Metal has many, many sub-genres and one of the best is doom metal. In this guide, we’ll explain what doom metal is, how it came to be, and why you should listen to it…
What is Doom Metal?
Doom metal has been around, in one form or another, since the 1970s. Back then, it was lumped in with hard-rock and metal.
Doom didn’t really hit its stride properly until the 1980s, however, with the rise of bands like Saint Vitus, Trouble, and Candlemass.
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The History of Doom Metal
But out of ALL the doom bands that existed back then, there is one band that was truly responsible for the genre as we now know it.
Tony Iommi essentially created “the doom sound” with his focus on slow, groovy, blues-laced riffs. Iommi’s approach to guitar, his tone, the way he wrote riffs, and how he used minor pentatonic scales has influenced every one from Metallica to EYEHATEGOD.
And the really crazy thing? It all kind of happened by accident.
Prior to Black Sabbath’s big break, Iommi worked in a factory and, on his last day in work before jetting off to be a rockstar, he was involved in an accident – he chopped off the tips of his fingers.
And it was on his fretting hand too.
“I’d be on a line and they’d pass stuff down to me and I’d weld it, and then it’d go on to somewhere else,” said Iommi, in an interview with The Musician’s Institute.
“One day, the person that would be sending me the thing to weld never turned up, so they put me on this giant, huge press — a guillotine-type press. I don’t know what happened, I must have pushed my hand in. Bang! It came down. It just took the ends off [my fingers]. I actually pulled them off. As I pulled my hang back, it sort of pulled them off. It was left with two stalks, the bone was sticking out the top of the finger.”
For a guitarist, especially one on the cusp of becoming a professional musician, this was a devastating turn of events.
Never one to take a kick in the teeth laying down, Iommi set about making prosthetic fingertips by melting down a soap bottle. He then inserted the ends into a black glove and set about re-learning the guitar.
Black Sabbath were signed and about to go on tour around this time too, and the accident caused Iommi to spiral into a depression. And who could blame him? Imagine being on the cusp of breaking into music and then losing your ability to play?
However, a friend helped guide Iommi out of his fugue. During a visit, Iommi’s friend brought him round a selection of records. And one of those records was Django Reinhardt.
Reinhardt had also lost fingers in an accident, but he was a killer player.
Inspired by Django Reinhardt, a guitarist that lost two fingers in an accident, Iommi set about modifying his playing. And the result was Black Sabbath’s trade-mark sound: slow, big riffs with LOTS of volume.
Here’s how Iommi described the genesis of Black Sabbath’s trademark sound, a sound born from a guitarist working around his injury.
“Suddenly I’m there, faced with not being able to play a full chord. And that’s what made me come up with the Black Sabbath thing … trying to make the thing sound bigger to fill in for the full chord.”
Black Sabbath soon became one of the biggest rock bands on the planet and, more than any other band of this era, could be described as the prototype for all doom bands that followed.
But it wasn’t just doom metal that Sabbath inspired. Without Sabbath, half of the metal bands we know and love from the past 20 years probably wouldn’t exist.
Bands like Metallica, Mastodon, Neurosis, Melvins. Hell, even Nirvana.
And Matt Pike, our lord and saviour, wouldn’t have written DOPESMOKER.
After Black Sabbath hit the road, other bands came out of the woodwork and really began dialling in the doom sound – bands like Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Trouble, and Candlemass.
By the 1980s, doom metal was an actual thing – something people talked about outside of traditional forms of metal like thrash and hard rock. It became a genre. And thus began the growth of doom metal as a niche.
The core components of what makes doom metal “doom metal” is fairly straight forward: slow, down-tuned guitars, dread and/or despair-themed lyrics, occult symbolism, and slow, measured drumming and bass.
Basically, doom is meant to connote a sense of doom or dread; minor keys are the order of the day; the vocals can be screamed or sung, but the subject matter is seldom rosy; and, finally, the songs are often longer and more drawn out than standard metal tracks.
