Friday, February 20, 2015

…come with me into the night: BEDEMON – ‘Child of Darkness: From the Original Master Tapes’

The history of doom metal legends Pentagram has been well documented in recent years, particularly the struggles and unlikely successes of front man Bobby Liebling. Part of Pentagram’s early legacy is Liebling’s involvement with future Pentagram guitarist Randy Palmer’s Bedemon recording project—a project that would be abandoned for some time once Palmer joined Pentagram. While the two bands are often mentioned in the same breath and stylistically share some similarities due to mutual personnel there is an unmatched urgency, darkness, and passion found on the Bedemon recordings that keeps the band from being entirely eclipsed by Pentagram. Regardless of historical context or legacy and despite the rough, demo quality of the recordings ‘Child of Darkness’ is an amazing collection of tunes that stands on its own two feet due to songwriting alone. And though Bedemon was primarily the passion project of Randy Palmer, the efforts and contributions of Geof O’Keefe, Mike Matthews, and Bobby Leibling cannot be underestimated.

Perhaps the most obvious or glaring “blight” to be found on ‘Child of Darkness’ is the rough-hewn, basement quality of the recordings. But one man’s blight is another man’s charm. Despite the apparent sound quality—an overall muddiness with the odd stretch that is momentarily muffled—each and every instrument is audible, including Liebling’s vocals. Given the band’s limitations at the time it’s amazing that the songs sound as good as they do.

Those who appreciate and/or are able to hear beyond the limited production value found on ‘Child of Darkness’ will be rewarded with some of the catchiest, most engrossing songwriting of hard rock and early doom to be laid to tape. Considering that the band members often learned their respective parts in a couple of hours before recording it is remarkable that the tunes are so complete and fleshed out. Helping to transcend the production woes of the recordings is the passion, drive, and creativity of the players. Many of the tracks have been cobbled together with members trading instruments and contributing alternating guitar solos. And those solos. The razor sharp lead guitar often cries out with an unmatched clarity to rise above the muddy din. Whether the solos are acid-drenched odes to Sir Lord Baltimore like those found on “Enslaver of Humanity,” or squealing peals of distortion menacingly pushed into the red on “Serpent Venom,” or the trashy “vomiting” fuzz solo found on the sublime “Last Call,” the solos are undeniably catchy and often bleed with unparalleled intensity and emotion.

Whether you want to call it hard rock, doom, or even proto-doom there is no refuting the influence of Bedemon or Pentagram. And while it is difficult not to mention or think of Pentagram when the subject of Bedemon comes up it could be argued that many of the stronger compositions and even some of Liebling’s best performances belong to the recordings found on ‘Child of Darkness.’ Bands looking to the past for inspiration is nothing new, but it is hard to ignore the influence of Black Sabbath and Pentagram on numerous bands of the past decade or so. Sweden’s Burning Saviours and, to a greater extent, Witchcraft have drawn heavily from Pentagram, both with amazing results. It would be hard not to listen to Bedemon’s “Frozen Fear” or “Drive Me to the Grave” without thinking that perhaps Bedemon was in fact the greater influence on Magnus Pelander.

While it may be easy to chalk up much of Bedemon’s songwriting success to youthful creativity just check out the band’s follow-up, ‘Symphony of Shadows’ (review HERE), to dispel any doubts. ‘Child of Darkness’ may never have been intended for public consumption, but it is lucky for the lover of underground heavy metal and doom that this gem was initially unearthed and now re-issued on vinyl and CD through Relapse Records. The fifteen tracks that comprise ‘Child of Darkness’ range from primordial doom anthems like the eponymous album-opener “Child of Darkness” or the harrowing “Serpent Venom” to emotive, downtrodden masterpieces like “Last Call” or “Into the Grave.” Highly recommended for not only its historical context, but also for solid performances and songwriting.



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