as it was formulated by the hon. Earl of Void
within Reverend Bizarre's Holy Parish of Doom
as the long winter of 2002 was closing to its end.


The background, or the moving force, behind the slowness and the heaviness of doom metal music has traditionally been the painful burden of the human race; realizing not only the imminence of our doom - that is, both the moral and the physical decay and, eventually, destruction of this earth - but also the role we ourselves have been (and still are) playing in this. It's a dark world, as the legendary Saint Vitus put it, and reflecting and dealing with this darkness was a task doom metal bands originally took upon themselves. The roots of today's doom metal music can be traced back in the dark heavy rock/proto-metal bands of the late 60s and early 70s. Both Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath, probably the most influential forefathers of the would-be doom metal genre, began their crusades by clearly distancing themselves from the light-hearted flower power contemporaries. For instance, Blue Cheer's nihilistically lifeless performances and, for the time being, extremely heavy sounds have been described as quite different to the messages of universal peace and love the hippie generation was famous for. But it was not until Black Sabbath released their self-titled debut album (1970) that the foundation for the doom metal genre was laid. The very first minutes of "Black Sabbath," the title track opening this groundbreaking album, lay bare the essence of doom, Tony Iommi's crushingly heavy guitar walls combined with Bill Ward's slowly proceeding beat and Ozzy Osbourne's desperate wails are the most imitated formula in the history of doom metal. But it did not rest in the sound alone, as another major contribution to Sabbath's doomed atmosphere was the appropriation of Christian symbolism, ranging from the general markers of death to the prophetical tales of deceit of the Old Testament. As a consequence, the Christian cross became the ultimate icon of doom metal. It should also be kept in mind that in the case of Black Sabbath and their followers, the Christian symbolism was often just an attempt to create a "Hammer horror" type image, a foreboding Gothic late Victorian feel, to complement the music. Still, while many doom metal bands have managed to remain at a relatively safe distance from truly committed religious practice - at times by even appropriating both Christian and Satanist themes in their lyrics and imagery - there have also been several well-known doom bands on a genuinely Christian mission. The use of Christian symbolism thus keeps confusing many metalheads not closely familiar with the genre. As years passed by, the Sabbathian sound and imagery was shamelessly utilized by the band's followers all around the Western world; the British Witchfinder General, the American Saint Vitus, and the Swedish Count Raven, to name just a few. Still, it took another Swedish doom metal band, namely Candlemass, to force this formula down the throats of the general heavy metal public.


Some people claim there was no doom metal prior to Candlemass' debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986), an album often considered to have coined the term in the first place. But this album did not really give a name to doom metal in general - only to epic doom metal, just as the title itself suggests. The more traditional vein of doom had thrived in the metal underground long before Candlemass finally made it widely public; bands like Pentagram (starting as early as 1971), Trouble, The Obsessed, Witchfinder General, and Saint Vitus (who actually refined the entire style in the early 80s) already had a strong following by the time Epicus Doomicus Metallicus took the metal crowd by storm. A style nowadays known as doom metal, then had flourished in the tradition kept alive by a number of bands, regardless of whether or not it was widely considered a distinct heavy metal subgenre. Also, according to my knowledge, Witchfinder General had been described as doom metal already in the beginning of the 1980s, in an early issue of the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! Very soon the label was given to bands like Pentagram, Trouble, and Saint Vitus as well, and thus a recognizable doom metal genre was born. Nevertheless, dismissing Black Sabbath - to which even Ozzy Osbourne himself later on referred to as 'doom music' - as a mere prototype of doom is a largely controversial issue. Their early masterpieces such as "Hand of Doom" (which many actually consider the origin of the term doom metal), "Iron Man", "Children of the Grave", and so on are prime examples of doom as we see it today, and only few later-to-come followers of this vein have contributed anything genuinely new and "original" to the genre. Surely, Black Sabbath and their dark contemporaries were never as narrowly oriented in their musical style as many of today's so-called doom metal musicians insist doom should be. But what these modern gloomsters seem to have somehow forgotten is the fact that life is never plain downhill. You cannot reduce the complexity of human emotions to mere depression, and, in time, such attempts usually end up disturbingly affected. Sincerity - let alone the lack of it - is something music is very good at conveying, and it is precisely this aspect of doom that many consider the ultimate marker of true doom metal. In other words, a different song or two does not make a band less doom. Come to think of it, even Candlemass were in this sense no doomier than their predecessors. Just like Black Sabbath had their more progressive moments and The Obsessed their punk rock roots, neither were Candlemass ever all the way "100% pure" doom metal; they did have their tender moments as well, not to mention the technical power metal spurts with double bass drum workouts. Thus, if Black Sabbath can be labeled as heavy metal today - and I'm certain no one would call them plain proto-metal any more - when was the exact moment their music turned from proto-doom to actual doom?


