Doom metal, us Brits have always been bloody good at it.
We invented it, we morphed it into new shapes and the history of UK doom metal is littered with success stories, of pioneering bands that took hold of doom metal’s fundamentals and twisted them into new forms, unearthing all-time classic albums along the way.
While Candlemass, Trouble and Saint Vitus may have threatened to usurp us in the 80’s the arrival of Cathedral, in 1991, turned the tables and, once again, the Brits were back, firmly in charge!
As resolutely British as fish ‘n’ chips and as bleak as our weather, good doom metal is a wonderful thing but these 10 defining moments in UK doom metal history are simply sublime.
Starting with (obviously)….
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
The album that started it all, a bonafide game-changer which took hard rock by the scruff of the neck and violently shook heavy metal and doom metal out of it.
It’s frankly ridiculous to think that on release Black Sabbath was slammed by critics (perhaps not ready for such a departure into darker, more-twisted territories), dismissed as mere clichéd clones of bands such as Cream, Vanilla Fudge and Black Widow. Of course, anything new can be threatening and perhaps the world wasn’t quite ready for this. Hell, it had only just gotten used to the idea of hard rock and Black Sabbath were an entirely different beast altogether!
Make no mistake, when Sabbath released their eponymous debut in 1970 an entirely new genre spewed forth, a genre built on elephantine heaviness, primeval blues roots and faux satanic leanings. Doom metal had arrived and it was ugly, frightening, foreboding and utterly exhilarating.
Cathedral – Forest of Equilibrium (1991)
Cathedral are a British metal institution and their brand of achingly brutal doom was perfected on their astonishing debut; an album that shook doom metal’s foundations with its monolithic waves of dense, earth-shattering sound and put UK doom firmly back on the map.
Folky, morose and defiantly British, Lee Dorrian and Cathedral took Black Sabbath’s blueprint and slowed…everything…down…to…a…lumbering…crawl. With one foot firmly in the shallow grave of 70’s doom forefathers Pentagram, Bedemon, Necromandus and the aforementioned Sabbath, each colossal track on Forest Of Equilibrium opened new doors for doom and stoner rock to pass through.
From the stoner-grooves of “Soul Sacrifice” to the acoustic strum followed by plodding doom metal murkiness of the stunning “Picture of Beauty & Innocence (Intro)/Commiserating the Celebration” and the equally foreboding “A Funeral Request“, Forest Of Equilibrium remains a monolithically dark experience that has stood the test of time and cemented Cathedral’s place at the forefront of doom metal on release.
Sadly disbanded, perhaps Cathedral will one day reform and revive their doom metal past; they are sorely missed.
Paradise Lost – Gothic (1991)
One album, two genres successfully defined and it was just the start of Paradise Lost’s evolution into becoming one of Britain’s most fearless bands.
Incredibly, Gothic kickstarted the gothic metal sub-genre while Paradise Lost were still in the process of defining death/doom. A two-pronged attack on established tropes, their pioneering use of female vocals, chilling keyboards and Nick Holmes unmistakable death metal roar proved Paradise Lost were leaders in their field and cowered to no one.
Home to many of their most adored compositions, Gothic‘s maturity remains tangible. A group of musicians – led by Gregor MacKintosh’s unmistakable guitar sound – fearlessly venturing into realms unknown and introducing rarely heard melody to doom metal’s genuinely monolithic drone.
Wrap your earholes around “Gothic” and “Eternal” and tell us that sound doesn’t invoke shivers a quarter of a century after its release! Revolutionary.
Seventh Angel – Lament for The Weary (1991)
The UK seemed to enjoy experimenting with thrash, often combining seemingly disparate sub-genres to create an entirely new thrash experience. Sabbat and Skyclad incorporated pagan and folk influences, Cerebral Fix and Energetic Krusher embraced death metal while Seventh Angel chose to throw doom metal into the mix….and with astonishing results!
An original sound showcasing the finest moments of doom legends Candlemass and the technical meets traditional heavy metal thrash of Sanctuary, circa Into The Mirror Black, the often impenetrably dark and yet morbidly melancholic sound of Lament For The Weary saw Seventh Angel’s lumbering doom passages merge seamlessly with bursts of aggressive speed; fully ensconced in projecting pain and despair.
Not an easy ride but a rewarding one, Lament For The Weary remains a weighty tome, relentless and remorseless and akin to gourging on the great works of literature. In other words, an album not for the faint-hearted!
A one of a kind album fully deserving of classic status and the finest doom/thrash album ever written.
Decomposed – Hope Finally Died… (1993)
Possibly the most overlooked album in death/doom history – and UK metal in general – Decomposed’s Hope Finally Died… deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the seminal releases from the Peaceville three (Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema) namely Gothic, Turn Loose The Swans and Serenades respectively.
Deceptively simple, the beauty of this staggering release lies not in its musicality, nor its vocal prowess or even its songwriting nous. At face value, all these facets seem relatively generic but the true reason this savagely under-appreciated cornerstone of death/doom deserves higher praise, is down to the almost unparalleled way in which Decomposed blend the mournful melancholy of doom with the caustic and cathartic blur of death metal aggression; each song unearthing a new spin on an already standard formula and expertly fusing sorrowful soliloquay’s with neck-breaking riffs.
