originally published May 13, 2013
It occurred to me today as I was tidying up my kitchen and listening joyously to Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers sing “What A Fool Believes” that perhaps I should pen an article about doom metal.
To be clear, the sum total of doom metal CDs on my shelf is zero. While I respect the shredding musicianship of some of the masters of various genres around the metal spectrum, the style is simply not something I find myself in the mood for. Sure, I went through an “angry youth” phase, and leaned a little on the grunt of good grunge or the plucky plunk of punk, but I simply don’t get that angry anymore. And when I do, the music that balances my needle is usually something peppy from the ska closet.
I simply have no time for a genre of music whose entire thesis appears to be little more than “Life sucks. The world sucks. We’re all going to die. It’s going to be rather unpleasant.” It doesn’t interest me.
All the more reason I should slap my better judgment in its pimply little face and write about it.
Doom metal is apparently played at a slower tempo, with thick, crunchy guitars and a lot of distortion. From what I can tell, doom metal is the stuff you’d play in a movie scene when the deranged, blood-splattered killer is stalking the hallways for his next victim, dragging his half-severed leg behind him and scraping his well-used machete along the plaster wall. Come to think of it, that scene might be decidedly more creepier somehow if you were to play the Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarkesville” instead.
Apparently doom metal uses a lot of clean vocals, which is a nice switch from the screamy-growly vocalists of other metal genres. A lot of religious themes, literary allegories, and cleverly-masked kvetching about suffering seems to be the standard markings of the genre. Its origins come from early Black Sabbath, so maybe there’s some common ground here. Maybe as I listen to samplings of the various sub-genres, I’ll find I can warm up to doom metal.
Maybe. There are lots to try out. This could get ugly. Feel free to follow along if you aren’t particular about your mood on a Monday.
I’m going to start with the old school jams. In the 1990’s, the genre began to spread into all its little subsections, but some artists stuck with the classic style. These bands use higher guitar tunings and songs which might spurt out a few more beats per minute than the other doom styles. As a sample I’m going to try out Oridruin’s “War Cry”. My first reaction is that I like the guttural guitar sound, the hammering groove, and really everything about the first few measures.
The vocalist is about what I expected. And unfortunately, so are the lyrics. Mid-way through, I’m wondering where the dynamics are. Why should I care about this, as a lover of music? Am I ever in a mood so sour that I can relate to these lyrics about sorrow and oncoming demise? No, but then I’m known as a ridiculously happy person. I take extensive narcotic steps to ensure that’s the case.
Epic Doom is a subgenre with a heavy classical influence. Themes include fantasy and mythology mainstays, so I’m suspecting we’re tuning in to the soundtrack of a mopey LARP’er, poised with his wooden sword and plastic shield in a quiet thicket of trees, believing he is about to pretend-battle to the death. Let’s check out Doomsword’s “Days Of High Adventure.”
Okay, this is far more up-tempo than I’d been led to believe. I can see slashing a few imaginary orcs to this stuff. As with most metal, I find this entry from Doomsword to be meticulously performed, but so deeply not my vibe it makes my ears itch. Also, I can’t stop thinking of these guys:
Stoner Doom is simply the darker, more morbid side of stoner rock. These are the guys you’d smoke a joint with, then find yourself spending the next hour trying to get the hell away from because they’re freaking you out. I’m going to try out Kyuss’s “One Inch Man.”
I’ve got to say, I kind of liked this one. They sounded like a garage band who listens to a lot of Jane’s Addiction. It has a groove, a solid bass line, and apart from a vocalist who doesn’t exactly bowl me over (at least in this song), I could actually see trying out another one of Kyuss’s songs.
But I won’t. I’ve got a quota to hit.
Sludge Doom, epitomized by the subtly named EyeHateGod, is a mix of doom, hardcore punk and southern rock. I’m picturing a dark and foreboding (yet 180-beats-per-minute) cover of “Sweet Home Alabama”. Let’s see what I get with “New Orleans Is The New Vietnam.”
A quote from one of the Youtube comments: “mike ix and jimmy bower stuck their dicks in the mashed potatoes for this one.” Well, it sounds like the singer’s genitalia is in some sort of extreme discomfort, I’ll agree there. I can understand being angry about Hurricane Katrina, but have these guys heard the music that New Orleans is known for? This isn’t healing any wounds.
On to Funeral Doom, a subgenre specifically intended to cross-over with funeral dirge music. I’m going to go with the aptly titled band ‘Funeral’ because they come from Norway and the Scandinavian people have put a tremendous amount of effort and influence into the doom metal genres; they deserve to be represented. Oh, that photo up there showed up when I searched for ‘Funeral Norway band’. Sure, some long-hair, angry, mopey types showed up in the first few photos, but I’m going to be optimistic and hope this is the band that performs “When Nightfall Clasps.”
Well, it starts out with a bit of acoustic playing, but we dive deep into the morbid just a short ways in. The vocalist sounds like Otto, the bus driver from The Simpsons, waking up with a gnarly hangover, realizing that he’s going to die imminently, and deciding he must share this wretched and depressing fact with someone he doesn’t like.
I’m past 1000 words and still going. Next comes Drone Doom, which will probably have the same peaceful, meditative impact as Indian drone music, but without the peace or meditation. Just the droning. I’ll check out Sun O)))’s “It Took The Night To Believe”, because I appreciate the band’s excessive use of parentheses in their name.
The vocalist sounds like a drunk Muppet trying to spout out a terrible Louis Armstrong impression with a mouthful of soiled coffee filters. This one drones, I’ll give it that. They haven’t invented the drugs that could make this stuff palatable to my ears. I’m not optimistic they ever will.
Just to ensure I end on a particularly painful note, I’m going to finish up with Death/Doom, a fusion of doom metal and death metal. I can anticipate growling vocals and crazed, double-kick drumming. What better place to start than with Disembowelment’s “Your Prophetic Throne Of Irony”?
This is the music I’ll play when I command my minions of the damned to unleash a plague upon the world. It’s very pleasing to the ear if you enjoy vocals that sound as though they emanated from the sphincter of my bulldog, Rufus. That said, if you’re strolling through a graveyard one night, intending to drink three or four Gatorade bottles of your own blood, splayed naked on the roof of a crypt whilst wearing the carcass of a freshly-killed marmot on your head, you might want to consider bringing along a Disembowelment CD.
Well that was a workout. I’m going to listen to something a lot less gloomy and a lot less carve-pentagrams-into-my-leg-by-the-light-of-a-black-candle-ish. Maybe something like this.