The origins of Doom Metal
When you see conversations about the history of metal as a genre, it is pretty common for folks to immediately point to Black Sabbath as the starting point. It is arguable that bands like Led Zeppelin and Blue Cheer also had a key influence on the inception of heavy music but I think Black Sabbath is the easiest to point to.
When it comes to Doom Metal, as a genre, Black Sabbath is without a doubt the point where the genre crawled out of ground to rise from the grave (buckle up because this article is going to get weird).
You may be asking yourself “what is it about Sabbath that makes the starting point so cut and dry?” Great question valued reader! I’ll tell you.
Defining the Style of Doom Metal
When I started getting into Doom Metal back in 2016, the place I always found myself coming back to when exploring different bands in subgenres was the song Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath. When you look at this song, it almost lays out the blueprint for the genre and all of its branches of the metal tree.
Downtuned guitars, a bit of a slower tempo, lyrics centering around the occult, and an emotional delivery of the lyrics. When you blend all of these elements together, you get a recipe for an entirely new genre of music.
In terms of lyrics, Doom Metal kind of runs the gamut of subject matter. Some genres lean more into the occult, others towards fantasy and adventure, while others speak more towards death and despair. There’s something for everyone in this metal melting-pot.
Early Doom Metal
After Black Sabbath took the music world by storm, the seed was planted for Doom Metal. In the late 70s and early 80s, bands across the world took the sound that Sabbath introduced and molded it into something that paid homage to that sound while putting their own stamp on this sound. This movement of music is truly where Doom Metal begins.
Bands like Pentagram, Trouble, Saint Vitus, and Candlemass make up the pioneers of the sound and are widely considered to be the “Big Four” of Doom Metal. The term itself comes from Candlemass’ 1986 album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, later directly spawning the subgenre Epic Doom Metal, which we will get into a bit more later.
To truly understand the early spirit of Doom Metal, I highly recommend listening to Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. Not only is it a fantastic album but a great view into the birth of the genre. Songs like Solitude take clear inspiration for Black Sabbath from it’s slow and heavy instrumentation and its depressive lyrics that simultaneously deal with themes of death and the occult. For my money, this is the best place to start for someone who wants a holistic view of the genre before branching out into its plethora of subgenres. Also, damn that cover art and logo are iconic!
Doom Subgenres and Hybrid Genres
As previously mentioned, when looking at the tree of metal genres, when you start looking at Doom Metal there is a vast number of subgenres branching off from the main genre. So many that the lines of what is considered Doom or a parallel genre is kind of blurred. For example, when looking at Death-Doom there is almost a sliding scale for if a band is Death Metal with Doom influences or if they are Doom with Death Metal influences.
As another example, a band like Type O Negative can be categorized as Gothic Doom with some of their songs but their influence from Hardcore comes into play so often that they don’t really fit into that mold easily.
There are also bands like Hamferð that can be classified as a Death-Doom band but then can fall into more of a Funeral Doom category with certain songs or sections of songs. It’s almost subjective where you mentally place a band but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. As long as the music speaks to you, that’s what counts.
Below, I’m going to break down some of the more common subgenres of Doom Metal that I am familiar with. Please, keep in mind that this list is in no way exhaustive of every possible subgenre. These are just the ones that are spoken the most frequently in conversations around Doom Metal and that I have an active familiarity with. Personally, I don’t know much about Progressive Doom so I would not be able to speak to it well. For that reason, I have left it off this list. There are also some subgenres that I might classify differently than others but I will do my best to make them make enough sense that you can come to your own conclusions if you decide to explore them.
First up is one of the most stylistically similar to traditional Doom Metal and its origins in Black Sabbath. That genre is Epic Doom Metal, which you may remember gets its name from Candlemass’ album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus.
I like to think of this genre as the typical Dungeons and Dragons scenario for Doom Metal. Think early Black Sabbath but if Ronnie James Dio was the original singer. It has a tendency to be dark and heavy but the lyrical content is more centered around fantasy and adventure. Sometimes it even centers around historic events or exaggerated retellings of events, usually from the Medieval era.