With the well-deserved success of Candlemass, the term doom metal was quickly taken into larger use in the mainstream heavy metal media. This led to several misunderstandings, as doom suddenly became the word for nearly anything that was deemed too slow for the listeners to handle. Hence, doom did not necessarily mean strength any more, standing straight under the weight of the world, but, on the contrary, it became a synonym for boring. Very soon, this negative approach to doom music was utilized by a new generation of metal musicians, who, apparently, had no other name for their extremely slow style. Of course, most of these bands did not themselves label their music as doom; it was, again, the media. Stated Winter, one of the first bands associated with the death/doom genre, in the liner notes to their debut album Into Darkness (1990): "Winter refuse to be labeled. On the surface it would be easy to mistake them for a death metal/thrash metal band, but in no way are they affiliated with that genre of music or the pretentious attitude that sometimes comes with it." What is clear, they obviously had no idea that someone might actually mistake Winter for a doom metal band. In the case of many bands in this new genre, the actual music seemed to consist of slowed-down death metal, but with just as many the entire atmosphere came from the gothic genres, as did their aesthetics and melancholy and mourning as well. With both, however, the "grunting" vocal styles were adopted directly from death metal. Of course, there were also bands that soon, if not from the very start, incorporated in their music clean female vocals and violins or other Western classical instruments as well. This, however, at the same time often took away a great deal of their overall heaviness, and eventually many of them - e.g. Paradise Lost, Anathema, Theatre of Tragedy, and Katatonia - even ended up switching to more or less conventional gothic rock/pop. Thus, apart from the slowness, these bands did not really seem to have anything in common with doom metal; doom has its defining traits buried deeper in the song structure, the overall atmosphere of the music, and in the entire doom culture surrounding the music. The style of composition is very traditional in doom metal, relying strongly on harmony, in many cases even the blues scale (not always, though), etc., whereas the new bands - e.g. Winter, Thergothon, Unholy, and early My Dying Bride - either were more experimental or just applied directly the disharmonic elements and structures of thrash and death metal. Furthermore, whereas the bleak atmosphere of doom metal had traditionally been strongly influenced by the hardships of a working class life, the new generation found their inspiration increasingly in high cultural philosophical investigations and the angst of the Romantic Genius. Even today, some people think that slow, dark, heavy, and depressing metal of any kind can be doom. This is not true, of course, since doom is always much more than mere music, as many doomsayers have pointed out. To illustrate this aspect further, let us consider Cathedral, a highly influential band in the early 90s, which some people locate in the traditional doom genre and others in the "doom/death" vein. The main reason for the controversy around Cathedral is probably caused by Lee Dorrian's vocal style. Prior to Cathedral, Dorrian fronted a widely acclaimed grindcore band named Napalm Death. In Cathedral, however, his output was never simple death metal growls; instead, Dorrian actually used quite a lot of melody in his singing. Although his style was by no means as clean as that of his fellow doomsayers, I definitely see him firmly engaged in the Sabbathian tradition of doom metal. Moreover, neither the riffage nor the drumming on Cathedral's early albums resemble the music of the bands mentioned earlier in this chapter. Hence, the only thing linking Cathedral to the new "doom/death" style seemed to be nothing more than the band's overwhelmingly slow tempo. Of course, some likeness can be heard in the vocal styles as well, especially if compared to doom metal bands using exclusively clean and even high-pitched vocals. In honour of the slow death/avant-garde metal scene, let it be mentioned that they really came up with something new. Not following the Black Sabbath vein, they still ventured to play very slow and sorrowful metal. With no better knowledge, the crowds, ignorant of the intention of the musicians themselves, mistook this new style for another slow vein of metal - i.e. doom. Sadly, this confusion has stuck until today.


In the early 90s, the doom scene witnessed another confusing development; the psychedelic rock revival had brought about a new hybrid style, which soon, again in the novelty-hungry media, was named stoner rock. Stoner rock had its roots in some of the same early heavy rock bands with doom metal, like Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath, but while doom's source of inspiration was the darker side of life, stoners chose to put all this aside by concentrating mainly on the escapist fantasies of the stoned hippie generation. With media coverage, the psychedelic trend grew stronger and stronger, which, it seems, eventually tempted even some very dark doom metal bands to make changes in their line. After years of unrewarding roiling in the underground, here was finally a chance to make something out of their work. But the change from visions of impending doom to visions of cosmic consciousness was a bit too much for the die-hard doomsayers who saw bands and labels suddenly switching camps as mere commercial sell-outs - after all, cosmic vibes and magic carpet rides are not the first thing that comes in mind when thinking of what the word 'doom' really stands for. In stoner rock, doom's iconography of death and destruction was replaced by things like mushrooms, space travel, and half-naked women. Likewise, whereas the starting point of doom had traditionally been tales of human suffering, stoner rock became more concerned with fast cars, good trips, and positive vibrations in general. The actual music relies mainly on groove, although the tempo can vary a lot. While the more popular mainstream stoner rock is often plain up-tempo retro rock with only few if any slower parts, the more underground stoner can get extremely slow as well. This slowness, however, seems to differ from doom metal's slowness in that is usually lacks the utter heaviness of doom. Also, instead of seeking the saddening impact extremely slow music may have on the listener, stoner slowness often stems from and/or is meant to enhance the impact of the musicians' altered sense of time caused by drug-taking. Another style commonly associated with both doom metal and drugs is sludge, also known as sludgecore, sludge doom, etc. sludge started off as a very raw mixture of doom metal and hardcore, and the style is characterized by shrieking vocals, piercing guitar feedbacks, and generally rough production. While stoner usually approaches drugs by celebrating them quite uncritically, sludge, in its overall negativity, has wallowed in the darker sides of drug addiction as well. Thus, considering sludge's negative outlook on life in general, the relation between sludge and doom would be, at least in my opinion, a lot closer than that of stoner and doom. The main difference between these two styles is that while doom as a genre can be situated in heavy metal, sludge is more often associated with hardcore punk.


