My word, heaviest of all bloggers! It’s the ending of another year. The death of time is inevitable, as is all of our impending doom. Let us commemorate another year with a climactic post.
As I was pulling everything together for all of my different best of the year lists, I recognized that doom had another good, not great, year. One of these years, doom is going to blow the doors off of the other subgenres and have straight banger after straight banger and an undeniable best of the year. At the same time, I kind of enjoy the fact that doom went “under the radar” again. It feels like it’s a best kept secret sort of thing, like it’s just our little present to enjoy. Either way, they were some mind-blowing records this year from the top names in the sound to hidden gems from up-and-comers. One of these years, we’ll get a release (or releases) that makes the metal world ask why they haven’t been paying more attention to doom, but this is no time to indulge in petty jealousy. Let us instead focus on celebrating the sounds we love so much.
As you’ll see, I’ve decided we’ll do this list a little differently than we did in the past. We’ll talk about the big records of the year first then talk about some bands to watch for the future that made some standout records in their own right this year. To the riffs!
Don’t Bogart Those Riffs
Everybody writes end of the year posts, but only Doomsday starts you off with a bang. If you want to put some butts in some seats, you have to start out with something to get the crowd going. Over here, we talk about stoner jams. This year, we had 3 big releases from bands who just know how to have fun.
The first to standout record to me was Big Business. It’s such a uniquely original sound that it would be difficult to start off with anything else but The Beast You Are. The synth bass riffs and bombastic drums make the whole record just super fun. Don’t let the punny song titles throw you off, though. It may seem like dumb pumped-up jams, but this is very serious music that gets your blood pumping no matter what your mood is. For that alone, it belongs in this conversation, but the band can also make headier jams that slow things down and force some introspection grooviness. If you skipped over this record earlier this year, ya done screwed up.
In a similar vein, Miami sludge rockers Torche released an equally riffy record with Admission. The biggest difference between Admission and The Beast You Are is that Torche makes fun jams that are just a little more heady and introspective. But each track is equally beastly with its huge fuzz lord riffs and drone grooves. It’s easy to get lost in Admission’s spacey vibes while also feeling very engaged in each track in equal measures. I’ve unfortunately not yet had the pleasure of seeing the band live, but these songs would serve a live show well and really make you feel like you’re being enveloped in sound. Never stop these lovely tones, Torche.
Far and away one of my personal favorite records this year was Green Lung’s Woodland Rites. For a first full-length record, it is absolutely incredible. You don’t hear this kind of songwriting or maturity from bands until they’re much further along in their career. I mean, this band is only 2 years old and they put out what should absolutely be a top 10 record of the year. This is by far the most polished first release I’ve ever heard. It’s got a very developed sound that is just as heavy as it is spooky. Leaning into the occult themes just makes the record that much more fun. I am truly in awe of just how impressive this release is, and it completely made my year. HAIL GREEN LUNG!
The stoner term is often interchangeable with psych, but this year I think there’s something inherently different about them. There are some bands that dabble with those subtle nuances to make something that’s just different enough that you can’t talk about them in the same breath. These represent much darker tones that make them a bit more mysterious and much heavier. They draw you in with their grooves and you can lose yourself in those darker areas.
Year of the Cobra has that new version of heavy psych I’m talking about. It’s sludgy and riffy and spacey enough that you really can completely consume every part of the song and feel like it’s a full music meal. This despite the fact that it’s just a bassist and drummer, but these songs are fully evolved tracks and not simply half-baked ideas. Still, Ash and Dust is so much more than just a series of rhythmic riffs. These songs really blend a lot of ideas together in each track and feel so much bigger and complete. It’s a super fun record full of infectious grooves and tasty sounds from two exceptionally talented musicians. Many blessings, Year of the Cobra.
Doom stalwarts Monolord also released a hell of a record that shows that this band, too, is more than just a collection of rocking riffs and heavy blues guitar solos. The trio decided to embrace their maturity on No Comfort, expanding their sound further into headier tracks of introspective music and lyrics. That direction is well-suited for Monolord’s particular brand of heavy psych doom and fuzzy guitars. That’s certainly not to say that they’ve abandoned what we all know to be Monolord. They just decided to mix it up a little, and I believe it’s very beneficial to their sound. I would very much enjoy to hear more of this from them in the future. For now, I’m exceptionally pleased with exploring No Comfort further.
Metal for Sad People
There is something about doom that I find to be some of the most emotional music there is. There is a certain gravity to this heavier sound that lets you feel emotions deeply and intimately. Sadness is frequently expressed through music, but there’s something about the heaviness that can touch your soul.
I was touched very deeply by Arctic Sleep this year. The solo doom project from Keith D. released Kindred Spirits after the sudden death of his cat and best friend. It is a record full of deep emotions of sadness and loss that truly anyone can relate to. The music reflects these feelings and strikes you with its gravely severe tone. The production quality also makes the whole record organic and results in the truest translation of these specific emotions. It was one of the most genuine records I’ve heard this year and struck home for me. I may or may not have cried while listening to Kindred Spirits now that I’ve got a few good buddies of my own at home. You’ve been both encouraged and warned.
