Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Essentials: Doom Metal

This post, as with the others in this series, is meant primarily to be of use to individuals seeking a good starting place to explore a type of metal. I briefly describe a sub-genre, then I select 5-10 songs which I think serve as a good introduction to the style. I provide links to each of these songs, and explanations for why I have chosen them. In general, I want my selections to provide a good, full picture of the sub-genre while highlighting its central elements, its important variations, and specific bands that are worth further attention. Additionally, I try to use many of those songs which I myself come back to time and time again, and which I would be most inclined to play for a friend to demonstrate the type of music in question.

Doom Metal:

Doom is the oldest metal sub-genre, dating all the way back to Black Sabbath. In fact, Black Sabbath's self-titled opener to their self-titled debut album in 1970 effectively established doom at the same time as it solidified metal itself as a genre separate from rock. For that reason, I consider it the most important metal song ever recorded. The early doom bands grew directly out of imitating that side of Sabbath's style, and then the sub-genre further evolved over time.

Stylistically, doom is most simply described as "slow metal". It's more involved than that, but you get the general idea. Drumming here is less intricate and aggressive than in most other metal, the riffs tend toward slow churning or drugged-out grooves, and the vocals effectively vary anywhere from opera to grunting. Some of the most beautiful metal belongs to this sub-genre, but so does some of the ugliest. Traditional doom is a great deal less intense than most extreme metal, but some branches of doom are absolutely crushingly heavy. Regardless of extremity, virtually all doom is slow-paced with long songs and a gloomy or depressive atmosphere. The doom landscape is less dominated by individual scenes than other sub-genres are, and is instead more about different styles that can crop up nearly anywhere. That said, when I had finished putting together all the best that doom had to offer, I discovered that pretty much everything I had in mind was from either the USA or the UK. I'm not thrilled by that, but I'm not going to exclude good stylistic representatives just because they happen to come from the same country as other bands I've covered.

(Note: Black Sabbath is not on this list, as they were never strictly a doom band, but owing to their influence on the sub-genre I've elected to link the song that started it all here.)

Death Penalty -by- Witchfinder General
Owing to the sub-genre's British origins, it's no surprise that that the UK produced several important bands in the early doom landscape. Witchfinder General is one such band, and their 1982 debut Death Penalty is a classic example of traditional doom. The title track is the best song on the album in my opinion.

Born Too Late -by- Saint Vitus
American bands also got in on the traditional sound, and one of the leading figures on this side of the pond was Saint Vitus. Their original vocalist Scott Reagers was good, but with the introduction of Scott "Wino" Weinrich on their third album the band truly struck gold. 1986's Born Too Late is one of the great classic doom albums, and the title track is possibly my favorite doom song ever recorded. It's clear by listening to them that these guys loved Black Sabbath, but their crazy, psychedelic solos and consistently slower pace help give them enough of a different character that they stand strong in their own right.

A Funeral Request -by- Cathedral
Hailing from Coventry, England, Cathedral are a bit of an odd case. Their 1991 debut Forest of Equilibrium is a very strong contender for the greatest doom album ever recorded, but after that they rapidly began shifting their style more and more toward stoner rock until they reached a point where it became debatable if they were still even producing metal at all. Regardless, their later material is still quite good in a slightly different way, while their first record is absolutely fantastic. Lee Dorrian's vocals tend to be quite divisive, as they really don't sound like anything else you've ever heard. Most people tend to either fall in love with them or hate them with a passion. This track is my favorite from that record.

Return Trip -by- Electric Wizard
Speaking of stoner influences, stoner doom is a pretty big category. While the band Sleep has taken on something of a mythical status within that particular sphere, British masters Electric Wizard deliver all the fuzzy, infectious grooves of stoner doom with a nearly unmatched level of heaviness. Particularly on their early albums, it is virtually impossible to describe their sound without using words like "colossal" or "monolithic". Big as a mountain, the bass lines alone carry more weight than most metal bands can produce with five people. Come My Fanatics... and Dopethrone are both incredible albums, but the song that I think best encapsulates them at their best is the opening track of the former, from 1997.

Monkey Junction -by- Weedeater
In the place where stoner doom meets hardcore punk and southern rock, there exists an ugly bastard offspring called sludge. There are those who claim sludge is not doom, while others claim it is. I think it depends on which of the style's key influences a given band chooses to emphasize, so basically my answer is "sometimes it's doom". The undisputed heavyweight champion of sludge is Eyehategod, but on those sickeningly hot, sticky days when I most want to hear sludge, nothing sounds better to me than the swamp monster that is Weedeater. The vocals are hostile and slightly distorted, the southern flair is there in spades, and as a bonus the lyrics are dogmatically focused on pot. This track, from their 2001 debut ...And Justice For Ya'll, is one of those songs I just seem to play constantly.