Doom metal has always tended to be underrated due to its refusal to join the Western continual progress bandwagon. But in this world of constant changes and ever-so sudden developments, it is good to have something familiar and safe at hand. To many doom fans, this is exactly what doom metal has always been about. Witchfinder General, Count Raven, Iron Man... All of these bands were, in their time, criticized for being mere uninventive Black Sabbath copycats. Unfortunately, what their critics did not seem to realize was that it was precisely this recognition of tradition in which the strength of these bands lied. In other words, if making "progress", pushing forward, and relying on the novelty value alone is all that music is about, then why are there still people playing and listening to e.g. classical music and folk songs? Plain and simple: because they love it. And just because art music developed into highly experimental noisescapes, and rock'n'roll into elitist displays of technical virtuosity, this does not mean everyone should forget Bach and Tchaikovsky nor The Beatles and Budgie. Still, this seems to be the trend within many modern metal scenes, definitely not least within the so-called death/doom and gothic doom genres (nowadays also referred to as 'nu-doom'), in which 80s heavy metal music is often ridiculed for is assume out-of-date simplicity and, to put it straight, stupidity. Furthermore, I personally find it rather contradictory that while some people in the metal scene demand constant progress from bands and musicians and belittle those who keep doing the same kind of stuff year after year, still the same people are often the first to dismiss e.g. nu-metal and other more or less new forms of metal as completely unworthy excuses for music. Obviously, then it is not about progress in itself, but about progress only as people see fit.


Even though many today question the need for labeling and categorizing metal/music styles in general, the debate on what is and what is not doom shall go on, that I am certain of. And, come to think of it, how could we not label, how could we not categorize? The argument most often heard against categorizing music is the fact that you will know whether you like something or not only after you have listened to it yourself; no labels are needed - "music is just music." Unfortunately, this is also the weakest possible argument, as no one, in reality, can get to listen to everything. It is not just a matter of time, but of resources and possibilities in particular; everyone does not have an Internet access through which to listen to sound samples of promising bands, and there is no record shop that would carry every single item for the customer to check out before purchase. This problem is strikingly evident when it comes to doom metal, an underground style on which is may be very difficult to gather information even if you had all the privileges of an urban middle-class metalhead. On the surface, there seems to be a consensus in the underground scene concerning the division between classic doom, death/doom, and stoner. It is said that "we all know what doom means", and that further arguing is unnecessary. Still, many stoner fans find the music of the so-called funeral doom bands unbearably boring, just like many "death/doom" bands tend to find stoners annoyingly light-hearted. Furthermore, some stoner rockers consider even the classic Sabbathian doom too slow and heavy for them, while, likewise, the most extreme "funeral doomsters" may dismiss the very same style as stoner rock. Thus, it is not all "just music", as tastes do vary; people who want to take it easy, smoke some weed and relax in the sunshine do not necessarily wish to be bothered by the negative aspects of doom, and those in mourning do not necessarily appreciate the artificial bliss portrayed in care-free stoner rock. And then, of course, there are also those who want their slice of doom "the way it was meant to be" - a down-to-earth as heavy metal. This is why we, and dare I say we all, keep categorizing music; to make sure we talk about the same thing and get what we expect. This is practical, nothing more to it. When the media mistakes for instance stoner rock for doom metal, this does harm to both genres. First, people who do not like what they heard (e.g. in the radio) associate their dislike with the wrong term, thus perhaps missing and entire music culture they might have otherwise found strength in. second, people who do like what they heard may end up wasting a lot of money on disappointing records after reading misleading reviews by journalists who associate the term with wrong bands. In many areas, the situation has already gotten so bad that, eventually, you can rely only in the bands themselves by browsing through their interviews and websites, trying to make out what they are really about. Still, even then it may be very difficult to discern the way in which adjectives like 'dark', 'slow', and 'doomed are used. And if you have no contact to the metal underground, let alone knowledge of its existence on the whole... Well, all you can do is wait for a Forest of Equilibrium to find its way to your local record shop or distro and show you the way. Without the thank list of this classic 1991 debut by Cathedral, Rev. Bizarre's Holy Parrish of Doom might very well not exist.

In reality, you know where power is - in the music. Melody can move mountains. - Scott "Wino" Weinrich