A love letter to doom metal

Doom metal is not something I listen to on a regular basis. But few genres have as much power to move. This is how Wikipedia describes doom metal:

Doom metal is an extreme form of heavy metal music that typically uses slower tempos, low-tuned guitars and a much “thicker” or “heavier” sound than other metal genres. Both the music and the lyrics intend to evoke a sense of despair, dread, and impending doom.

Paradise Lost is well-known for their stellar brand of doom, and later in their career, gothic metal. I first heard the band in the album “Symbol of Life”. This album, with its catchy electronic sound, is arguably the most removed stylistically from the rest of their work. Although the lyrics seldom stray from the dark pessimistic themes common to the genre, the experimental electronic music obfuscates the emotional weight the lyrics carry. But it was an accessible album, and a great entry point to the genre. And as I’d find out later, it was also not even close to what doom metal was capable of.

That happened when I listened to Katatonia’s “Dance of December Souls”. The sound was nothing I had heard before. It was incredible. I did not know such emotion was possible in music. There were sides to the human psyche that I did not know of, and feelings complex that their existence came as a bit of a surprise to me. Even today, nearly 20 years on, there are blasphemous songs, and there is Katatonia’s “Without God”.

Doom metal digs deep. It is exhausting music to be sure - ‘Velvet Thorns (of Drynwhyl)’ is not a song you simply sit down and listen to one fine sunny day. Doom metal is crushing. It’s the musical equivalent of having your spirit slowly drained from your veins. But there is incredible beauty as well. When it comes to conveying an emotion in its purest and most essential form, doom metal is unmatched.

The genre employs a slow, dense and calculated approach that is both measured and purposeful. According to a dictionary definition, depression is ‘a disorder marked by sadness…feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidical tendencies’. But there are many shades to depression. It can result in anger. Before giving up, you can try or not try at all. Doom metal understands that depression is complicated and it respects that. It explores these emotions, the road leading up to them and the spaces in between.

In some ways, doom metal is an exercise to express emotions that defy understanding. Wonderful things happen when this exercise succeeds. It is an attempt to answer questions that simply do not have answers. What can a parent who just lost their only child do to cope? How does one get to the point where they feel the only option left is suicide? The songs are lengthy, thick and dense. They are anything but accessible, but these feelings are never simple either. The music demands a willing and attentive listener to peel the layers back to get to a nebulous core. Condense these topics to a typical 4 minute song and it might be very moving. But more often than not, the emotion remains at the surface. There is certainly a point to be made for the heavy, drawn-out approach, for doing things the hard way.

Doom metal slowly but surely twists the knife. The melodies linger and take their time. The vocals can fall anywhere in the spectrum from morose dejection to maddening disdain and despair. As far as music goes, the genre can be very cathartic because it gives shape and form to emotions had as yet remained unexpressed. The lyrics can be exceedingly dark (My Dying Bride’s “The raven and the rose” comes to mind) and while they may not always be personally relevant, the stories reflect on the many forms of depression and continue to broaden my emotional vocabulary.