Getting Into Doom Metal Music as the Apocalypse Encroaches
I discuss doom and death a lot in my audio reviews. Why…? Simply because, whether you like it or not, Mother Nature wants to kill you anyway she can. Alligators, crocodiles, exotic snakes, big spiders, Liberal tax increases, and Zdeno Chara—who ritualistically sacrifices a live goat with a hedge trimmer before every Boston Ruins’ (sic.) home game—all of these evil entities seek to terminate you ASAP.
Sooner or later, one of Mother Nature’s evil minions—like NHL enforcer Milan Lucic (pronounced Melon Loo-Chach… the notorious curved-spine rat)—will come calling. These days, it’s the Covid-19 virus. Call it a Novel Corona virus or re-brand it as SARS-2: Electric Boogaloo, whatever the politically correct name is, this virus is a serious MoFo. Why is this important? Well… life is short, so you’d better enjoy it and live every week like it’s Shark Week.
If you’re still waiting on the warm, wet, and sloppy teets of Canadian socialism to provide milky sustenance in the form of a CERB cheque, NOW is the time to explore doom metal. Instead of just surviving the oncoming apocalypse, today is the day to conquer your self-quarantine and discover the musical depths of doom!
What is Doom Metal?
The philosophy of doom metal is simple: what doesn’t kill you, can give you a horribly bad limp. We’re all doomed, so just accept it and get on with enjoying the misery. Catholic Saint and Benedictine monk Hermann the Cripple’s (1013-1054) motto was “Pain is not unhappiness!” His ontology to absolve pain and misery in life by embracing it is remarkably similar to doom metal’s modified existentialist philosophy towards existence and being. Life is painful… so just accept it, welcome it, and enjoy the pain.
More specifically, doom metal seeks to channel fear, pain, anxiety, and suffering into something positive. As an extreme subgenre of heavy metal, doom typically uses cement-mixer slow and heavy tempos and guitars that are down-tuned to create a thicker and weightier sound.
Most musicologists will attest that Black Sabbath is the band who invented the sound of doom metal. A great place to start on your journey into doom is with Sabbath’s classic 1970 album Paranoid.
The uncommonly dark lyrics and brooding musical landscapes recorded on early Sabbath albums brought a new doom-laden sound and gloomy atmosphere to heavy music. From a historical perspective, it cannot be overstated how important Black Sabbath is to heavy metal. Paranoid is more than just an album, it’s a historical blueprint for doom metal. Blue Cheer, Budgie, and Sir Lord Baltimore are also early psychedelic era pioneers of doom-themed music.
Exploring themes of misery, suffering, fear, depression, sadness, death, and anger, doom metal frequently uses gloomy and pessimistic lyrics. Some doom lyrics are introspective and anecdotal. Other lyricists use wildly sophisticated symbolic and metaphoric structures.
Religion is also a choice topic in doom metal. Paganism and occultism are common lyrical themes too. For most doom bands, though, the use of religious themes and imagery is purely for aesthetic purposes. Satan isn’t a semi-inebriated punter in leather pants playing a heavily distorted bass guitar. Nope. The devil hides in plain sight in the form of well-dressed bank managers who refuse to lend you money when you really need it. Images of crucifixes, cross-shaped headstones, satanic nurses, miserly bank managers, and the grim reaper are common symbols of doom.
1980s Doom Metal Bands:
During the 1980s, bands like The Obsessed, Trouble, Witchfinder General, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Cirith Ungol, and Candlemass laid the cornerstones of modern doom metal.
The *Ying* and *Yang* of Doom Metal:
“But what exactly does doom metal focus on?” I hear you asking. “Is it only about misery, death, and impending doom?” No… of course not.
The best doom metal bands understand that an oscillating counter-swing from extreme positives to extreme negatives is essential to procreating the punishing vibe of the genre. The various subgenres of doom, (of which there are many), all let musicians shift rapidly from slow, sleepy, and staggeringly heavy *hibernating polar bear* dirges to music that’s electrified with a *caffeinated mongoose on a meth bender* speed, energy, & intensity.
The lightening-fast & highly technical guitar solos, thundering drum fills, and ripping bass lines of doom metal oscillate between two hemispherically opposed points: one that paints ethereal portraits of the positive waves of life; and the other that sculpts haunting effigies to be burned by the negative recesses of despair, death, and doom.
There’s a vainglorious *ying/yang* to doom metal that’s easy to follow. Think of it in these terms. On a warm and sunny day, your girlfriend tells you that she loves you and she wants to spend eternity with you. At that moment, you feel like you’re floating in a warm bath of pure and ecstatic spiritual love. Then, a week later, without warning… she dumps you. Suddenly the emotional happiness you once felt is replaced by doom and despair. Yes… the Endtyme has arrived!
