This is probably one of the trickiest questions to answer and has been the issue of many heated debates. There are however a few things that we can be certain about.
Doom-metal is a sub-genre of the highly diverse metal genre. This means that the first criteria will always be that the music must be metal at its core. There are also many misconceptions about what metal really is, but that particular topic does not fall within the scope of this article.
Whilst the general public may think that all music belonging to this genre sounds very alike, if one takes the time to scrutinise the genre it is apparent that the real situation is very different from this. If this is the case, what makes doom-metal so different from other metal genres? One answer is that doom-metal is filled with heaviness, darkness, sadness, depression and melancholy. It emanates a dark and brooding atmosphere that cannot be found with such intensity in any other genre.
For some, the earliest examples of doom albums are Black Sabbath's self-titled debut album, and their second album, 'Paranoid'. Both of these records were released in 1970 upon a largely unexpecting audience. Whilst the first album retained a heavy dose of Sabbath's blues roots, "Paranoid" remains one of their darkest records. This leads some people to hail Black Sabbath as the originators of doom-metal. Whilst this opinion is a controversial one, Black Sabbath are definitely one of the founders of modern heavy metal. To claim that Black Sabbath is a doom band would be misleading in that it would be akin to saying that all metal bands have doom influences because they depict the dark side of music. Still, it must be said that Black Sabbath heavily influenced the bands that genuinely helped form the doom-metal genre. However, this is not to say that Black Sabbath did not play an important role in creating the metal genre as a whole.
Several forms of Doom-Metal have existed since 1970 or thereabouts, but most doom bands originated in the late 80s and onwards. Bands such as Trouble, Saint Vitus and Candlemass are examples of some of the earliest doom-metal bands. The descriptive label "doom-metal" is attributed to Candlemass' 'Epicus Doomicus Metallicus' album, although some believe the term comes from the Black Sabbath song 'Hand of Doom'. The bands of the past used clean vocals and it is therefore a misconception that a band needs to resort to grunts to be considered part of the doom-metal genre.
For a full overview of the history of Doom-metal it is advisable to visit that section of our page. However one more thing that is still worth mentioning about it is that fact that the bands mentioned so far are often referred to as being the more traditional doom-metal bands. There are still a great deal of good bands around that employ this style (Solitude Aeturnus for example), but you also these days have many other styles of doom. One of the best known these days is a more or less "second generation Doom-metal", and the Doom-metal most "new" fans will know; Death/Doom-Metal. This further fuels the debate as to what truly constitutes Doom-Metal.
Death/Doom-metal, is thought of by many as a reaction to death-metal, just like death-metal originated from thrash metal. As a reaction to the incredibly fast death-metal riffs some bands began playing ultra slowly, with low-pitched guitars and dragging grunts. One of the most noteworthy examples of this is Lee Dorian, formerly the vocalist of Napalm Death, who started his own band: Cathedral. The early Cathedral albums were extremely slow.
This brings us to another possible factor that can be used to define doom-metal. It is slow music, in sharp contrast to most metal. This has given rise to a school of critics that dismiss doom-metal as being a"boring" genre in which little ever happens. As with any genre, there exists some indubitably talentless, thoroughly unoriginal bands out there who are indeed boring, but in general saying that Doom-metal is boring means that one has not been paying attention to the music. One of the true attributes of Doom-metal is that it can be extremely slow, yet not at all boring.
Although previously mentioned, it ought to be stressed that the sheer heaviness of the music is an important characteristic of the Doom-metal genre. This takes many shapes, from the gut-wrenching sounds of a band such as diSEMBOWELMENT, to the Sabbath-like riffs of St. Vitus, to the trancendental sounds of Esoteric, and the romantic depression of My Dying Bride. All these bands share a quest for heaviness in their music.
At times, this also leads Doom-metal close to another genre called "Stoner-rock". Both genres clearly strive to create the heaviest sound ever and often intermix (indeed there is such a grey area as Stoner/Doom). However one misconception made by a lot of Stoner fans is the notion that pure Stoner rock or Stoner/Doom is the only form of Doom (sometimes referred to as "True Doom" by fans, but not to be confused with the "True Doom" as claimed by a small number of Traditional and Epic Doom-metal diehards). On the same tack however, the ignorant ideas of some Death/Doom fans that theirs is the only true form of Doom-metal is equally insupportable, this being the cause for many a heated debate. We would rather concentrate on the great diversity Doom-metal has to offer us.
In all fairness, an attempt at defining doom-metal by way of its sound is akin to trying to define a race solely by its appearance. In today's rather varied market, we have slow, hurtful doom-metal. We have medium-paced, harmonic doom-metal. We have occasional moments of really fast, energetic doom-metal. We even have doom-metal you can play at a Pagan festival. Although it isn't strictly essential, we have many doom-metal bands that employ harmonic instruments such as the violin, synthesiser, flute, and so on. We even have doom-metal being mixed with other styles such as techno-industrial, black metal or classical music.
The misconception that doom-metal encourages people to commit suicide is absolutely untrue. But if you wish to know more about that please visit the FAQ section of our page.
What is Doom according too...We asked various people from bands and record labels what they consider to be Doom-metal. Click on their name to read their comments.
[ Hammy from Peaceville Records ]