When you break it down into its bare parts, Doom Metal is a lot like Stoner Rock and Stoner Metal.
It’s down-tuned. It’s slower than the typical song on the radio. And it’s heavier than your average Rock song.
But Doom Metal takes all of those aspects a step further—and then it throws in a potent cocktail of gloom, hopeless lyrics, and an overall sense of dread.
The result is a slow but exciting Metal subgenre.
Today, we’re taking a quick walk through the history of Doom Metal to get a better lay of the land.
A Brief History of Doom Metal From 1970 Through the 2000s
Here’s a quick breakdown of Doom Metal from 1970 through the 2000s:
The 1970s: Creating the Doom Metal Prototype
The 1970s were all about creating the framework for Doom. As bands discovered and developed new ways to produce sound, Heavy Metal was born.
Many point directly at Black Sabbath’s 1970 self-titled debut as the start of the Doom Metal landscape.
And with one look at (or listen to) the album, it’s easy to see why. The album kicks off with the sound of rainfall, thunderclaps, and depressing church bells—and then that wicked tritone.
After “Black Sabbath,” the rest of the album is still heavy, but many of those Doom Metal qualities are replaced by more traditional Hard Rock and Metal (“The Wizard,” for example, opens like it could have been written by the band’s famous Birmingham contemporaries, Led Zeppelin.)
Still, many of the elements are still there: the heavy distortion, the gloomy lyrics, and those slow-to-mid tempos.
Around the same time, Pentagram formed outside of Washington, DC, in Alexandria, VA. Like Black Sabbath, Pentagram tapped into a heavy, gloomy style of songwriting, often using brutal bass lines and depressing lyrics to drive the songs home.
Still, there’s a certain catchiness in those early Pentagram songs (similar to early Black Sabbath as well)!
Although their first full-length album wouldn’t see the light of day until 1985, “Be Forewarned” (one of their most popular tracks) appeared on their debut 7” in 1972. Pentagram didn’t capture the terrified imaginations of the conservative public the way Black Sabbath did, but they laid the groundwork for the American Doom that would follow a few years later.
Blue Cheer & Budgie
Of course, it’s also worth mentioning other contemporaries like Blue Cheer (out of San Francisco) and Budgie (out of Wales).
Blue Cheer is often cited as one of the earliest pioneers of Heavy Metal—and they also had the rare distinction of being labeled the “loudest band ever” at their peak. Although Blue Cheer’s songs were too bright and upbeat to ever be labeled Doom, their slow tempos, Blues framework, and big, thick distortion would prove influential to decades of Metal musicians.
Budgie, meanwhile, directly influenced bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and a variety of other genre-leading bands over the years—a factor due to the band’s groundbreaking heaviness and thick fuzz.
The Roaring ‘80s
There was an explosion of Doom activity in the ‘80s—thanks in part to the larger Metal movement that saw bands like Slayer, Megadeth, and Metallica become household names (which proved especially important while Black Sabbath and other Metal forefathers explored new sonic territory).
In the early ‘80s, Witchfinder General emerged to combine the furious pacing of Punk with the heavy low ends of Doom, something you can hear within “Free Country”:
By the mid-‘80s, a variety of true Doom bands swept across the US and Europe.
Led by genre hero Eric Wagner, Trouble became a Doom Metal standout thanks to the success of Psalm 9 in 1984. And although the band was undoubtedly heavy, they were briefly labeled “White Metal,” thanks to their persistent Christian themes in that debut album.
Saint Vitus became a highly influential band for the Doom and Sludge lovers—especially after the arrival of Scott “Wino” Weinrich (who was also instrumental in the success of The Obsessed).
Check out that slow and low rumble of “Born Too Late”:
Wino’s influence permeates the underground, and that has helped his projects become legendary.
Speaking of The Obsessed (which briefly included Scott Reeder of Kyuss and Fireball Ministry), the band had a variety of demos enter the world in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that they started leaving a mark with albums like The Obsessed and Lunar Woom.
And then there was Candlemass, an Epic Doom Metal band that formed in Sweden in 1984. Candlemass still had those doomy undertones, but they produced beefed-up, symphonic performances that helped them take the Metal world by storm through their debut album, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus.
Although their roots were undeniably Doom, they injected their songs with acrobatic energy—especially on the vocals.
