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Why Doom Metal? - For this i refer you to this great article by Pedro Azevedo called "Doom Metal: The Gentle Art of Making Misery".
Doom metal is a style of heavy or extreme metal music most safely characterized by its depressiveness, which can be conveyed in a number of ways: while the music is often slow and minimalist, it can be extremely heavy and ugly as well as more melodic and sorrowful. This is about as close to a generic definition as I'm willing to go for the benefit of newbies -- anyone with a reasonable grasp of the genre surely understands the inherent variety caused by the more avant-garde bands as well as various partial fusions with other genres. One can just as easily find a slow doom/death album as a melodic, clean sung one; a somewhat noise-based, much less melodic approach is not uncommon, and a mix of black and doom metal is not unheard of either.
Given these first few lines about what doom metal sounds like, I was initially going to write an introduction describing how I first encountered doom metal many moons ago, and how the music has affected my life and so on; but I won't, because none of you would care. No, not a single one of you cold-hearted people would give a damn. So I'll just go sit alone in my corner, thinking about life and the state of this bleak world and listening to some doom metal -- and you can write this damn article yourselves if you want.
Joking aside, the paragraph above tries to illustrate what I think truly separates doom from every other metal genre: when done right, it is by far the most personal, introspective and individual of them all. With this I don't mean to raise doom above other genres, or call it more profound or distinctive than the others. All I mean by this is that people can head-bang and fist-pump together to death or thrash metal, they can try black magic and pull grim faces together with black metal, they can air-guitar and croon together to heavy or progressive metal... but a good doom metal album is something you take along when you want to be by yourself, when you need some isolation. While this can also be achieved with other genres and entirely depends on the taste of each individual, I think that contrary to other genres, this is what doom metal was truly created for. Or in the context of the less serious kind of treatment I just gave the other genres, doom metal is made for those beings that are overly sensitive and depressed, and aren't doing anything about it.
This last isn't necessarily any more or less useful an outlet than any of the other stereotyped behaviors I described above. When one is feeling low, help can come from a large variety of sources: adrenaline-pumping aggression, misanthropic spite and soaring melodies are just a few possibilities. So why am I separating doom metal from the pack here? Because it is arguably the only metal genre that actively provides a source of depression for the listener. And nobody wants that when they're feeling great, so why would anyone want it when they're in the mire, right? Well, wrong, at least judging by the fact that doom metal keeps selling records and has done so reasonably constantly while bigger selling metal genres kept going around in roller-coaster rides of popularity.
Doom metal is very unlikely to ever truly become the flavor of the day, but what hampers its growth to a global scale is precisely what keeps it alive: it doesn't try to sell itself; it doesn't try to offer you what you want, it offers you what it -is-. Of course it would be deeply naive to believe doom to be the one pure, un-commercial genre in the middle of a bunch of sell-outs; with neither extreme being true, the reasoning behind that conclusion stems from what I wrote about providing directly uplifting and reinvigorating music that people want to hear (even in the case of black metal at its core) versus providing a further dampener to their spirits, such as doom metal does.
In the interestingly-named LifePositive.com website, one of the suggested solutions to help one "come out of the blues" was to "accept the mood, enter into it fully by listening to sad music and gradually change it to light, pleasant tunes". (They also suggest that you should "lock yourself in a room and laugh loudly for half an hour", but I won't go into that sort of discussion.) On the Mental Health Info website at MindInfo.co.uk, it is flatly stated that "sometimes if you're feeling low, it's tempting to play slow sad music, but this will make you feel worse. An uplifting tune or cheerful song can instantly improve your energy levels and your emotional well being."
So if these websites are right, then how do you sell misery to people? Well, I won't try to make any general statements like the last one above, but I can safely state from personal experience that not everyone is negatively affected by sad music, and not everyone's spirits improve by way of music that is supposed to be directly uplifting in nature. The way to go for those must therefore be a bit more winding and narrow, through a wretched path that may -- or may not -- lead to a better place. In other, less dramatic words, this is usually either through doom metal or the darkest shades of the genres mentioned before. And while for some people doom metal is strangely uplifting, for others the arguably unparalleled torrent of emotion -- melodically or crushingly conveyed -- that can pour from it is enjoyable even on a good day, rather than depressive as it might be for the majority.
