest moments required more work than anticipated, as most of the original rhythm tracks and solos were committed to VHS via ADAT in a handful of takes, and things like poor mic positions could only be dealt with in hindsight. The man who embraced the project was engineer Shawn Hafley (a.k.a. the KOTR DJ who helped influence the resurrection of Bedemon), a true pillar of strength amid the turmoil of recording. On the plus side, the primal nature of the source material makes the experience more authentic altogether, though the quality is unilaterally better than anything on Child of Darkness.
On some tracks, you could count the number of takes on one hand, if not one finger. But when Black Sabbath is the favorite band that you clearly channel through your music, it's acceptable -- hell, expected -- to be raw those first couple of times. How polished is Paranoid again? Well, speaking of that record, something about “Lord of Desolation” rings all “Electric Funeral” in my ears, and various other allusions to lyrics / themes by the classic masters surface: “irradiated future is not the way”, “lonely souls all fall to hell”, “even the war pigs no longer care”, “children in unmarked graves”. I'm not dissing the tune; I especially love the thick, prominent bass drive and all the dark imagery.
In similar fashion, the guitar drops out for a few drum-and-bass verses in “Son of Darkness”, but rather than a gradual fade out, it's just a barrage of riffs till the end. “The Plague” finishes that way too, but boasts the creepiest of slithering guitars and possibly autobiographical lyrics from Palmer. Further, in “D.E.D.” it's not hard to imagine that “when the needle starts in / the pain starts out / a little less human / a little more doubt” speaks from Randy's own addiction with heroin. However, prior to his death he had been detoxing off methadone, and tragically, his death was not even from the hand of doom, but instead by teenagers who ran a red light and hit him broadside.
All of the aforementioned tracks form a strong first half, but parts of side B don't quite jell. “Kill You Now” is the shortest song here, and the clap track with whoa-ohs seems sorta out of place. Then “-less” is more with the next couple of tracks, as “Godless” and “Hopeless” both clock in around the 9:39 mark; the former feels underdeveloped and could likely be trimmed, while the latter is helped by additional work from O'Keefe, which may go a tad heavy on the cowbell but is also thankfully generous with the trade-off solo freakoutro.
Because Geof wrote “Hopeless”, he conceded with Mike Matthews (after arguing back-and-forth for some time) that he could add shade to both that song and “Saviour” as well. The opener features an impressive layered performance from vocalist Craig Junghandel, and pointed lyrics about abusive priests. These infectious melodies needed to be developed, though, as that was a critical element Randy had not yet established. And while he did assent to Craig as the new Bedemon vocalist, they never had the opportunity to meet. According to Geof, Randy would literally “only sing to the singer, just to show them how the song went” so deciphering / interpreting / guessing what to do was a monumental challenge.
Symphony of Shadows is essential proto-doom by dudes who'd probably care less about that genre tag; this a work of patience and devotion, with a touch of madness and, oh yeah, wicked cover art that you could recognize from 50 paces. Most of us never got to meet Randy in person, and that is now obviously impossible, but at least the heavy music community got the best damned recorded document from an early American torchbearer before he left this world.
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