Doomgaze has proven to be one of the most compelling, consistently-developing subgenres over the past several years, yet it remains woefully under-reported upon. This list seeks to lay the bedrock for exploration, highlighting a selection of albums that are proper catalysts for anyone looking to delve deeper into all the genre has to offer.
Categorizing music by genre has been a controversial discussion. That is not the subject matter of this post, but there’s no denying that for the ordinary music listener the pros probably outweigh the cons when it comes to music genre categories. Labels are particularly useful for grouping bands that bear stylistic similarities, and for discovering new bands and music via such classifications.
Doomgaze is one of those under-recognized genres for which there is little mention across music communities, let alone discussion or critique. Undoubtedly it’s not “new”, as the label has been in use for more than a decade. But it is safe to say that the genre is still toiling in relative obscurity and it is rather difficult to find adequate information or suggestions, so we thought it was about time we gave you a deeper look into the genre.
ON DOOMGAZE AS A SUB/GENRE
Doomgaze is a crossover subgenre fusing deliberately paced, heavy and repetitive doom drones and mellower shoegaze layers. The style is typically defined by a heavy emphasis on atmosphere and an extensive use of reverb, distortion and feedback.
Pulling from its parent genres, doomgaze features a balance of contrasts, in both composition and mood.
Composition-wise, structure is predominantly built around atmosphere via repetitive drones, with much less concern for harmony or technicality. Thick, dense, slow-burn layers coming wave upon wave are usually melded with airier soundscapes with lighter tones, continually giving way to – and thus providing a balance against – one another. Where there are vocals, they are usually soft and clean, pushed back in the mix and blended into and around heavy guitar riffs. This juxtaposition of contrasts is also noticeable mood-wise. While there is usually a gloomy, dreary or ominous atmosphere, the music has sometimes a dreamy, hazy and even an uplifting feel to it as well.
In short, “light” – to put it both metaphorically and literally – is set against the backdrop of “dark” in a musical scheme.
Although doomgaze expands largely on musical explorations associated with drone doom metal and shoegaze, artists also bring in elements from a variety of genres: sludge, dark ambient, post-punk, pop, post-rock/metal, to name just a few. As is the case with many blended and “post-” genres, part of the point is to manipulate certain conventions and subvert them in the pursuit of something new. As such, bands who employ this tactic tend to have different views on what the ultimate sonic goal should be, and as a result you will find a widely-ranging variety of sounds on your journey to clarify exactly what “doomgaze” is. But nailing down exactitude ultimately is not the point; the beauty is in the journey and what you discover along the way. At the end of the day, you will find numerous threads connecting all of these bands in a manner that makes sense.
ON THIS LIST
We had to make some cuts in order to make this list digestible enough for publication, and future installments will be considered as more bands continue to distinguish their sound in this domain, expanding on the list compiled now.
That said, an effort was made to make this list as diverse as possible. The list features albums from more popular bands that popularized doomgaze (e.g. Jesu, Have a Nice Life, Nadja, The Angelic Process) as well as from releases from young acts (e.g. Dreamswell, LANAYAH, Pallow); some feature prominent vocals (e.g. Jesu, Have a Nice Life, Planning for Burial, King Woman, Palehorse/Palerider, Pallow, Solip, Dreamswell) while others keep it instrumental (e.g. This Will Destroy You, Antethic, From Oceans to Autumn, A Film in Color, Fourteen Nights at Sea); and the array of overlapping genres range from post-punk (e.g. Have a Nice Life) and post-black/blackgaze (e.g. Solip, LANAYAH) to post-rock/metal (e.g. Antethic, From Oceans to Autumn, Fourteen Nights at Sea) and slowcore (e.g. Planning for Burial, Pallow). Nonetheless, all have common identifiers of the doomgaze aesthetic that links them all together.
For those of you who have never heard of the genre, doomgaze will be a new and potentially unnerving terrain. Continuity, droning riffs and pummeling walls of sound are quintessential to the genre, and its long song lengths may deter some. However, if you’re looking for something new on the heavier end of music, this list will prove fulfilling.
Finally, a Spotify playlist is available at the end of this post, but please note that it doesn’t feature some of the albums and bands covered here as they are currently unavailable on Spotify.