In a similar vein, Spirit Adrift’s Divided By Darkness also touched a few chords, too. The music has more of a feeling of hopelessness to it, kind of like something terrible is inevitable but you have to fight against it anyway. While the band may fight the “doom” label, there’s no denying that it embodies the topical ideas behind the subgenre. Plus it’s got some great riffs and catchy melodies and licks. Traditional metal sounds get reinterpreted in that light, making this a record that combines the surface-level ideas of fun music with the heaviness of deeply expressed and held emotions about the self and society at large. Out of all the records I listened to this year, this tops the list for most listens. Each one was worth it.
Sometimes your music needs to be able to breathe. Good music doesn’t just happen without hard work, and sometimes that can be the same for the listener. A good experience needs to be earned. Your music needs to make you think and should be unpredictable. Progressive doom does both. It takes its time to grow just right, and it’s very intellectually stimulating when it isn’t clear where the song is taking you. It’s really best to just go with the flow and let it wash over you.
At this point, do we even need to introduce Dreadnought? I mean, every single record they’ve made is absolutely brilliant. So now we can say, “Ho hum, Dreadnought put out a new record, it’s amazing, seriously, we can move on.” Which, of course, we won’t do. Just thought I’d mention it.
I think only a single word describes Emergence: epic. Each song is a journey through a story or a scene of a great drama and action or exceptionally deep thought. The music mimics the theme by guiding the listener through a long aural journey of unanticipated twists and turns. Every track results in your own personal growth through the exploration of all of the thoughts the band can possibly throw together at you. Once again, Dreadnought has truly outdone themselves. Few bands can honestly say they haven’t put out a single bad release, and Dreadnought is one of those.
While Emergence definitely blew my mind this year, I would be extremely remiss if I didn’t talk about Baroness and Gold and Grey. Earlier this year, I absolutely gushed over it. It is an incredible work of musical art, and I truly believe that. It is a uniform work that is far, far more than just a collection of tracks. It takes Baroness’s own origins and explodes them into a fully matured sound. Which is impressive to say since Baroness already had a pretty fully-formed sound to begin with. The connections between the tracks make a singular piece that’s difficult to pull apart without trying to break it down. Few other words can describe this record. It was the one I consumed the most this year and the record I’ll probably remember 2019 for.
Hooded Black Figures
You’ve made it all this way. You’ve slogged through the exciting beginning, slowly getting heavier and darker. So what else would be at the end but the blackened stuff? Blackened doom doesn’t get enough attention, I think. Or maybe it’s more that it’s not the first thing that jumps to mind when you’re talking about doom metal. Either way, it needs its due time in the spotlight.
I don’t know if the “blackened” term necessarily applies to Inter Arma but I know it makes me feel like I’m listening to something extremely dark and heavy. And after listening to Sulphur English a number of times, I’m not sure “heavy” accurately describes the level of filth it has. It absolutely pummels you with brutal sludgy blackened doom, but since you’re all gluttons for punishment then you’ll definitely want more. The band plays with a lot of different riffs and rhythms that make this experience a true pleasure, if you’ll pardon the conflict inherent to describing getting beaten up by sound as pleasurable. It’s probably the most fun you’ll have listening to this subgenre this year.
For me, you can never have a complete discussion of blackened doom without talking about Mizmor. And in 2019, it means talking about the true masterpiece that is Cairn. Few musical artists touch the true depth of emotion like Mizmor does, and Cairn is the greatest example of the depth of Mizmor’s talent. These tracks relate ideas of helplessness and isolation both through lyrics and musical drama. You can feel the ebbs and flows of the drama throughout your being. It’s a truly astounding work that touches the listener very deeply and makes it one of the most memorable records on 2019.
Finally, I want to leave you with a bunch of things I found in 2019 that are some lovely little deep cut gems. The preceding records are ones that most folks reading this column are familiar with, but I wanted to leave you all with some things you may have or probably did miss in 2019. Not every great listen was a gigantic release we were all heavily anticipating, and part of the goal of these end of the year posts is to give you all something to look forward to. If any of these deep cuts is any indication, the state of doom is strong and only growing from here. We have a lot to look forward to in the future, hopefully more from some of the bands I discovered this year. So enjoy these holiday gifts, and I look forward to speaking with gusto about doom metal in 2020.
Besvärjelsen – Frost
Blackwater Holylight – Veils of Winter
Book of Wyrms – Remythologizer
Cities of Mars – The Horologist
Conjurer & Pijn – Curse These Metal Hands
Eternal Black – Slow Burn Suicide
Holy Serpent – Endless
The Lights Inside the Woods – I & II