One thing that’s understandably not always immediately obvious to anyone unfamiliar with metal music is just how much variation there is within the genre, and if you were looking to prove that the genre is more than just one particular thing you could do much worse than to show someone death metal and doom metal in juxtaposition. Both are mainstays of the scene, with distinct sounds that are easily distinguished. They excel at different things and offer something unique from one another. Introducing death-doom into the equation, however, is where things get a bit more complicated, because as it turns out somehow those differing styles are capable of coming together to offer up the best of both worlds.
Death-doom is the bastard offspring of its parent genres, taking the former’s love of guts n gore and the latter’s penchant for misery and despair and distilling it into something that’s mournful and epic whilst still being antagonistic and gruesome. Simply put, death-doom is incredible when done right, and there are plenty of artists in the metal underground showcasing that fact. Unfortunately it can be hard for some of those projects to get noticed, so today we’ve compiled a list of ten underground death-doom acts that any fan of the style simply needs to hear.
Experimenting with the limits of the death-doom subgenre, Kentucky’s Rotting Kingdom are the creators of a particularly expansive brand of melody-strewn death metal that’s made all the more enigmatic by a doomy atmosphere. Intriguingly, it’s tough to fully call Rotting Kingdom death-doom, as they don’t exactly marr these sounds together the way that many in the genre do – rather, they alternate between the two as they see fit, creating a debut album that feels dynamic as well as cohesive.
Despite plying their trade in a genre that thrives on a raw and unrefined approach, The Drowning damn-near turn death-doom into a science, with carefully constructed songs that stagger forwards with remarkable precision and a lot of polish. This gives their sound a monumental sense of scope, and yet it never loses its vulnerability, the expressive lead guitars of Jason Hodges and the guttural cries of Matt Small ensuring that the music still packs a poignant punch in the throat.
Taking the gloomy atmosphere of old-school Finnish death metal and slowing it down to an apocalyptic crawl, Helsinki’s Solothus are responsible for a particularly skullcrushing strain of death-doom that lurches forward with all the grace of a hellhound, leaving a trail of blood in its wake. No one will claim that Solothus’ monstrous doom hasn’t been heard before, but every grisly riff and gravelly hate-filled bellow is drenched in a thick coat of morbid agony, with the word subtlety never once crossing their minds.
These relative newcomers out of Melbourne, Australia have already forged an infernal sound capable of holding a candle to anyone else on this list. New EP Hell Is Full boasts a relentless barrage of riffs and a guitar tone that sounds more akin to a chainsaw carving through bone. Despite this though the band’s sound is deceptively lively and dynamic, with subtle guitar lines reaching out from the cavernous depths of the stifling death-doom onslaught. Exciting stuff.
San Diego ensemble Mordom only have two songs to their name thus far, but together those tracks span parts one through seven of Eternal Solitude, an epic 37 minutes of gloriously macabre death-doom brutality. The band weave the all-consuming misery of the best funeral doom into the grisly sound of gory death metal slowed down to an agonising crawl like molten lava creeping down a jagged mountainside, with blackened flourishes only adding to the inhospitality of the atmosphere.
Featuring members of other notable bands in the UK doom underground, Bible Basher’s impactful sound blends the gruesome depravity of death-doom with something grander, with tolling bells amongst the percussion and a production style that emphasises scope and atmosphere. Fittingly, the lyrics are all taken directly from the bible’s darker passages, invoking tales of plague and pestilence, punishment and pain. This is sludgy death-doom of biblical proportions.
In the current metal scene there’s something strangely enigmatic about any band with limited social media presence, but in the case of Maryland’s Seeping this sense is only heightened by the band’s spooky aesthetic and the way it permeates through both their sound and visuals. Each of their album covers follows a pattern – a solitary gravestone illuminated amongst utter darkness, and yet faded slightly as if taken on an old phone and converted onto modern technology. The group’s austere but somewhat ominous lyrics suit their dark take on the death-doom genre, talking of exhumed coffins and long-forgotten graves reclaimed by nature. In Seeping’s music, death is omnipresent, and hope is futile.
Probably the heaviest band on this list, θoʊθ (that’s “Thoth”, like the Egyptian moon deity) take inspiration from the days of tape trading, when metal recordings would be copied so many times that they’d be almost beyond comprehension, taking on a unique new tone. As a result, θoʊθ’s music sounds like it’s been dragged through mud – but, this being metal, this only serves to bolster their intense and guttural sound. If archaeologists stumbled into an ancient tomb and unearthed an ancient metal tape forged by some ancient civilisation, this is probably what it would sound like.
Canada’s Ischemic lean heavily into the death-doom genre’s inherent ability to build a dread-filled atmosphere, invoking the fear of the unknown through a sound that creeps forwards whilst latent noise and ambient passages float underneath the riffs. Alongside moments of death metal onslaught can be found blackened influences that reach their tentacled limbs out of the abyss, adding to the murky aura of their releases. Definitely a band to be keeping an eye on.
If you’re not already in a pit of despair having made it to the bottom of this list of bands who thrive on creating music that crushes your very soul, then Burial Fog should be able to suck any glimmer of hope you had left out. The band’s take on death-doom is fairly straight-laced with little in the way of experimentation, but it’s written and performed with such conviction that the old tricks work just as well as they always have. Sometimes mean-spirited death-doom with a penchant for caving your skull in is just what the doctor ordered.
For more Under The Radar pieces, click here.
Words: George Parr