THE ANGELIC PROCESSComa Waering | Weighing Souls With Sand | Sigh EP
The Angelic Process is now, unfortunately, a defunct band, but along their 8-year career they graced us with a number of timeless songs. Kris Angylus and Monica Dragynfly formed The Angelic Process in Macon, Georgia, United States in 1999. Shortly after the release of their sophomore full-length Weighing Souls With Sand in 2007, Kris Angylus reportedly suffered a severe hand injury, making him unable to play any instrument. Following battle with depression, Angylus took his own life a year later, and the project was put to rest by Dragynfly.
The Angelic Process’ album covers succinctly epitomise the mood and ethos of the duo’s music: a hell storm erupting from the very depths of human psyche. Punishing guitar riffs and heavy bass lines, lots of distortion, elaborate synth arrangements, (rather simple) drum work and (mostly unintelligible) vocals – which are used more like another haunting instrument than for conveyance of lyrics, adding wonderfully to the atmosphere – all combining and creating extremely oppressive layers of noise.
What gives The Angelic Process an edge to stand out from the rest covered here are the dramatic tempo changes over the course of their songs. The recurring transitions between deafening, discordant outbursts and slower ambient/drone passages are usually abrupt and razor-sharp. Take songs like “Coma Waering”, “Crippled Healing”, “My Blood Whispers” from Coma Waering; “The Resonance of Goodbye”, “We All Die Laughing”, “How to Build a Time Machine (Hidden Track)” from Weighing Souls With Sand; or the title track “Sigh” from the Sigh EP. It’s all an overwhelming, even exhausting, but enthralling and addictive experience.
More Info: Bandcamp (I) || Bandcamp (II)
JESUSilver | Opiate Sun | Ascension | Jesu (Self-titled) | Conqueror | Sundown / Sunrise EP
What is there to say about Jesu that hasn’t been said already? Following their formation in 2003 in Wales by Justin Broadrick after the breakup of Godflesh, Jesu have consistently crafted remarkable and genuine albums to this day, quickly garnering a large global audience along the way.
If you’re a first-time listener keen to delve into their catalogue, be ready for a really diverse one, both thematically and instrumentally. Jesu’s music possesses the haziness of shoegaze and the easily consumable, rhythmic elements of pop* while retaining enough edge to be recognized as metal (*Broadrick’s pop influences is clearly felt throughout some of Jesu releases, with lighter tones and an upbeat mood coming very much to the fore. If you have a penchant for music that leans more heavily towards the darker and heavier territories, in addition to Silver, be sure to check out Opiate Sun, Ascension, Self-titled, Conqueror and Sundown/Sunrise EP).
No matter what atmosphere or genre Jesu venture into, there’s always that emotional resonance, not matched by too many bands. With a combination of their ability to marry dark and light, Broadrick’s ethereal vocals, and brooding guitar lines, Jesu has been one of the primary acts that popularized the subgenre.
HAVE A NICE LIFEDeathconsciousness | The Unnatural World
Formed in 2000, Have a Nice Life is an American duo consisting of Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga, who got a bit of cult following as time passed by, thanks in large part to their masterpiece Deathconsciousness, released in 2008. Hard to fit into one category, the band pulls from elements of post-punk, drone, ambient, shoegaze and industrial music (one might easily hear flavors of Joy Division, Swans and Nine Inch Nails in many songs), melding them together with a less-is-more musical approach and deeply personal lyrics.
Thematically, there is much more than the confines of “emotion” here. Their music tends to supply a sense of apathy instead. What you hear here is the sound of a state of mind so out of sync with the world it is in that all emotions – sadness or joy, despair or hope – lose their essence; a state of mind that chooses “coming to terms” over “struggle”. Lyrics like “It’s time that all these things that I wish I could forget join in the ranks of things I regret […] What point is there in pushing on, when all you push against is a brick wall?”; “No matter how hard I try, I’ll never reach the speed of life… No matter how much I write, you’ll never read a single line… Oh well who am I to point it out?.. You are no one”; or “I feel the top of the roof come off… Kill everybody there… As I’m watching all the stars burn out…Trying to pretend that I care” are few of the examples of such realization – or acceptance to perhaps put it in more apt terms.
