AUTHOR’S NOTE: Read Part 1 here in case you missed it.
Last time in Part 1, we introduced the proverbial Big Four of doom metal: Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Trouble, and Candlemass. We also discussed a few of their influences and peers, both from a musical and visual perspective–gory horror films, “Electric Funeral,” a preference for a classic sound that was falling by the wayside of metal’s lusty journey towards ever brighter horizons of glory and speed.
Though “big” is a word that certainly applies to The Big Four of Doom’s elite stature within the genre, it did not apply to their sales figures. Even Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, the Candlemass debut record that is often considered doom metal’s finest hour, was a commercial flop upon its 1986 release. Though it’s a phrase that originally applied to the Velvet Underground, I think it’s fair to say that “not many people heard those early albums, but everyone who did went out and started a band.”
One of those copies of Epicus reached Messiah Marcolin, who sang for a band called Mercy with a booming, intense, opera-like voice. He called bassist Leif Edling in the middle of the night, sang him “Solitude” over the phone, and offered to sing for Candlemass…while dressed as a medieval monk. “Don’t these songs SOUND like they are being sung by a monk?” he would ask. I imagine Leif said “ok” just to get him off the phone and rolled over to go back to sleep. And then waking up to find it had actually happened.
Marcolin and the new Candlemass lineup solidified their reputation as doom metal titans with three records together, one every year until 1989. He left soon after the 90s dawned and wouldn’t return until 2005 to record with them again. Those first four albums from ’86-’89 are generally considered Candlemass’ best work, though Chapter VI (1992) is pretty good too. They had gotten big enough that they could sustain tours outside their native Sweden and continental Europe, and the band’s creeping influence seeped into the heart of Texas, where another future Candlemass singer took their music to heart: Robert Lowe.
Not the same guy from the commercials, although that’s fun to think about…
“Hi. I’m mainstream Rob Lowe, and I have DirectTV.”
“And I’m doom metal Rob Lowe, and I have a crystal ball.”
Doom metal Rob Lowe was part of a band called Solitude Aeturnus. Inspired not only by those early doom records, but also power and thrash metal, Lowe and guitarist John Perez turned the band into one of the best American doom bands of the 90s…for those who knew about them, that is. We’ll get into power metal in another series, but suffice to say joining those styles effectively is a hard thing to accomplish. Solitude Aeturnus persevered though, and eventually got to tour with their idols in Candlemass. By the late 2000s, Rob Lowe had joined them as full-time singer after Messiah had left once again. No doubt it was a dream come true for him.
But not every heavy doom act was destined to toil in obscurity. A few of them even had legitimate radio hits back in the day, like the band fronted by Misfits frontman Danzig….Glenn Danzig.
The band that bore his name scored a hit with 1988’s “Mother,” although they have heavier songs too. Danzig didn’t have the pipes of Messiah or Lowe, but he didn’t need them: his Morrison-like charisma carried the band. He is an obligatory horror film fanatic and a fully certified Jeet Kune Do and Muay Thai practitioner. He originally wanted to be a comic book illustrator and collector, but only “of crazy, violent, erotic comics,” he laughs. Today, Danzig is successful enough to be able to pursue his music, martial arts, video directing, and comics in equal measure. God bless him.
“James and Cliff [of Metallica] helped spread the word about me, and I am very grateful to them,” he says.
On the otherside of the Atlantic from Danzig’s home state of New Jersey, Cathedral led the next wave of British doom bands in the 1990s. About their sound it can only be said that Cathedral wanted to make music as grandiose, somber and ruined as its name. Vocalist Lee Dorrian, who would eventually run a doom-focused label Rise Above Records, used a deep, deathlike growl for Cathedral’s music early on. Long, slow, mud-slogging songs were on full display in 1991’s Forest of Equilibrium.
Lee and his bandmates have been interviewed many times about this influential record, and they surprisingly downplay it.
“We just did this as a tribute to Trouble, Saint Vitus, Witchfinder General, all these bands we loved,” Lee says. “We didn’t think we were that great; in fact we thought we kinda sounded like shit!” But obviously the fans truly beg to differ.
