Crossfader’s Doom/Drone Metal Primer
A lot of what deters potential music fans from the genre of metal is the vicious speed and harsh sounds that such music is supposedly known for. Sadly, a very unclear picture to newcomers has been presented because, as it stands, a good chunk of what metal has to offer consists of incredibly slow and sometimes even relaxingly groovy instrumentation taking distortion to a nearly incomprehensible, massage chair-like level. This has become known as doom metal and later incorporated into the drone scene. Popularized by the techniques of Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi most notably in the 1971 release MASTER OF REALITY, the use of downtuned riffs hearkened back to metal’s blues-inspired roots and flourished from the 70s through the 90s, establishing a lasting following to this day. Fans quickly emerged attracted by the molasses-paced song progression that still seemed to rock as hard as any other area of metal inviting steady head bobbing. A plethora of other variations on this style were brought to the forefront including sludge metal, stoner metal, death doom, funeral doom, and many more. This primer, though brushing the genres in a much more broad way, will emphasize on albums that have stood out as gems or perhaps even precipitated various trends that created this amazing realm of metal.
Bell Witch – LONGING
Favorite Tracks: “Bails (Of Flesh),” “Longing (The River of Ash)”
It is important to note early on that though much of what is considered doom metal may all seem quite homogeneous upon first listen, there are certain sweet spots that a band may hit that denote a range of emotional levels. Bell Witch is one of those bands that strike a profound chord, making a listener feel like a triumphant hero on one track and a desperate pariah the next. Hailing from Seattle, wherein the drone scene was birthed (more on that later), the duo built upon a scene that craved the heaviest of riffs. Released in late 2012, the appropriately titled album LONGING has Dylan Desmond’s thick guitars and Adrian Guerra’s brooding percussion sounding straight up oppressive. Successfully avoiding monotony, both Guerra and Desmond pepper a few long-as-hell screams throughout the record, complementing its crushing and deeply melancholic feel.
Melvins – BULLHEAD
Favorite Tracks: “Boris,” “Zodiac,” “Your Blessened,” “Cow”
Emerging from the mud of rural Washington, the Melvins are a lasting testament to the power of doom, sludge, and all things loud. While the Melvins’ enormous catalog stretched over the last three decades has a lot of highlights (including LYSOL, HOUDINI, STONER WITCH, HOSTILE AMBIENT TAKEOVER, and many others), nothing quite synthesizes their sound like 1991’s BULLHEAD. Played at the proper decibels, this is a record that should dislodge the inner ear from the mere mortals who dare to stare directly into the Melvins’ overwhelming onslaught of noise. Combine the incredibly powerful guitar instrumentation with the irreplaceable voice of Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne (one of the most unique voices in heavy music, both sonically and lyrically) and you’ve got an absolutely devastating record to rattle you down to your very bone marrow. The opening track even inspired a group of musicians half a world away, whom we will see later in this list, to become legends in playing similarly overwhelming music, donning the song’s title as their band name.
Electric Wizard – DOPETHRONE
Favorite Tracks: “Vinum Sabbathi,” “Funeralopolis,” “We Hate You,” “Dopethrone”
Don’t let this band’s obsession with a certain green plant fool you. English rockers Electric Wizard had been playing heavy doom since the 90s and solidified themselves as a towering force in metal, perfecting their craft in 2000 in what became their opus, entitled DOPETHRONE. One need not smoke anything to be completely absorbed by the devilish noise that comes from Wizard’s infamous fuzz pedals. Guitars range from epic to sinister, always retaining lovely thickness while vocals stay entombed within walls of distortion and shouting lyrics of ritualism with eerie samples of the occult mixed in. Drums match the intensity of the riffs phenomenally, making for an incredibly satisfying album from start to finish.
Acid King – BUSSE WOODS
Favorite Tracks: “Electric Machine,” “Silent Circle,” “Busse Woods”
In 1999, San Francisco’s Acid King was way ahead of their time. One of the only doom metal bands to have a frontwoman, Acid King combined elements of amorphous guitar fuzziness with hints of psychedelic elegance calling back to the days of Blue Cheer and Sabbath. During its time, BUSSE WOODS was overlooked in the metal world thanks to the popularity of bands like My Dying Bride and Type O Negative. Was it the fact that the immensely talented Lori S. (former lover of Melvins member Dale Crover, who shows up occasionally on this album banging a gong), providing unforgettably heavy riffs and hypnotic vocals, was a woman? Or was it the seemingly serene album cover lacking in visual brutality? No one can say. All we know is that this is a record worth listening to.