When you think of doom metal nowadays, however, you have to think of it as Master Category. Inside this master category, there are many sub-genres of doom metal but the main (meaning most popular) are as follows:
- Sludge Metal
- Stoner Metal
- Funeral Metal
- Drone Doom
- Death Doom
Sub-Genres of Doom Metal Explained
- Sludge Metal – Sludge Metal is slow and heavy. The emphasis here is on slow, huge-sounding riffs. Bands like Melvins, BONGZILLA, and EYEHATEGOD fit this category nicely with their slow, blues-style guitar riffs and pummelling percussion sections.
- Stoner Metal – Perhaps the most popular sub-genre born from Doom metal, stoner rock (or metal) is a similar to sludge metal, though it is often more upbeat and faster. Bands of this genre include Kyuss, Fu Mancho, Brant Bjork, and early Queens of The Stone Age.
- Funeral Metal – Or, funeral dirge music, is slow and features heavily distorted guitars, synthesisers, and keyboards. Like doom metal, the idea here is slowness. The guitars are tuned down low, the vocals can be melodic or screamed. Funeral doom has plenty of ambient elements too.
- Drone Doom – Doom drone is largely about noise; long, sustained passages of noise, usually guitars, though occasionally other elements like synths, that, when combined together, create a kind of wall of heavy ambient music. Sunn O))), Earth, and Boris are some of the key bands in this genre. Light on actual riffs and heavy on mood, drone doom is perhaps the least accessible sub-genre of doom metal.
- Death Doom – Death Doom brings in elements of death metal (double bass kick drums) and growling vocals into the doom genre. Death doom music is still very slow, the guitars are still tuned low, and music is very heavy. Death doom bands include: Winter, My Dying Bridge, Early Opeth, Paradise Lost, and Autopsy.
The Best Doom Metal Bands (Modern)
As you can see from the above sub-genres, doom metal is a bit of a rabbit hole. If you’re a metal fan and you haven’t properly dipped your toe in the world of doom metal, you have quite a lot of ground to cover.
As a fan of slower forms of metal and stoner rock in general – brands like Neurosis, ISIS, and Pelican – I was already kind of listening to doom back in the day, I just didn’t know.
This is the thing with metal; there’s a ton of cross-over. One band might not think it is a doom band, but listeners often describe them as a doom band. Melvins aren’t technically a doom band. But they have plenty of doom-inspired elements.
Especially on their older records. Ditto bands like Earth and, to an extent, EYEHATEGOD and lesser well known bands like Bell Witch.
If you’re looking to get into doom metal, I’d recommend starting with bands like Melvins, Kyuss, Earth, Opeth’s first few albums (the good ones), and bands like Neurosis.
Drone metal (or drone doom), bands like Sunn O))) and Boris are a little harder to acquire a taste for. Earth is often lumped in with Sunn O))) and Boris but the band is way more accessible; Dylan Carlson creates beautiful sound-scapes with nothing but his guitar and very basic drumming.
HEX by Earth is one of the finest doom metal albums of all time. If you want to get into semi-drone metal, HEX is a great place to start. And Dylan Carlson is by far and away one of the most inventive and unique guitarists working right now.
I’d also STRONGLY recommend anyone that hasn’t already check out YOB and Bell Witch.
YOB could be described as a doom band, especially its earlier stuff, but like all good metal bands it is very hard to pin them down in terms of genre.
Yes, they’re metal. But they’re also sludge metal, have elements of doom, and even aspects of drone. They span numerous genres, basically, so don’t think about doom metal as a specific thing.
It’s more of a theme than a genre.
Mike Scheidt, YOB’s singer and guitarist, fuses elements of country, blues, and traditional metal into his playing. The result is stunning and well worth a listen if you’ve never heard them.
The Best Classic Doom Bands (Older Bands)
- Black Sabbath
- Witchfinder General
- Saint Vitus