Musically such dispirited lyrics and detached vocals are offset by softer and lighter – and sometimes even positive – passages of music. Surprised? After all, we’re talking about a band who named themselves Have a Nice Life – with tongue-in-cheek songs titles such as “Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail” and “Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000” – who can yet immerse listeners in a supremely dark and depressive atmosphere with their music. It’s all a hoax!
NADJATouched | Skin Turns to Glass | Thaumogenesis | The Stone Is Not Hit By The Sun, Nor Carved With A Knife
Started as the solo music project of the Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist Aidan Baker, Nadja developed into a duo in 2005 when Baker was joined by bassist Leah Buckareff. They’re an incredibly prolific band, releasing a ton of material in a little over a decade; dozens of full-lengths, EPs and split albums, singles, compilation appearances and live recordings.
This is not “pretty” music. No unpredictable moments here, and no unexpected twists and turns. Nadja is all about endless onslaughts of repetitive and crushingly heavy mid-tempo grooves, creating the feeling of being stuck in a violent storm that is moving in slow motion. You feel powerless to repel it and end up yielding to its fury.
An essential listen if you’re a fan of atmospheric and heavily layered music with massive guitar riffs, and are cool with hours of the same thing (The latter meant as a compliment. You should know by now!)
THIS WILL DESTROY YOUTunnel Blanket
TWDY’s third LP could have proven to be a divisive outing, as their growing ranks of fans most certainly expected a continuation of the traditional post-rock stylings they had employed to that point. With 2011’s Tunnel Blanket they completely obliterated expectations with a record that mixes heavy doom and gloomy slowcore sections with moody ambient pieces, with nary a hint of the more traditional, uplifting melodies that had lain their foundation in the previous years. Thankfully the sheer, undeniable quality of this record quelled any potential fan exodus, and in fact probably turned more people on to doomgaze than most of the subgenre’s releases to that point. Tunnel Blanket is a look into the darkness of the abyss, which maybe isn’t as easy to digest as the band’s earlier output but is no less captivating or emotionally crushing.
A FILM IN COLORTo Scale A Mountain EP
In terms of construction and tempo, New Jersey trio A Film In Color’s debut EP is firmly doomgaze, but whereas much of what comes from this subgenre tends toward moody, downbeat compositions, To Scale A Mountain is an appropriately titled journey of heroic ascent. Brimming with uplifting melodies, moments of quiet vulnerability and fist-clenching epic releases, it’s a work of startling maturity for a young neophyte collection of musicians. Coming from the same friend circle that features members of both Au Revoir and Shy, Low, A Film In Color is a band that should be squarely on every instrumental rock fan’s radar. To date they have only four songs (the two not covered by To Scale A Mountain are considerably darker and also well-worth checking out), but with a full-length completed and awaiting release they could very well be amongst the breakout artists of 2018.
No one can question the power that Gena capture on their recordings, and the first song on their 2015 album Slow Day attests to that. “Past” is perhaps one of the best intro songs in this genre, and it’s undeniable grandiosity will lock you in for the rest of the album. True to the name, the songs keep to slow tempos while doom-filled guitars crash against the droning undertones. While some lean toward instrumental bands in this realm of music, the vocals Gena present fit the aesthetic perfectly.
Each song is a new concept, giving forth new ideas and various genre blends like post-metal and shoegaze while keeping the overall vibe of doom and gloom. This album should be a go-to for people looking to experience more in this realm of music, especially as it represents the genre well whilst simultaneously distinguishing its own distinct “Gena” sound.
PLANNING FOR BURIALDesideratum | Below The House
Slowcore meets doom. Imagine a blend of the lumbering drones of Codeine/Low/Red House Painters and the heavy side of the earlier Jesu.
Pennsylvania-based musician Thom Wasluck crafts melancholic tales of loneliness under the Planning for Burial moniker. While the lyrics are usually short and simple, covering themes like yearning, isolation and loneliness, Wasluck’s gritty vocals acts as a great complement to the droning, heavy guitars in getting across those feelings thoroughly.
As gloomy as much of doomgaze is, most of the times it is also oddly comforting. Planning for Burial is an exception. It is an emotionally draining listen with no trace of daylight, which is also why it encapsulates a desolate state of mind so well.