The ‘90s: The Emergence of Even More Heavy Players
In the 1990s, we watched more bands develop the Doom sound while simultaneously branching into and out of the new Stoner Rock/Metal sound.
When Sleep released Holy Mountain in 1992 (1993 for the United States), it was met with great reviews from both critics and the public alike. And although the cannabis-inspired artwork and lyrical references to weed transformed Holy Mountain into a Stoner Rock staple, the album’s thick, aggressive riffs and plodding guitars helped popularize the Doom genre just a little further.
Just listen to that intro for “Dragonaut”—which sounds like something Black Sabbath would have written in the ‘70s:
Of course, Sleep also famously went on to create Dopesmoker, an hour-long song about a group of people in search of marijuana. Although the quirky, ambitious album destroyed the band’s career, it (like Holy Mountain) became a Stoner Rock touchstone while expanding on what Doom could be.
Around the time Holy Mountain hit the shelves, a band called Electric Wizard formed in Dorset, England. Pulling their name from two different Black Sabbath songs, the band aimed to create music that was heavy and terrifying.
And to their credit, the band also lived the Heavy Metal aesthetic early, getting in trouble with the law and even stealing a crucifix to use one stage.
Electric Wizard’s two biggest albums, of course, were 1997’s Come My Fanatics… and 2000’s Dopethrone, both of which were met with fantastic critical acclaim.
The great innovation in Electric Wizard was the band’s tarnished production value. Instead of reaching for great studio quality like some of the more progressive and theatrical Doom bands (which we’ll discuss in more detail momentarily), Electric Wizard sounded like you’d just found them hungover in a gutter—and it worked.
You can contrast that with bands like Paradise Lost. Although the band formed in the late ‘80s, they didn’t start putting out music until the ‘90s.
Paradise Lost was a pioneer of the Death-Doom genre, backing up their gloomy riffs with double-kick drums and polished production. Over time, Paradise Lost grew more complex, adopting elements of Progressive Metal and developing a slick Goth Metal delivery that nearly outgrew their Doom roots.
My Dying Bride
Still, they became a highly influential band—much like their peers in My Dying Bride. Like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride helped pioneer Goth Metal and Death-Doom in the early ‘90s
My Dying Bride has specialized in intricate, layered songwriting, but you can still hear those Doomy undertones.
Doom in the 2000s
In the 2000s, bands continued to push the envelope on what Doom could be. More importantly, though, bands like Church of Misery showed that Doom was no longer only a US/European export.
Church of Misery
As one of the first Japanese Doom bands to make a splash, Church of Misery actually started in the 1990s. Their debut album, Master of Brutality, was a direct nod to Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, and it perfectly encapsulated the band’s obsession with true crime, horror, and debauchery.
Church of Misery has since become an immediately recognizable name in Doom and Japanese Metal.
YOB quickly threw themselves into the heavier end of Doom, stretching their songs into double-digit minutes and injecting them with Post-Metal sophistication. On Catharsis, the band’s second record, you’ll find three songs—but a runtime of nearly 50 minutes.
While singer and guitarist Mike Scheidt lists bands like The Obsessed, Candlemass, Pentagram, and Trouble as major influences, many of today’s heaviest and most brilliant Doom bands list YOB as a major influence.
Although you could make a compelling argument that Bongzilla is Stoner Metal (or Sludge) and not Doom, their brand of Stoner Metal was often so slow and distorted that they tipped directly into the Doom scene.
If anything, we would argue that the band’s fervent obsession with marijuana and bright colors/imagery are the only qualities that keep them from being classified as Doom! Sure, they sometimes play a little too quickly for a Doom band, but those growled, pained vocals drag them back into the subgenre.
You’ll even find their work listed in All Music’s top Doom Metal albums of the 2000s.
Doom is alive and well today. It might not receive mainstream radio airplay or compete with Taylor Swift on the charts, but you don’t have to look hard to find great new Doom music. The Doom Charts, for example, celebrates the best and heaviest underground bands every month.
And the deeper you look, the more you’ll find. Bands like Monolord and Windhand have become fixtures in Doom circles, especially for their beautiful vocals and ethereal but heavy instrumentation. Meanwhile, bands like Red Fang and High On Fire write massively complex and heavy songs rooted in Stoner Metal and Doom.
The list goes on and on!