The Mournful Refusal -by- Evoken
For those times when regular doom just isn't slow and heavy enough, there's funeral doom. The American group Evoken isn't the slowest or the heaviest in this area, but they might be the best. Fusing some wonderful melody and mood with ten tons of slow-moving devastation, the results are spectacular. Antithesis of Light, from 2005, is such a good album throughout that I had a hard time singling out one specific song, but I eventually settled on this one.

Dragged to the Roots -by- Moss
So just how low can a doom band go? Well, my mental cut-off before it just degenerates into straight drone is somewhere around the band Moss. At that point, bands are so slow and so heavy that it borders on arbitrary. When I really want to experience the crushing black oblivion, this is my go-to band. If you really want to plumb the depths there are others of their ilk to be found, though I like them the best. This track, from 2008's Sub Templum, is actually a pretty modest length for this type of doom, as some such songs can be over an hour long.

Through Her Silvery Body -by- Swallow the Sun
Moving back into more commonly explored territory, we have groups like these Finns. Doom has been around long enough to experience melding with numerous other sounds, and in this case it has been fused with melodic death metal. Death-doom is a somewhat common pairing, which can fall into either sub-genre depending on the death-to-doom ratio employed. These guys use death metal vocals, but they lean much more toward a slow, melodious sound in the music itself. The atmosphere is depressing, but the material is often quite beautiful. Their 2003 debut was their best effort to date, and this is the opener from that album.

Scent of Death -by- Solitude Aeturnus
Experienced doom listeners will probably throw a fit over my choice of song to represent epic doom metal. Candlemass are the obvious choice here, but I personally think Solitude Aeturnus are a better sounding band. On top of that, rather than picking a song from one of Solitude's classic albums from the early 1990s, I've gone with a track from their 2006 release Alone. I will simply say this: when I want to listen to epic doom, this is invariably the first song I play. But enough about that. Stylistically, epic doom draws from a lot of the same over-the-top fantasy imagery and high-pitched clean vocals that can be found in power metal. The overall effect of combining these influences with lengthy doom compositions is, well, epic. Perfect for the swords and sorcery crowd.

Death, Come Near Me -by- Draconian
With all the talk of gloomy atmosphere and depression within doom, it should come as no surprise that Gothic doom is a pretty substantial force. This is doom at its most beautiful, melodic, and melancholy. Keyboards and female vocals find their way more readily into the mix, and ultimately the product is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a name like "Gothic doom metal". For my money, this type of doom has never been done better than by the Swedish band Draconian, and I'm not alone in considering their wonderful 2005 album Arcane Rain Fell the pinnacle of this style. To close out this list, I've selected the monumental fifteen-minute closing track from that album.


  1. OK, first, the elephant in the room. I know you already mentioned it, but Candlemass: "Solitude" is essential.

    I can't fault your Cathedral, Electric Wizard, Weedeater, or Draconian choices. The Evoken choice is spot-on. I'm not really familiar with Moss.

    For trad-doom, I'd go with Trouble: "Assassin." But that's because I'm not familiar with Witchfinder General, as unexpected as that may seem.

    For gothic death/doom, My Dying Bride would be my pick, though StS's TMNC is a great album.

    Nice list!

  2. I'm evidently on a similar page with you, because the only 3 bands I seriously considered but eventually omitted were Trouble, Candlemass, and My Dying Bride.

    Trouble would have been too redundant with Witchfinder General already in there, and I listen to Death Penalty much more often than any Trouble album.

    As you said, I already touched on Candlemass. I'll admit it was bordering on criminal to exclude them from a doom essentials list, but we've talked about my aversion to Marcolin's vocals on more than one occasion.

    I was also really close to using My Dying Bride, but I hit a point where there just wasn't room and something had to give. I considered nudging out either Swallow the Sun or Draconian to make room, but My Dying Bride just don't have anything I like nearly as well as The Morning Never Came or Arcane Rain Fell.

  3. I suppose that's fair on MDB, if you're only considering their albums as a whole. As far as individual songs go, they've go plenty of greats. And For Lies I Sire is shockingly good considering their back catalog is filled with albums that have too much filler.

  4. By the way, I really like this series. I note, first of all, that you've already touched on all the genres I would find easiest to do, plus Viking metal. Thrash I would find too hard to separate into subsets, and would find way too hard to get away from the Big 3 (because only Anthrax's manager really thinks there's a Big 4), although I guess blackened thrash would go outside that realm.

    Anyway, are you planning to do others? You might have to stray from your formula of setting out subsets, but it could be done.

  5. I don't really know. I'd like to do maybe 2 or 3 more, but I have to give them some additional thought.

    I've considered doing one on thrash, but I haven't quite decided how I'd want to handle that so I'm not sure yet. I may also do one on folk metal. A few shorter ones on smaller niche styles like southern metal or tribal metal might be interesting to do, but I feel like those can probably just be touched on as part of bigger articles.

    I can say for certain that I'm staying away from power metal and progressive metal, though, because I just don't listen to enough of those to write anything of use about them.