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On July 31, 2002, local doom-metal pioneer Randy Palmer was T-boned by some teenagers who had run a red light. Eight days later, the 49-year-old Palmer died, bequeathing a legacy rich in doom-rock epics and horror movie academia. Palmer was the founder of Bedemon, an Arlington-based band that first laid down some tracks to reel-to-reel in 1973.
At the time of his death, Palmer and his Bedemon bandmates were in the process of assembling their early songs, recorded at various times throughout the ’70s. This collection ultimately became Child of Darkness, put out this past February by Italy’s Black Widow label.
Between jam sessions, Palmer made short movies, recorded songs, and wrote two biographies of horror-movie personalities, including one on gore director Herschell Gordon Lewis.
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Palmer also left behind something that showcased his design talents. After Palmer’s death, Bedemon bassist Mike Matthews rummaged through his friend’s belongings to see if he could find anything his bandmates could use. Among the tapes and notebooks was a loose 2-inch-by-3-inch sketch. It crudely depicted a young girl in a dress on a barren landscape. Matthews’ reaction was immediate. “I said, ‘Wow! This is the cover for Bedemon’s Child of Darkness,’” says Matthews.
The bandmates needed someone to interpret Palmer’s handiwork for a first in Bedemon history: an album cover. They settled on renowned horror artist Wes Benscoter, an avowed fan of the long-running local metal band Pentagram, which has shared three members with Bedemon. Benscoter had done spooky covers for Slayer, Deceased, and Cattle Decapitation, among others. It all boiled down to this: The fellow who did the artwork for Mortician’s Chainsaw Dismemberment was now being tapped to pay heartfelt tribute to a fallen friend. Of course, Palmer probably would have appreciated it. “It’s funny to use Bedemon and tasteful in the same sentence, but Wes’ art was truly tasteful,” Matthews recalls.
The final layout features a doe-eyed girl standing underneath a blood-red sky. It takes the viewer a second to see the design’s masterstroke—the girl’s shadow is that of a demon. The subtlety in Benscoter’s rendition of the Child of Darkness cover bucks a tradition of overtly violent imagery in heavy-metal visual art.
Although the Pennsylvania-based Benscoter, 33, has found a niche in dark-themed pieces, he eschews the stereotypes of horror imagery. In his frequent interviews with metal magazines, he’s not inclined to cite Satan as a muse. The interviewers, he explains by e-mail, are often disappointed that “there isn’t more talk of ‘demonic inspiration’ and ‘hellfire pulsing through my infernal veins.’” As for the Bedemon release, Benscoter thought of the cover as “almost a memorial painting. I didn’t mind having to stick to the sketch’s design because it was still loose enough that I could improvise a bit.”
The rendering, says Matthews, “allowed us to follow as closely to Randy’s plan as possible. I think Randy would have been happy with it. He would have been blown away.”
A second Palmer sketch turned up that day, just underneath the one for Child of Darkness. The remaining members of the band are hoping to use it as a cover to the release of their 2002 reunion sessions, recorded just months before Palmer’s accident. Matthews says, “Wes is obviously a genius, and we’d love to have him realize Randy’s design once again.”—David Dunlap Jr.