Another way to think of this subgenre is almost looking at it as the heavier cousin to Power Metal. The themes are there and the guitars tend to have more solos and flourishes over the super heavy sides of Doom but unlike Power Metal, the guitars tend to be slightly downtuned. There is also a big distinction in the lack of speed in the tempo. Epic Doom certainly isn’t a crawl like some of its Doomy cousins but there isn’t the same speed that tends to accompany Power Metal.
If you are looking for some modern examples of Epic Doom, I would point you to either Crypt Sermon or Khemmis. Both are fantastic bands that understand how to make the subject matter of their tunes palatable for the every-day listener or the folks looking to soundtrack their next DnD campaign to seek the Hand of Vecna from Arkhan the Cruel.
As Doom Metal progressed and grew into various subgenres and styles, there was a tendency for the music to get heavier and heavier. By the 90s, bands maintained the slow, heavily distorted music but brought in a bit more inspiration from hardcore punk bands like Black Flag and their evolution through the 1980s.
The key band in this subgenre is hands down the Melvins. Buzz Osborne, one of the founding members and key songwriter of the band, is often cited as the creator of Sludge Metal as Melvins evolved into a heavy sound.
Sludge Metal, as it continued to take hold in the scene and inspire other bands to put their own twist on the style, is even a conversation piece by many of the bands that catapulted Grunge into the mainstream in the early 90s. Members of Nirvana, including Kurt Cobain, have gone on record several times citing the Melvins as a big inspiration to their early years as the band developed its sound.
The lines are also easily blurred between Sludge Metal and similar subgenres of Doom Metal that are clearly inspired by Sludge. Bands within Stoner, Desert, and Swamp Metal often get lumped together into Sludge as the stylistic similarities are prevalent. You can pretty much think of these styles as one in the same but with some regional differences and slight differences in lyrical content (I’m looking at you Stoner Metal).
If you want to dive deeper into Sludge Metal, I highly recommend checking out the Melvins albums Bullhead, Lysol, and Houdini.
Stoner Metal / Desert Rock
Birthed out of Sludge Metal, Stoner Metal takes the main style of Sludge and just puts a slight spin on it, most notably in the overall themes of the lyrics.
As the name implies, Stoner Metal tends to lean into themes of marijuana and psychedelics. Taking a super low and distorted approach to the guitars while the rhythms maintain a slow tempo. There’s also a tendency to repeat riffs for extended periods of time.
Desert Rock also takes a similar approach to the themes of Stoner Metal, but not always the case. The key differentiator between Stoner and Desert are that Desert Rock leans more into the realm of mainstream Hard Rock and thus reaches a wider audience. Queens of the Stone Age being one of the leading examples of this style of music after kings of the Desert, Kyuss, split up in 1995.
While these two subgenres tend to be a bit hit or miss for me, it is undeniable what an impact these bands have had not only on Doom Metal, but heavy music in general. Sleep, are definitely the kinds of Stoner Metal and widely cited as a huge inspiration by bands across all of Doom. While I tend to enjoy more of their songs off of their album Sleep’s Holy Mountain, I would be doing the band a disservice if I didn’t point you to their magnum opus, Dopesmoker.
Louisiana Doom / Swamp Metal
Having spent my formative years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I was constantly surrounded by metal bands from the New Orleans area that were often referred to as Swamp Metal. Outside of this scene, these bands are often lumped together in Sludge Metal, understandably, but personally I put them into a completely different category. Call it my personal bias.
Much like Sludge Metal, bands from Louisiana often cite inspiration from bands like the Melvins and bands from the harcore punk scene. The difference is that bands like Exhorder also brought elements of Thrash and Groove to the mix which made Swamp Metal its own flavor of Doom while also being incredibly diverse, at the same time. It’s also clear, as you listen to these bands, the influence that Southern Rock had on the sound.
Bands from this scene include the likes of Acid Bath, Eyehategod, Crowbar, and Down. Sometimes, modern bands like Goatwhore are even thrown into the mix even though they tend to live more in the Blackened-Death side of the house (maybe we will go into that in a future article on Black Metal). I myself also include 90s-era Corrosion of Conformity into the mix as Pepper Keenan took a larger role in the band.
