After listening and writing a few thoughts about the upcoming Bedemon release, I got the chance to talk with Geof O’Keefe about the release, its history, and music in general. Its not often that you get a great back story along with a great release. The physical copies come with a booklet that as Geof points out goes into a lot more detail. I for one will get a physical copy when it’s released not only for the music but for the history as well.
So those many moons ago, how did you get into doom metal?
I actually got more into hard rock and still prefer it to hard-core doom. While I of course love Sabbath, I tend to lean towards bands like Deep Purple, early Uriah Heep, early Uli Roth-era Scorpions, UFO, Judas Priest etc. I’ve never really explored the deep underground of doom.
After about a decade in the making how does it feel to finally get Symphony of Shadows in front of listeners?
A huge relief! Emotional on so many levels. We knew we had a great album in the making but there were so many obstacles to overcome, both personal and from a musical and production standpoint. The response and reviews so far have been great so I think we did the right thing.
Are there any over arching themes you as a band want listeners to come away with?
Hmm, interesting question, but not really any themes per say, although by nature it is a very dark album with a rather pessimistic and bleak view of the world. We just want listeners to feel like they discovered a great 70s album, the kind they don’t make anymore!
Can you describe the creative process over the years it took to get this together into final form?
I go into extreme detail about this in both the CD and LP booklets, but the shorter answer is that we decided in 2001 to write songs for what would be a first “real” album and got together in April 2002 here in California at my place to record it (at that time, Randy lived in North Carolina and Mike lived in Arizona). In a six-day period we recorded the basic instrumental tracks and most of the guitar solos.
Randy had made a decision not to work with PENTAGRAM vocalist Bobby Liebling on this recording. His reasons are explained in the booklet. I was tipped off to a great singer in my area named Craig Junghandel and after hearing his demos and performances of cover songs, we knew he was the right singer for the project.
Then at the end of July, the unthinkable happened. Bedemon founder Randy Palmer was in a serious auto accident and died from his injuries a week later on August 8, 2002.
Bassist Mike Matthews and vocalist Junghandel made the decision immediately that we WOULD finish this project, both in his honor and because we knew how good an album it was. All three of us had situations in our personal lives that delayed working on the project as often as we’d like to, but over the course of the next seven years through 2009, we recorded the vocals, finished the musical parts on a few tracks and then mixed and mixed and remixed it until we were happy with the final outcome.
There were many obstacles to overcome, one of the largest being we had to finish Randy‘s five songs without really knowing what he wanted done with them in terms of arrangement, vocal melodies etc. so I had to basically finish writing his songs and then work with Craig to come up with vocal parts for the tracks. It was a challenge but I am very happy with the finished album and Craig‘s singing is amazing.
Any touring plans to support the release in the works?
No specific touring plans. Obviously, we would have a large void to fill with founding member Randy Palmer‘s death. On the album, in addition to drums, I also played about 80% of the guitar solos, with Mike playing the others. We’d have to get at least one guitarist, maybe two and then deal with the logistical issue of Mike not living locally (he lives in Montana now). We have discussed to possibility of playing some selected dates next year if we can work all the issues out, but that is very tentative at this stage.
I have noticed a great resurgence of doom metal releases in all the sub-genres, any thoughts as to why?
This really isn’t something I can address because to be honest, I do not listen to much new music at all! I don’t think metal will ever go away, though, whether it’s speed metal, black metal, 70s-style heavy metal etc. because it is an aggressive form of music that fans get an adrenalin rush from. It might never be “top of the charts” music, but it will always exist.
How do you feel about the current state of doom metal in the US, good, bad, encouraged, otherwise?
Again, unfortunately I am very unfamiliar with the current doom scene. I am very much “stuck in the 70s” as far as my tastes in hard rock and metal go. I have never been a fan of the insanely fast double-bass drum speed metal genre, and I can’t stand the “cookie monster” growling vocal style of singing that many modern bands seem to feature. I need a good, solid riff and some powerful vocals and what little I have been exposed to doesn’t seem to have that. I’m sure there are bands around today that I would love, but…
Some of the older doom metal bands like Saint Vitus, Pentagram, Trouble albeit in the form of The Skull, are experiencing continued success as of late, I say its about time, what are your thoughts?
Well, I think it’s because their origins harken back to the decade of the 70s when heavy metal really came into being the form it did, and it really connected with people. There is a reason bands like Wolfmother, The Sword and Rose Hill Drive have gotten attention and it’s because they sound like they’re right out of that decade. Again a simple but catchy riff, solid, pounding drums, powerful vocals…it’s the formula of bands like Black Sabbath and even Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and other hard rock bands.
You have to remember, when Bobby Liebling and I put Pentagram together in the summer of 1971, there wasn’t a lot of what would later be called “doom metal” around, aside from Black Sabbath. The bands we grew up on were acts like Blue Cheer, Hendrix, Purple, Heep, Dust, Sir Lord Baltimore, Captain Beyond, The Gun (later turned into Three Man Army), Cactus, Stray, The Groundhogs and on and on. Hard rock bands, not doom bands, because there really weren’t many aside from Sabbath.
Has the current state of the music industry helped or hurt the doom metal style?
I think it has both helped and hurt ALL music styles. There are fewer labels that will sign, nurture and support a band as it develops over two or three albums. That’s bad. On the plus side, with the home recording availability and the internet, you can record a studio-sounding album in your home and sell it through your website. The downside is that it’s difficult to tour without financial support that a label would bring, not to mention lacking the connection to get an unknown or up-and-coming band on a major tour to get exposure. But as has been seen, if you get a clip up on a site like YouTube and it goes viral, you can become a star overnight!
Do you think illegal downloading has affected or helped the doom metal genre?
As with the last question, I think it both helps to a degree in that it spreads the word about new artists that fans find and share with their friends. The very bad downside is a whole generation of fans who feel you just take the music for free offline with no regard for the artist who does that for a living and needs to pay their bills, aside from studio and production expenses. Art is not free, and artists don’t create their work for free, whether it’s a musician, an author, a filmmaker etc. If you like an artist and get turned on to a few tracks, fine. Then buy their CD or legit download from a legit site where the artist gets paid for their work!
Who are you currently listening to in doom metal?
I’m repeating myself, but nothing current and more hard rock than doom. When I get into the car and want some energetic music, I’ll grab something by Rainbow, old Scorpions, UFO with Schenker, the 1st Captain Beyond, Trapeze, Judas Priest etc.
I read that one of you lived in Indiana for awhile, as a fellow hoosier there isn’t a lot of doom here, we do have one band called Apostles of Solitude have you ever heard of them (yeah, I know we need more metal in Indiana)?
I lived in Michigan City, Indiana from around 1963 to 1966, so I was just a kid. Again, sorry but I’ve never heard of Apostles of Solitude.
What can I say, except that I am very much a fan of — and stuck in, some would say — the 70s and the music styles and bands of that era, and to that, the Bedemon release Symphony of Shadows was written and produced by musicians and fans of that time that actually lived in the era. That is why the album sounds like a “great lost 70s album.”
And that’s a GOOD thing! Thank-you for your interest.