Whether primitive old-school death metal savagery or shuffling excursions into doom metal’s swampy territory peels your onions, Decomposed’s one and only full length should be mandatory listening. Unearth its treasures and discover why Hope Finally Died… is not only a hidden gem but also a defining moment in UK doom metal history.
My Dying Bride – Turn Loose The Swans (1993)
Melodramatic, mournful and morosely morbid, Turn Loose The Swans is a genre-defining masterpiece from a band who have defiantly followed their singular vision since day one.
Bravely, or foolishly depending on your viewpoint, My Dying Bride incorporated the sparse use of violin and piano – often as a substitute for doom metals pre-conditional crushing riffs – to create an atmosphere that draws in like dusk; smothering and sinister and utterly enchanting.
Aaron Stainthorpe’s multifaceted vocals, a macabre carousel of ever alternating deathly growls, spoken word eulogies and disconsolate singing, added a further dimension to My Dying Bride’s unique sound and their dabbling with almost ambient silence- contradicted by pitiless industrialised death/doom – amounted to an experience virtually unparalleled in doom metal history.
Turn Loose The Swans is nigh on perfect and it remains My Dying Bride’s finest moment.
Electric Wizard – Come My Fanatics… (1997)
Let’s face it, doom metal started with Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” and that song was – and still is – bastard scary (more on that later). 27 years later – drawing on Hammer Horror and the occult as inspiration – Electric Wizard harnessed that same sense of skin-crawling unease through sheer riff force and fog-shrouded breathlessness; creating a waking nightmare that remains arguably unsurpassed in the genre.
Unfathomably slow at times and akin to chewing on the stickiest, sludgiest tobacco for all eternity, Come My Fanatics only offers respite from the agreeable monotony on “Wizard In Black” and “Son Of Nothing”; a welcome break from their austere ghoulishness that still maintains an atmosphere of incredible anxiety.
God-sized riffs and asphyxiating volume neatly sums up Electric Wizard’s sophomore album which seems to drift across a tumultous sea of fuzzy, drug-addled riffs and bass-heavy rumble. Not an easy listen by any means but Come My Fanatics remains a destructive gem from Britain’s high priests of distortion….the horror of doom metal had rightfully returned
Esoteric – The Pernicious Enigma (1997)
Two hours of horrifying funeral doom may sound like the ultimate nightmare but Esoteric’s sophomore album is so claustrophobically, hellishly and diabolically enchanting that it simply must be heard and remains one of the most compelling recordings in British doom metal history.
Released in 1997, these blackened, avant-garde, Brummie experimentalists redefined funeral doom with an unmistakable use of samples – buried deep in their murky low-end sound – to add bottomless layers to their dark and depressing sound.
Breaking this epic down into ‘must-hear’ tracks is fruitless, The Pernicious Enigma needs to be experienced as it was intended and absorbed whole. Our advice, take at least two weeks off work and immerse yourself in this grand and ambitious work of art, you may feel like ending it all by the time you’ve absorbed the entirety of this 2-disc record but at least you’ll be feeling something!
Today’s often vacuous excuse for modern metal doesn’t do that now does it!
Solstice – New Dark Age (1998)
In 1998, precious few bands were attempting to write music so gloriously British, so fundamentally ‘metal’ and so in thrall to the grandeur of doom legends Trouble, Solitude Aeturnus and Messiah Marcolin-fronted Candlemass as Solstice.
Majestically structured and powerfully poignant, tracks such as “Cimmerian Codex” appeared to take the entire history of Great Britain – its politics and its military fascination – and match it with windswept, fog-shrouded landscapes. A Cromwellian conquest in essence that only had one outcome; for a short while Solstice were the new kings of British doom.
Epic doom metal at its finest, Solstice’s New Dark Age channeled the no-fear approach of the new wave of British heavy metal while carving their own niche.
An incredible achievement.
Pagan Altar – Mythical & Magical (2006)
Veterans of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene Pagan Altar truly made their impact once they reformed in 2004 and released the magnificent Mythical And Magical in 2008. Fusing core elements of traditional heavy metal with the classic doom metal they themselves pioneered in the early 80’s, Pagan Altar successfully wound back the clock to the glory days of Sabbath, Necromandus and Witchfinder General.
Exhibiting a paganist sound that definitively grounds Mythical And Magical as a British release, Pagan Altar’s fusion of folk and 70’s heavy metal renders the album strangely timeless, resulting in the most warmly organic album on this list; a perfect amalgamation of doom metal’s original sounds.
Bewitching and unashamedly retro, Pagan Altar’s updating of folk staples and classic heavy metal mentality are particularly showcased on the outstanding “Rising Of The Dark Lord” and the alluring “The Cry Of The Banshee”. A time-warp of NWOBHM licks, Ozzy-esque vocals and vintage songwriting (much of Mythical And Magical dates back to the 80’s, so this should comes as no surprise), the artistry on display here is utterly breathtaking.
An insanely underrated album (and band); doom metal simply wouldn’t be doom metal if it wasn’t for Pagan Altar.