For my money, one of the greatest examples of Louisiana Doom is Crowbar. The combination of Kirk Windstein’s approach to guitar and vocals makes them the best representation of how NOLA bands molded Sludge Metal into their own thing.
If Epic Doom is like “Adventurers! We must travel to the far away cemetery to seek the hidden treasure.” Death-Doom is more like “the crypt is open and the dead walk among us!” There is still the potential for a thematic sense of adventure but it is going to be a terrifying one and we all might not make it out alive.
Death-Doom takes the “low and slow” musicality of Doom Metal but pairs it with the brutality of Death Metal. The guitars are super downtuned. The vocals tend to be more guttural and low. The subject matter tends to be centered around horror, especially stuff like zombies. In my time exploring this genre, there also seems to be a common fascination with the 1972 Spanish film Tombs of the Blind Dead. It’s not uncommon to see album art within this genre depicting scenes that include zombies similar to the Templar Knights found in the Blind Dead films. There is also a tendency to lean into imagery reminiscent of cosmic horror similar to the writings of HP Lovecraft.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not the case for every single band in the genre. Just a broad observation I have made, especially when looking at heavy hitters in the genre Hooded Menace and Temple of Void.
Hamferð is an interesting example of a Death-Doom band that tends to break the mold a bit. The slow and heavy instrumentation is present as well as guttural vocals but that is then broken up by moments of clean singing that is almost operatic. To my knowledge, the themes of the lyrics also shy away from typical Death-Doom. They tend to lean more into the emotional side of loss, as their name suggests (Hamferð refers to a state of being stuck in time/space, like a ghost). So there is a lot of emotion that comes out of their music and its delivery, especially since all of their songs are in Faroese so I have no idea what they are talking about without translating.
I think the best example of Death-Doom, to my ear, would have to be from Temple of Void. I think they best personify the style that is often heard from Death-Doom bands, both past and present.
Much like my analogy to previously describe the differences between Epic Doom and Death-Doom, Funeral Doom goes a step beyond the previously mentioned subgenres. I like to think of it as “what’s beyond the crypt?”
The genre itself tends to slow things down to a snail’s pace while embracing an incredibly dark subject matter. Like the name implies, death is a common theme with Funeral Doom bands. Many describe the music as a cross between Death-Doom and a funeral dirge.
Some band, though, go a bit outside of the typical themes of Funeral Doom and mold the style to something unique to them. Ahab and Warning are two bands that immediately come to mind. Ahab being themed around the content of Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick (eat your heart out Mastodon with your single album) and Warning embraces the inspiration of Black Sabbath in a more direct way while giving the feeling of exhaustion after a long battle.
Many early purveyors of the genre include the likes of My Dying Bride, Thergothon, Esoteric, Skepticism, Winter, and Funeral. Many of these bands came out in the early 90s with this style of slow, depressive music and either evolved into a different style all together or only put out a handful of material.
This is not surprising as this type of music would be incredibly difficult to make a career out of. Not only does it have a very niche audience to market to but the music itself is very demanding. It takes a certain level of communication to pull off live that is hard to obtain in any style of music, not to mention the fact that the music itself tends to be incredibly long. To pull that off in a way that is true to the vision of the music itself is incredibly difficult.
One band that has done this successfully is Bell Witch with their 2017 release Mirror Reaper. Despite the fact that this album is just one long song (1hr 23m), the band found themselves in the spotlight for this ambitious release. Admittedly, some of the widespread coverage of this album is what got me into the band and Doom Metal as a whole. I kind of started backwards and worked my way up.
With that in mind, I would highly recommend grabbing a glass of wine, lighting a candle, turning off the lights, and enjoying the masterpiece that is Mirror Reaper to get a better idea of what Funeral Doom has to offer.
If you’ve made it this far into the article and checked out all of the bands previously mentioned, you may have noticed that they just get slower and slower as we go. Well buckle up because the same can be said for Drone Metal.
