Over the course of the last few years, the long suffering, misunderstood bastard son of heavy metal known colloquially as “doom metal” experienced something of a mini-resurgence. Arkansas band Pallbearer played to progressively larger audiences, once-disbanded greats like Sleep, Saint Vitus, and Candlemass returned to massive acclaim, and young bucks like Spirit Adrift and Khemmis proved the genre had a healthy future. Bolstered by this wider interest, doom metal has grown and mutated, and is finally beginning to rival its sonically more extreme counterparts like black and death metal in size and scope.
A host of scenes, sounds, and substrata have developed under the broad “doom metal” umbrella: sludge, blackened doom, classic doom, and epic doom are just a handful of its growing number of new strains. The vast majority of doom bands have one thing in common: they seek to evoke a kind of sweeping emotionality using slow, downtrodden music that traffics in death and misery.
For those who worship an undeniable sense of strangeness, it’s been a triumph to witness the growth of what’s becoming known as “arcane doom”—bands who disregard any trends towards slickness within the genre, instead dialing into the obscure and bizarre. All of these bands have undoubtedly sacrificed broader recognition, preferring to be outliers who evoke an unsettling mood and miserable atmosphere with truly unusual vocals, blistering solos, and bleak soundscapes.
Frequently channeled through rumbling production, to bolster the basement dwelling feel, this style was undoubtedly born too late.
Although they released just one album, in 2013—there’s been radio silence from their camp since—this Australian quintet earns a spot on this list through their comforting familiarity that’s simultaneously difficult to define. Centered around the mournful cries of bassist and vocalist Mandy Andresen (also of excellent funeral doom act The Slow Death), Crone stands out among their contemporaries. Haunting and down-tuned, their music is an unusually original variant that offers up trudging, lengthy pacing with drawn-out wails that float above the serpentine grooves and squealing—albeit infrequent—solos.
Hailing from metal mecca Finland, Ritual Mist has been active since 2010, working at a slow pace to unveil eight songs—most landing in the 10-minute-plus range—during their seven active years. The unsigned trio write glacial songs with peculiar, warbling vocals and cold effects, conjuring comparisons to Reverend Bizarre and the Wandering Midget, as channeled through the atmospheric ugliness of the Italian doom metal maestros. On their newest offering, Demo 2017, the band showcase exactly why they’re so intriguing: the album bears mysterious cover art and is comprised of lurching songs like the chill-inducing “Fire and the Moon,” which paints soundscapes for the wretched.
Compact Disc (CD)
Palmistry emerged from metal hub Montreal early in 2017 with two tracks that follow in the footsteps of equally intriguing city mates Cauchemar. Their music pairs the oddness of obscure anonymous Canadian act Tales of Medusa with squealing riffs that recall epic Vancouver band Funeral Circle. Palmistry has only two members—including the understated and haunting, yet fittingly detached, intonations of vocalist K.B. and multi-instrumentalist C.B. (also of death metal act Shezmu and blackened speed metallers Warslaves).
Ancient is one of the few epic doom bands from the extreme metal-oriented nation of Chile, along with High Roller Records signees Procession. Like Procession, they traffic in Candlemass-style epic doom (the group’s name even comes from Candlemass’ third offering, Ancient Dreams), but blend it with the downtrodden style of Trouble, complete with crunchy riffs and squealing solos, massive drums, and huge vocals. Frontwoman Lissette Galarce sings in her native tongue, giving the band a unique edge in an English-dominated genre.
Compact Disc (CD)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a band that better personifies a sense of “arcane doom” than Australia’s The Wizar’d. Hailing from Tasmania, the band has already released three full-lengths, the most recent of which is 2013’s Ancient Tome of Arcane Knowledge. Although mums the word on upcoming material, the band members are seriously prolific, with several members also contributing to hard rockers Tarot, whose 2016 release Reflections had one foot in doom and the other in Uriah Heep worship (and yes, the results are as glorious as they sound). With oddly warbling vocals, excellent guitar solos, and an overall outsider feel, the Wizar’d do arcane doom to a T.
Compact Disc (CD)
The strangest band on this list, Rote Mare seamlessly blends ‘70s rock with blackened vocals and trudging doom worship, evoking Celtic Frost as heard from inside a barrel of cough syrup. Their music is a grower, and its charms reveal themselves slowly, thanks to their mournful, bizarre, and difficult-to-categorize style. After emerging as a one-man band in 2005 under the tutelage of guitarist and vocalist Phil Howlett, the band eventually grew into a full project. Despite releasing two excellent full-lengths in 2013, including The Invocation and The Kingdom, the band was laid to rest in 2017. They now live on in Lucifer’s Fall, who are faster and more driving, but equally kick ass.
After a five-year silence, this New South Wales quartet have finally unleashed their third album, dubbed Mark III. Diverging from the standard doom handbook, they frequently take off on instrumental tangents, incorporating unusual scales and jazzy drums, heightened by the clean, powerful vocals of crooner Sabine Hamad-Linfoot. Although purists may be aggrieved by their inclusion on the list—particularly due to the pure jazz opening of songs like “Game Of Tears”—later gems like the massive “I’m So Down” are pure arcane doom, complete with pounding drums, drawn-out leads, and stentorian wails. Extra points go to the band for covering Fates Warning.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Head of the Demon could have made a fantastic soundtrack to a particularly gory and unsettling Lucio Fulci film. The Stockholm-based band operate via “deadly black doom,” favoring repetitive musical and vocal structures that result in hypnotically hideous albums that weave tales of Lovecraftian lore. Spearheaded by the prolific guitarist/bassist Konstantin Papavassiliou, the project was formed after his previous Candlelight Records death metal act Kaamos disbanded. Functioning since 2012, they’ve released both their self-titled debut and 2016’s Sathanas Trismegistos. Both are worth the purchase; turn them on, press play, and close your eyes. Daymares await.
Dutch doomsters Hooded Priest are both a delight and an oddity: their dance-inducing 2010 debut Devil Worship Reckoning featured stand-up bass and devilishly delightful lyrics about unearthing the dead and becoming bewitched by Mrs. Satan herself. With a revamped lineup and focus, the band unveiled These Skies Must Break in 2016. Featuring a more traditional doom metal sound, it’s sure to set the tone for the band’s soon to be released second album. Scheduled to come out December 1 via Sweden’s fantastic I Hate label, The Hour Be None will be the next chapter in Hooded Priest’s slow-moving trajectory.