Autumn is here, and the skeletal hand of time is on our shoulders. Darkness encroaching upon the day, nature whithering away, another year of our lives nearly over. Soon the macabre cabaret of Halloween will be here, as the strange horrors of our collective subconscious parade the wintry streets, and then that strange celebration of political violence and fiery destruction on bonfire night.
Lovely, isn't it?
This relentless march of time and realisation of our futile mortality (keep up at the back) is the essence of Doom Metal. The failure of the revolutionary fervour of 1968 led to a collapse of optimism and a retreat into a kind of Zen nihilism, which naturally led to a kind of morally justified hedonism. Black Sabbath were the first to tap into this strangely reassuring bleakness, and were of course followed by a multitude of others who followed those slow, down-tuned chords which sounded like the existential tolling of the bell.
Doom, unlike other metal sub-genres (the obvious exception being Black Metal) has it's own philosophical universe – that of anti-ideology, anti-authority, anti-utopia, hedonism, nihilism, liberty, morbidity, drugs, drink, facelessness, occultism, Satanism and horror. Whether these concepts are explored with seriousness or if they are used to explore the most disposable side of dark pop culture the basic premise is essentially the same - that we are all doomed, nothing matters, so all bets are off. Nietzsche, I imagine, would have appreciated a loud blast of 'Supercoven' as much as he did Wagner.
One of the more exciting recent developments in the genre is the rise of female-fronted doom metal. With doom metal no longer the primary domain of rather slovenly long-haired chaps festooned with crosses and moustaches, women are now leading the way in the international development of the scene. Whether that is the occult rock sound of Lucifer, the progressive flute-driven sound of Blood Ceremony, the folk psychedelicism of Purson, the experimental menace of Chelsea Wolfe, the Sabbathy riffs of Alunah, not to mention Witch Mountain, Witch Charmer, Kult of the Wizard, Jess and the Ancient Ones, The Devil's Blood, Undersmile and many many more – a long list of fantastic new bands that the writer recommends you all check out as soon as Satan allows.
Amongst the many interesting elements to this development are that women are being put (literally) centre stage in what has hitherto been a male-dominate genre, and that the contrast between the depressive heaviness of the riffs and the female vocal provides a fantastic musical contrast which opens up new dark terrain. But what is also of interest is that it undermines the old assumptions about male attitudes being more prone to themes of nihilism, morbidity and the occult – that the philosophical impact of doom is not confined to angry or disillusioned men, and that women can explore these concepts too.
What can we read into the rise of female doom metal? Of course, it is more appropriate for the genre to raise questions rather than answer them – there is, after all, no conclusion to anything or any inherent substance either. But where this development is headed should be of great interest to anyone with an interest in rocking misery.