There may be an interesting parallel to be drawn between this situation and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD, according to the NOSAD.com website, "is a type of winter depression which affects millions of people (...), caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight". The article also devotes a whole sentence to briefly explain that "in summer SAD, symptoms may be related to excessive heat rather than light". While some people may not be affected at all, most are expected to fell some lowering of spirits during the Winter months, even if only slightly; those who actually like those dreary months -better- than the happy seasons can be expected to be a tiny minority. Similarly, I have little doubt that the minority of people who will truly enjoy doom metal will also prefer the colors of Autumn to those of Summer, grey clouds to bright sun. Whether or not this would be due to the aforementioned biological reasons is beyond me, but perhaps the rationale behind the seasonal and musical situations isn't very different.
Bjørn Grinde, in an article published in the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy (online version at www.hisf.no/njmt), discusses music in which "particular passages can generate the intense pleasurable experience described as a chill, a thrill, or a shiver". It may come as a surprise, but according to the article, "research suggests that chills are evoked more often by sad music than by happy music". "At least in Western culture, sadness is thought of as a negative feeling, yet we flock to movies known to make us cry. Both visual art and music offer us the possibility of taking gratification from sorrow without having to undergo the bereavement that normally precedes this feeling."
I happened to finish reading Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" during the writing of this article. In this book, the author portrays a world where humans are distinguished from highly developed androids by the former's capacity for empathy, which the latter lack. Humans devoted to Mercerism frequently used a device called an empathy box, which allowed them to empathize with each other in their struggle to ascend an interminable hill infested by invisible enemies. From this perspective, the doom metal album may be some listeners' empathy box -- they all share their successes and failures in that doomed ascent, and empathy makes the whole stronger. For some people, perhaps empathy with the feelings being eloquently portrayed on a doom metal album can provide a more uplifting and enjoyable experience than other genres.
Whichever way you look at it, there is a certain uniqueness to doom metal. This doesn't imply that other genres lack their own unique characteristics; but I personally find the idiosyncrasies of doom metal to be the most endearing of all metal genres.
Thanks for putting up with my endless rants and long-winded reviews. Keep the Doom Metal flag flying high and play the music loud. Be sure and listen to all the bands I review or interview, if you like them then please buy the CD, please don't download if you can avoid it. I know times are tough so I understand the temptation to get some free music but if you do download, do everything possible to purchase the real thing. Support the bands, buy them a drink, smoke them out, let them sleep at your house and send them a message of support also.
DOOM ON - Ed Barnard
THE RATING SYSTEM ...
Each writer has their own way of reviewing but I rate albums out of 10. I get a lot of questions about this so I must point what I consider to be obvious but other people have a problem with. Anything I give a 10 rating to is what I considered an essential purchase, a classic album that is hard for me to find any flaws with but a 9 is also excellent, it might be a less than satisfactory production, poor artwork or maybe just one really bad track that stops it from reaching the 10 rating. Albums with a 7-8 rating are good to very good albums but with minor flaws or they just be an acquired taste and thus prevents me from rating them any higher. While I judge albums from the point of view as a fan, I also take into consideration the varied tastes other listeners have. I love a lot of drone music for example but I am also aware that style drives some people to a state of absolute boredom. Albums with 5-6 are average recordings, not real bad but not too good either. I can have a lot of problems with albums in this rating range and so many different factors come into that, too many to mention here as every album is different. Anything with a rating of 1 - 4 are basically what I consider to be garbage to the extremely average or a throwaway, instantly forgettable release. So never think if I review your favorite album of the moment and only give it a 7 or a 8 it means I don't like it because it's usually quite the opposite.
Or To Put It Another Way ...
10: Essential, Perfect.
8 - 9.5: Very Good to Very Great
6 - 7.5: Above Average, to Good, Decent, Solid
4 - 5.5: Below Average, Average, Nothing Special to Just OK
2 - 3.5: Bad, Horrid, Embarassing, to Disappointing, Weak
0 - 1.5: Garbage, Pathetic, Worthless