Weeks later, you find yourself hopelessly wandering along a desolate jogging path in an ice cold, miserable, and melancholy rain. It was here that your former lady stabbed you in the heart. She told you that your OCC Silver AES/EBU digital interconnects weren’t state-of-the-art, that your outboard Rubidium word clock wasn’t as a good as a higher-priced Caesium model, and—to boot– that you’re a worthless indolent toilet bug.
As she barnstormed out of your life and angrily tore the front door right off it’s rusty hinges, she may even have screamed something soul crushing like: “Your 2-channel vinyl rig never created a convincing 3-dimensional stereo image!” Her angry and toxic words hurt you in a profoundly deep manner. Following her exodus from your life, there is only misery and despair.
This fascinating back-and-forth oscillation between the positive and negative cycles of life is what the lyrics and music of doom metal seek to explore. Sometimes examining depression and despair is the best way to try to reconcile it. The more you understand the complex and exquisite psychology of misery and doom, the easier it is to accept it, absolve it, and… eventually… convert it into something positive.
The Sound of Doom Metal:
Most doom metal bands are 3-piece or 4-piece entities built upon the classic power-trio structure of guitar(s), bass, and drums. The sound of doom is rooted in the same tri-tonic scales as in blues music. Doom guitarists and bassists often down-tune their instruments to ocean floor depth levels. The bass in doom dirges usually goes deeper than a 20 year veteran at RotoRooter wielding a 32-foot length fully extended toilet snake.
The coffee rich and creamy warmth of the distorted tone that doom metal guitarists prefer is what gives the genre such a unique flavour and taste. Stirring copious amounts of distortion into this blackened broth gives doom an unmistakably thick and immersive sound.
Think of the unique taste of a triple-triple half-dark roast / half hot-chocolate cup of coffee. THAT’s what doom metal *tastes* like. This complex heaviness and rich lingering flavour are the defining sonic characteristics of the genre’s sound.
Various Subgenres of Doom Metal:
There are a number of different subgenres within doom metal. These include space-doom, death-doom, stoner-doom, desert rock, disco-doom, black doom, funeral doom, Satanic doom, and even lesbian witch cult dominatrix shoe-worship doom. Each genre brings different musical and lyrical styles to the haunting sound of the music.
Desert Rock / Stoner Doom:
In the desert wastelands outside of Palm Springs California, the desert rock and stoner-doom music scenes both emerged in the early 1990s. Using musical elements from psychedelic rock, blues, and punk, desert rock features hypnotic drumming, free-form jams, and ripping grooves. Notable desert rock bands include Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Slo Burn, and Brant Bjork. Kyuss’ landmark 1991 album Blues for the Red Sun is a *must own* record.
Death-doom combines the slow tempos and pessimistic atmosphere of doom metal with the guttural vocals, double-kick blast-beat drumming, and chiming percussion of death metal. Founded by Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, this subgenre sprung forth during the mid-1980s. Go deep and listen to Hellhammer’s 1984 Apocalyptic Raids and Frost’s 1985 To Mega Therion albums.
Stoner metal features funky bass grooves and fuzz-distorted electric guitar lines. Most stoner-doom bands explore themes of drug use and addiction. They typically have melodic vocals and vinyl era fuzzed-out sonics. Although Hawkwind released their best records during the 1970s, modern bands like Kyuss, Sleep, Cathedral, Electric Wizard, Orange Goblin, and Acid King emerged in the early to mid-1990s.
Recorded in 1993, Cathedral’s Ethereal Mirror is a cornerstone in the foundation of doom metal. Also, try Cathedral’s 2001 Endtyme album, Orange Goblin’s 2000 masterpiece The Big Black, and Electric Wizard’s Y2K Dope Throne record. Goatsnake’s year 2000 Flower of Disease and 2015 Black Aged Blues are *must own* records. For an unmercifully heavy doom-drone classic, try Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine’s 2002 Rampton album.
Panicking about the Covid-19 pandemic is pointless. Instead, try listening to doom metal. You may find it just the thing to soothe your jangled nerves. Streaming services like Tidal and Spotify are gold mines for auditioning as much doom metal as you want.
Finally, an axiom to consider is this: you’re born looking like your Dad, and you die looking like your decisions. Mother Nature is a Futher-Mucker and she’s sent the Covid-19 virum to thin the human herd. Make the right decision and self-quarantine. Take the SARS-2 Electric Boogaloo pandemic seriously. There is no better time than right NOW to self-isolate and get into doom metal. Remember… doom or be doomed!