Earth – EARTH 2: SPECIAL LOW FREQUENCY EDITION
Favorite Track: “Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine”
In the late 80s, a young Seattleite named Dylan Carlson who was strung along all across the country by his parents returned to Washington with nothing but a guitar and a crippling heroin addiction. Carlson bunkered down in a dingy apartment creating experimental music pieces with his then roommate who shared both a love for music and horse, one Kurt Cobain. But while Cobain managed to get Nirvana off of the ground, Carlson struggled in keeping a band and his addiction in check despite some connections he made. But by the 90s, he and bassist Dave Harwell were able to put together one of the most unique and challenging projects to hit anyone’s ears, under the simple name of Earth. More than likely influenced by the aforementioned drug and the terrestrial sounds of their namesake, Carlson and Harwell simply played repeated, heavily distorted guitar riffs that droned on for as long as they could and thus birthed the genre known as drone. Though it’s a lot to take in, especially in one sitting, EARTH 2 covers every inch of your body with dense rumbling that puts one strangely at ease when heard with the right set up. This is definitely an album to soak in right after an intense workout or a long day at work.
Nadja – TOUCHED
Favorite Tracks: “Mutagen,” “Stays Demons,” “Flowers of Flesh”
It seems the farther up you go, the more people care about moody, atmospheric music, and drone definitely fits that bill much of the time. Originating from Toronto, drone duo Nadja incorporated stylings of depressing ambient into their heavy drone riffs creating an amazingly dark vibe that at times even feels cinematic. TOUCHED hits you right in the gut as vibrating guitars flow into noisy screeches and emotional drums that try to pull every tear you have out of your eyes. Listening to this album is a truly moving experience, and afterwards you do in fact feel touched. Though it was originally released in 2003, the 2007 reissue is definitely the way to go with extended songs as well as more interesting cover art.
Black Boned Angel – THE END
Favorite Tracks: “Part I,” “Part II”
New Zealander Campbell Kneale is quite an interesting fellow. His solo work, under the name Birchville Cat Motel, leans towards the experimental but always knows how to effectively sustain ambient energy throughout a very long time. The man simply has a knack for it and it’s completely natural that he and a few of his cronies would be willing to try it out using heavy guitars. Though the results are fairly simple, they are also pretty impeccable. While riffs blast to an Earth-shattering degree on THE END, lasting almost as long as EARTH 2’s, throaty screams that match the length of those found on LONGING frighten with nearly every immersive listen.
Sunn O))) – BLACK ONE
Favorite Tracks: “It Took the Night to Believe,” “Orthodox Caveman,” “Candlegoat,” “Báthory Erzsébet”
Sunn O))) (simply pronounced “sun,” named for the now defunct amplifier brand as well as a slight nod to Earth) is just one of those bands that makes every other band going for a dark atmosphere sound like Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Deeply indebted to a certain black metal sound and aesthetic, their 2005 release BLACK ONE was more than ambitious. Somewhere between having the screamed vocals of Scott “Malefic” Conner (of California black metal act Xasthur) being recorded while locking him in a casket and covering a once speedy, classic black metal track by slowing down the tempo to a snail’s pace, the band struck absolute genius with this record. Though it may drive some insane, BLACK ONE’s sense of place is uniquely unparalleled within drone and doom.
Boris – AMPLIFIER WORSHIP
Favorite Tracks: “Huge,” “Hama,” “Vomitself”
It is incredibly difficult having to choose only one album by Boris to put on this list. Having been experimenting since the mid 90s with hints of doom, drone, punk, noise, and shoegaze just to name a few, this Japanese band proved early on that they were to be recognized in not only the rock world but the music sphere in general. After putting out a nearly pure drone release entitled ABSOLUTEGO under their own tastefully named label Fangs Anal Satan, Boris honed their craft with AMPLIFIER WORSHIP in 1998, sweeping the floor with anyone who thought they could rock harder. A good mix of long, fuzzy drone bits and hard rocking punk-inspired sludge segments, the album has a fun dynamic that always has the listener either buried within the music or breaking stuff to it.
Sunn O))) and Boris – ALTAR
Favorite Tracks: “Etna,” “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep),” “Fried Eagle Mind,” “Blood Swamp”
Most definitely the best collaboration either band has been a part of (as both like to team up with other acts), and quite possibly one of the best collaboration records ever made, ALTAR captures the experimental feats and heaviness of Boris while incorporating Sunn O)))’s knack for creating atmosphere and mood. With help from a number of different musicians from bands appearing on this list, including the likes of Dylan Carlson and Melvins’ Joe Preston, the album may seem to be a good ‘ol doomy, droney experience, but in reality it’s much more than that. ALTAR is a incredibly beautiful journey that every fan of music should experience. The album forces you to look into the very depths of your soul and face the darkness within. Saying it hits deep doesn’t even begin to describe it. Just listen and find out.