We tend to hug Stoner Rock pretty closely at Monster Riff, but we’ve been meaning to get to the top Doom bands for some time now.
For those who haven’t read our primer on Stoner, Fuzz, Desert, Doom, and Sludge, you might find a quick read helpful. Here’s the short version: Doom is a Metal subgenre that is a bit like Stoner Rock’s sonic cousin.
Although some bands have incorporated elements of Gothic Metal and Progressive Metal into the Doom landscape, it’s best exemplified by heavy, dark tones, massive riffs, and a general lack of melody outside of the lead guitar and occasional lighter vocals. Like in many other Metal subgenres, you’ll also likely find references to Satan, the occult, and mythology.
10 of the Most Important Doom Metal Bands You Should Know
To help cover Doom Metal’s history, we’ve compiled 10 of the most important Doom Metal bands in history.
1. Black Sabbath
Active: 1968-2006, 2011-2017
Essential Doom Album: Black Sabbath
Often heralded for creating Heavy Metal, it’s hard to find any Metal fans who don’t dig Sabbath. There’s a good reason: With such an expansive library, Black Sabbath is so many different things to so many different people. Black Sabbath is the beginning of Stoner Rock to Stoner Rock fans (“Sweet Leaf,” “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”), the beginning of Doom Metal to Doom Metal fans (“Black Sabbath,” “Electric Funeral”), and simply cool heavy music for so many other people.
Sure, the band started exploring new, lighter directions after Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), and they took another turn when Ozzy left and they created Heaven and Hell (1980) with Ronnie James Dio, but 2013’s 13 saw the band return to its crushingly heavy roots.
And, really, if you want Metal of any sort, it’s hard to beat Sabbath and Tony Iommi.
Active: 1971-2005, 2008-Present
Essential Doom Album: Relentless
The story of Pentagram is as interesting as their best lyrics. Exhibit A: It took the band 15 years of playing together to produce their album (though we should note that the band did record a few demos in that time period).
The band helped usher in Doom Metal, but they always remained on the fringes of the bigger Metal circle. Still, their influence is undeniable today, and songs like “Forever My Queen” demonstrate how to attack while retaining a song’s groove.
3. The Obsessed
Active: 1976-1986, 1990-1995, 2016-Present
Essential Doom Album: Lunar Womb
We can’t talk about Doom without mentioning Scott “Wino” Weinrich, the musician who also founded Spirit Caravan and played in Saint Vitus. Formed in 1980, The Obsessed helped to spread the Stoner and Doom movements in the early ‘90s.
Interestingly, The Obsessed became more popular after Wino left for Saint Vitus. The reason: Hellhound Records ended up releasing The Obsessed in 1985, which was enough to get Wino to reform the band. In The Obsessed, the band members are obvious Black Sabbath disciples, playing heavy tunes with a dash of the speed that was common in the ‘80s Metal scene.
Active: 1984-1994, 1997-2002, 2004-Present
Essential Doom Album: Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Candlemass gave us the epic side of Doom, a gift noted for eternity in the band’s first album, 1986’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. The Swedish band offered all of the album theatrics of Metal groups like Iron Maiden, but they delivered it all in crushing blows.
“Solitude,” for example, begins with a few plucked strings on the acoustic guitar, but it soon delivers terrifying blasts from a screeching electric guitar.
5. Paradise Lost
Essential Doom Album: Gothic
It’s unfair to define Paradise Lost strictly as a Doom band. Even a cursory listen to Obsidian, their 2020 release, shows a complex blend of Doom, Gothic Metal, and Prog theatrics. In fact, in Obsidian, Paradise Lost irons out many of the rough edges that bands like Electric Wizard emphasize.
Paradise Lost has been remarkably influential throughout their career, often credited with pioneering the Death-Doom genre. Listening to 1990’s Lost Paradise, you can hear the same brimstone brewing from Black Sabbath’s first release, but it’s infused with intricate drum patterns, sophisticated guitar techniques, and vocal distortion.
Essential Doom Album: Forest of Equilibrium
Cathedral’s debt to Black Sabbath is no accident. In fact, singer Lee Dorrian formed Cathedral in 1989 with the intent of honoring Black Sabbath.
Although personnel issues kept Cathedral from mainstream success, they quickly established their legacy with 1991’s Forest of Equilibrium. Although the album was only seven tracks, it spanned 54 minutes and blasted away with powerful, churning riffs and Dorrian’s satanic voice.
7. My Dying Bride
Essential Doom Album: Turn Loose the Swans
Relying heavily on violins, keyboards, and Romantic (in the literary sense) lyrics, My Dying Bride helped usher in both Gothic Metal and Doom Metal. Featuring much of the same sophistication as Paradise Lost and Candlemass, the band has received praise for their intricate, layered songwriting.
My Dying Bride has released an impressive 14 studio albums—a testament to their longevity of 30+ years.
Active: 1990-1998, 2009-2019
Essential Doom Album: Sleep’s Holy Mountain
Often praised as Stoner Rock heroes, Sleep’s sound was also heavily influential in Doom circles. Holy Mountain was the perfect blend of Stoner Rock and Doom Metal, blending slow, crushing basslines with intricate guitar work.
If it wasn’t for the Dopesmoker debacle that contributed to the band’s breakup, they might have enjoyed a long career as Stoner/Doom royalty in the Metal underground.
Sleep’s departure proved to be almost as influential as the band’s body of work. High on Fire and OM owe much of their creation simply to Sleep’s destruction.
9. Electric Wizard
Essential Doom Album: Dopethrone
We’ve mentioned before how “Funeralopolis” would be a great Stoner tune if it was sped up a little. As it currently sits, it’s an excellent Doom track—much like the rest of Dopethrone and Electric Wizard’s entire catalog.
Led by Jus Oborn, the musicians of Electric Wizard specialize in crafting the heaviest music around, a trait that helped them gain attention back in 1997 with Come My Fanatics… and again in 2000 with Dopethrone.
10. Sunn 0)))
Essential Doom Album: Void 00
Taking their name from the defunct amplifier company, Sunn 0))) blends Drone with Doom, stripping the music down to haunting ambient noise. Terrifying and foreboding, Sunn 0)))’s music would fit well in any horror movie—a trait that’s emphasized by the band’s dark, hooded robes and smoke machines.
Some may argue that Sunn 0))) is more Drone than Doom, and that would be fair. But it’s still important to know Sunn 0)))’s name; these Seattle Metal artists have influenced significant contemporary acts like Pelican.