God May Be Dead But DOOM Isn’t
Doom metal has always been about as underground as you can get for a metal sub-genre. I fondly refer to it as the most long-suffering of my favorite genres, the Rodney Dangerfield of metal. Perhaps because of its strong links to depression and alcohol/drug abuse, most of the early bands were so hapless they simply couldn’t get it together enough to put out an album in early years. That and the fact that the music was not considered remotely commercial and most of the initial recordings sounded like they were recorded in moldy basements with primitive 4 track recorders. Pentagram were rejected by all kinds of labels, and even KISS left a basement rehearsal shaking their heads. Their first album came out in 1985, a full 16 years after they first formed, and three years after the album was actually recorded. Pagan Altar’s debut album from 1982 wasn’t released for another 16 years. The Obsessed’s debut album stayed in the vaults for 5 years until it’s release. But despite several landmark albums from Trouble, Saint Vitus and Candlemass having been released by the late 80s, most metal fans had never heard of doom.
Nevertheless doom did see a modest explosion of new bands in the early 90s, and after a lull in the second half of the decade, has become increasingly popular and widespread through the 2000s. Martin Popoff covered doom in his metal record guides, even though he was dismissive of most everything but Trouble, and Ian Christe tossed doom a bone (four pages) in Sound Of The Beast: The Complete Headbanging History Of Heavy Metal (2003). It gets a passing mention in Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History Of Heavy Metal (2013). Doom’s reach extended to many different genres, from stoner metal (Electric Wizard, Goatsnake, Warhorse) to sludge (Eyehategod, Ufomammut) drone (Earth, Boris, Sunn O)))), funereal doom (Skepticism, Shape Of Despair, Esoteric) and experimental/avant garde (Corrupted, Neurosis, YOB) and some even getting pretty close to mainstream crossover via their hybrids with classic metal, punk, goth, hard rock and sludge pop (Crowbar, Corrosion Of Conformity, Type O Negative, Down and Torche). But even newer but traditional doom bands like Reverend Bizarre, Lord Vicar, Krux, Orchid, Pilgrim, Pallbearer and Conan, have been fairly successful in reaching good sized audiences and generating a fair amount of media attention thanks to numerous doomcentric blogs and good coverage from UK metal magazines Terrorizer (which published a special “Secret Guide to Doom” in April 2012), Iron Fist, which just started publishing in late 2012, and Decibel in the U.S. Decibel just featured Solitude Aeturnus’ Beyond The Crimson Horizon (Roadrunner, 1992) in the most recent issue’s “Metal Hall of Fame.”
No one was storming the charts, but it was enough to inspire nearly every major early doom band to reunite or rally with a comeback tour and album, including Bedemon – Symphony Of Shadows (Housecore, recorded in 2002, released in 2012), Pagan Altar – Lords Of Hipocrisy (Oracle/Shadow Kingdom, 2004), Candlemass – Candlemass (Nuclear Blast, 2005), Solitude Aeturnus – Alone (Massacre, 2006), Trouble – Simple Mind Condition (Escapi, 2007), Witchfinder General – Resurrected (Shadow Kingdom, 2008), Count Raven – Mammons War (I Hate Records, 2009), Iron Man – I Have Returned (Shadow Kingdom, 2009), Pentagram – Last Rites (Metal Blade, 2011), Saint Vitus – Lillie: F-25 (Candlelight, 2012), Dream Death – Somnium Excessum (Dream Death, 2013). One of the only classic bands missing from this list is The Obsessed, and they reunited recently for Roadburn and Maryland Death Fest, so there’s hope.
Then something remarkable happened in June 2013. Doom literally stormed the charts! Black Sabbath’s reunion album 13, the first to feature Ozzy Osbourne in 35 years, topped the UK Albums and US Billboard charts for the first time ever.
For a while it looked like the album would never be completed. The band announced their reunion on 11/11/11, and the new album would be produced by Rick Rubin, who has worked with Trouble, The Cult, Danzig and of course Slayer. But shortly after it was announced that Tony Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma, and not long after that, Bill Ward pulled out of the reunion due to mysterious contract disputes. Yet against all odds, the band managed to play some triumphant sets in the UK and at Lollapalooza in Chicago (albeit without Ward), focusing on the cream of their first seven albums. Then on June 10, 2013, 13 (Vertigo) was released, and a week later it was topping the charts.
Despite (and/or because of) its immense popularity, there was plenty of bitching. Some fans wanted to have nothing to do with it due to the absence of Bill Ward. Others just didn’t think it was any good. I’ll cover some of that drama at the end of the article. But the important thing is that BLACK FUCKING SABBATH IS FUCKING NUMBER 1!!!! To fathom how incredible that is, none of their albums, even the revered first six, ever did that. The closest was Master Of Reality (Vertigo, 1971) at #8 in the U.S. While the band may never identify themselves as doom, the fact is that they deliberately aimed for a sound that refers to their early albums, and the result is undeniably a doom album. And a very, very good one at that, with Ozzy’s vocals sounding better than anyone should have expected, and Iommi’s riffs and Geezer’s playing in top form. The songwriting is definitely more consistent than Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die! (1978). Here’s an epic review from Witch Mountain’s Nate Carson for the final word on 13.
What does this mean for the doom metal genre? Maybe not a lot, but it’s likely at least some of their large audience will come looking for similar stuff. That’s how it all started after all, when the likes of Bobby Liebling, Wino and Dave Chandler could listen to the Sabbath records only so many times before they wanted to hear more. And since there was nothing else, they had to write their own songs. Cult proto-doom/psych band Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats got to open for Sabbath on the European tour, which can’t hurt their sales. But it’s unlikely that another doom band would ever reach that kind of mainstream popularity again. But who knows? Below is a simple timeline of the first 25 years of doom history for those who are unfamiliar with the genre, with hopefully enough info that would be new even to some longtime doom fans. Hopefully in the near future someone will be inspired to write the first full book focused on doom.
Doom Metal Timeline
As mentioned before, the number of bands and releases start to increase exponentially after 2000. The Paranoid Hitsophrenic blog began compiling monthly doom charts in June 2013 based on submissions from bloggers and critics, and provides a great entry point to exploring current doom and other genres like stoner/psych/sludge/retro rock and metal.
My opinion is, Ward didn’t play on Heaven & Hell’s 2009 album and no one cared. He hasn’t played on ANY full album since Born Again in 1983. They recorded two songs in 1997 and on “Selling My Soul,” Bill’s was deemed “too out-of-time”, so they used a drum machine instead. He then had a heart attack and has not gotten into physical condition to be able to play a two hour show. Out of shape, out of practice, Bill Ward in 2013 is not the Bill Ward from 1973 or even 1993. If the band can get over it, so should the fans!
Below are other shots taken earlier today at Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.