Cathedral wouldn’t remain in this super-slow state, however. After the Forest, they became a much more accessible and even fun band with strong 70s-style hard rock riffs and licks. You pick what you like more…behold the obligatory horror shoutout to the one and only Vinny Price.
Cathedral wasn’t the only band from the period that went through this evolution, however. Remember that in the late 80s and early 90s, death metal was proliferating, and one of the results was death-doom, this slow, brutal guttural music practiced by early Cathedral. Another trio of British bands were at the forefront of death-doom as well, the so-called “Peaceville trio” because they were all signed to the same label: Paradise Lost, Anathema, and My Dying Bride. The latter’s Aaron Stainthorpe had his life changed by–you guessed it!–Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, and hasn’t looked back since.
Again, not exactly the most popular music in the world, but they all showed similar influences and helped tap into a fanbase in the early 90s that wanted ever more intense doom. If there were those who loved the music enough to form bands for it, there must be an audience there to hear them.
This was unusual for the time, because the zeitgeist and general national mood of 1990s UK was one of optimism and “Cool Britannia” British pride of sorts. Noel Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft were considered the most important rock songwriters of the period, and the nation had Britpop fever. The doom metal of this period was just as big a case of bucking the trend as Black Sabbath did by bucking the flower power people back in the day. Thank God for that alternative to the alternative rock explosion in the mainstream.
But it’s funny how quickly music can change, isn’t it? By the mid 90s, these bands were all playing “lighter” fare, as if they had all gotten together on holiday in Brighton and decided to drop the death metal parts. Maybe they really intended to do that all along? Or maybe they saw Cathedral could pull it off and still have a good time doing it?
Anyway, the new sound of these bands was a touch more melodic and incorporated more straight-up rock elements, and depending on the band or album, there could be varying amounts of violin, electronica, synthesizer, piano and female vocals to add a grandiose, sad coat of paint to it all. It began to be called “gothic doom metal”–a subgenre of a subgenre!
As expected, reaction was mixed–some fans loved the new stuff, others hated it. Paradise Lost became a more traditional dark rock band with Hetfield-like vocals and covered The Smiths eventually (come on now, headbangers…everyone has their guilty pleasure).
Aaron Stainthorpe and My Dying Bride embraced melancholy, Romantic poetry, somber orchestra and choirs. Stainthorpe became even more of an expert on dark English poetry and the Bible than he already was. And the band is prolific–it seems that every other year there is a new audible offering from them, and they even cracked the North America metal circuit with an appearance at Maryland Death Fest.
Anathema went through the most dramatic transformation of all into full-fledged, atmospheric pop-rock, no heaviness in sight. Still plenty sad, though.
And they’re all still touring today, with varying returns to form every once in a while. So their shows will be more crowded for a bit, I suppose.
Katatonia was right there in the thick of it as well. Close friends with progressive metal titans and fellow Swedes Opeth, they arguably peaked at their death-doom period with Brave Murder Day, before finding even more success with gothic-sounding material. If there was to be a fourth band added to the core of this movement, Katatonia would be it. They are united by the same themes and outlook as their brethren in the British Isles. Something about all this music unites peoples across the seas in a display of indulgent, triumphant melancholy…though guitarist Anders says they are a “happy sad band.”
Either way, here is one of their best songs…
For the final band up for discussion here (this is not exhaustive), let’s just say you don’t have to be a British or Swedish band to be Gothic. You could be from Red Hook, Brooklyn and name The Beatles as your favorite band (after Sabbath, of course). And you could write catchy songs with a dark, twisted sense of humor. You could cover any song you felt like and not care what people thought, even your fans. You could pose for Playgirl magazine as a centerfold and get away with it smiling. You could be one of the most unique, interesting and beloved frontmen in the scene and leave a heartbroken fanbase when you pass away in 2010 at the age of 48.
Standing 6-foot-6 and representing Brooklyn, USA…Peter Steele, and his band, Type O Negative.
Coming up in Part 3, there’s even more sub-genrefying to be had. We’ll talk about some even more different takes on doom, often dependent on your geographic location. Where, you may ask? Stay with me…
Written by Matt P