If Funeral Doom tends to move at a snail’s pace then Drone Metal gives said snail a quaalude and sees the world through the snail’s eyes. Not only is this music incredibly slow and heavy, as the name would suggest, but it is also incredibly loud.
This music tends to favor atmosphere over lyrical content. Sometimes, even forgoing vocals all together. But this is not always the case. If you are going to see one of these bands live, bring some headphones because you will be met with a wall of sound and that wall wants nothing more than to make those precious ears of yours bleed.
Some common bands within the Drone Metal category include Bands like Earth, Boris, and Sunn O))). Earth being the band that established the genre in the early 90s but the most common name in the conversation is Sunn O))), who have described their music as being more of a “sound sculptures.”
I have to admit, Drone Metal isn’t really my thing but I absolutely respect what they do and hear nothing but amazing things from the fans of the genre. So with that, I share with you a song by Sunn O))) so that you can come to your own conclusions about the subgenre.
In the same way that the lines between Sludge, Stoner, Desert, and Swamp Metal very easily blur, the same can be said for Gothic, Funeral, and Death-Doom. I myself tend to think of Gothic Doom as a hybrid subgenre that mixes the best elements of each of the mentioned subgenres.
While speed can sometimes come into play with this area of Doom, the tendency is to still keep tempos a bit slower with heavy distortion. The vocals also cover a wide range of styles all the way from low gutturals to clean choir-like approaches. Essentially, the key is creating an atmosphere. Lyricially, there are common themes around religion and love along with death and the afterlife.
Common bands classified in this area of the Doom spectrum include My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, Draconian, and Theatre of Tragedy. Sometime Type O Negative comes up in that conversation, but as I previously mentioned, that’s a bit of a tough sell for me as a huge fan of the band but I understand why they would. Also, bands of this genre tended to evolve and incorporate other styles into their music which make them difficult to classify into any one genre. You may have noticed some of these names have come up in previous sections.
If you want to explore Gothic Doom, I would definitely recommend checking out some of Paradise Lost’s early work. Or, even a song like Death in the Family by Type O Negative (I know I said I didn’t put them into this category but this song is undeniably Gothic Doom).
Other Doom Metal Bands You Should Know
While Doom Metal is clearly a wide spectrum that would be impossible to cover extensively, I hope you got a bit more insight into the genre and all of its characteristics. That being said, here are a few other bands I would highly recommend checking out.
While an undeniable Doom band, and probably one of the best representations of Doom out of the Pacific Northwest of the USA, Yob is a unique band unto themselves and don’t really fit the mold of any one style of Doom. Their music tends to be more transcendent and nature-centric.
Faetooth are self-described as a “fairy doom” band, which I absolutely love and think is an incredibly appropriate way to describe their music. Like Yob, Faetooth pulls from multiple styles within Doom to make something uniquely their own. Not only that, but watching them take social platforms like TikTok by storm is really cool to see. Their album Remnants of the Vessel is an absolute masterpiece.
At this point in the article, after having mentioned them several times, there isn’t much more I can say about Hamferð. Just go listen to them. There was a point in time where my wife and I kept our CD for Támsins likam in the car and just let it repeat over and over. It’s so good!
Kind of a hybrid of Death-Doom and Funeral Doom, Doom: VS (appropriate name) is a band I like to explore a ton when the mood strikes. I’m still not proficient in their music but know enough to say I like them. Definitely worth checking out if you like the darker/heavier side of Doom.
High on Fire
Out of the ashes of Sleep arose High on Fire. While they tend to be a bit thrasher and very clearly inspired by Motorhead, High on Fire is definitely a key player in the Doom scene. Not to mention, they actually won a Grammy for their album Electric Messiah, which is a huge win for Doom.
As a resident of Austin, I’ve got to give the guys in The Sword a huge shoutout. They are an incredible example of modern Doom and will be greatly missed.
Keep it Doomy
Thank you for taking the time to check out this article. I hope you found it informative and that it helps you expand your musical horizons. If you have any questions or feedback, definitely hit me up on social media and let me know. Until then, stay doomy!