KING WOMANCreated In The Image Of Suffering | Doubt EP
Based in San Francisco, California, King Woman is a four-piece band fronted by Kristina Esfandiari (formerly of the shoegaze act Whirr). Both Doubt EP (2014) and the band’s full-length debut Created in the Image of Suffering (2017) carry an all-encompassing heaviness, some of which comes from the lyrical content as well as Esfandiari’s nasal vocals. Themes they cover usually revolve around questions of religion, faith and dogmas, resulting from Esfandiari’s devout religious upbringing and its consequences on her own life. Fuzz drenched and thick toned guitars are the other lead component in King Woman’s music, which give their sound a funereal feel.
As is typical with bands of this nature, their music is difficult to absorb in one sitting, but repeated plays reveal the depth of King Woman’s songcraft.
FOURTEEN NIGHTS AT SEAMinor Light | Great North
Fourteen Nights at Sea have been around for ten years, but they didn’t step into darker instrumentation until their newest release in 2015, Minor Light. The Australian quintet’s third full-length is full of aggression, energy, and restraint, showcasing their immediate potential with the abrupt opening of “Teeth Marks”.
The album is a full conceptualization of grey skies and gloomy days, and it couldn’t have hit the mark better. Their attention to detail is what makes Minor Light an enjoyable listen, with each song so intricately woven and layered it begs for repeated listens, especially if your weather points to dark days ahead. Who knows if they’ll follow this path again, but either way, this album is a true beauty.
PALLOWBlueprints For An Empty Vessel
Blueprints for an Empty Vessel follows Pallow’s 2015 Confined EP, and was released in June 2017 on Glowing Windows Recordings, the label founded by Thom Wasluck, aka Planning for Burial. From the incredibly intriguing first notes of opening track “Holding,” you know what awaits you further. It is an intense album, with real depth and an atmosphere that surrounds the listener across its eight tracks. The band’s music has a stronger footing in slowcore, but both forceful and airier segments are also scattered smartly – “Swell” and “Idle Minds” being cases in point. One of the lesser-known bands on this list that you shouldn’t pass up on.
Oakland, CA-based quartet Solip takes the shoegaze wall of sound as the starting point and paints it with shades of doom, post-black metal and post-rock. While each song has its own story and stylistic influences in their latest offering, Without EP – from the ferocity of post-black/blackgaze riffs in “Adaptation” to the doomy, hypnotic feel of “No Gomorrah” – the band pull off blending them into a coherent whole. The guitar work is a particular highlight and displays a level of tightness and depth that is close to what TWDY presented on Tunnel Blanket. They are devoutly atmospheric and periodically explode with fiery riffing, but they never reach the point of excess and unfailingly confine the listener in the bleak imagery the band conveys; while the soulful and soft vocals of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Henderson give the songs further emotional grounding. As Without is a short EP clocking at just over 20 minutes, it will be interesting to see where Solip will go from here.
This Denver, Colorado trio displays an uncanny maturity on their debut release, bestowing some truly infectious melodies the proper weight by demonstrating the patience to allow their compositions to grow and breathe. Occupying a space that pays ample and equal respects to both shoegaze and funereal doom, they are quite possibly the most accurate exemplification of the subgenre this list seeks to highlight. Balancing euphonic guitar work and vocals that exist as both the haze and the light tearing through it with bruising low end achieves a pleasing sonic counterbalance. It is all tied together by percussion that – while seemingly fairly simple – actually enhances the dynamics of each song, not afraid to vacillate between tom-heavy tribal plodding, lilting mid-tempos, and powerhouse explosiveness. It’s not always the case that bands fully buy into the idea of being a part of particular genre, but Palehorse/Palerider appear to be fully invested in the doomgaze concept, and it shows on this record. They most certainly appear as a band to be reckoned with in the coming years if they remain on this path.
ANTETHICGhost Shirt Society
Ghost Shirt Society is one of those albums that looks and sounds excellent. The artwork is crisp, the production is exactly what it needs to be, and the songs are even better. Heavy synths and dreary guitar dominate this release, with each song developing a new terrain and aesthetic. The instrumental trio from Saint Petersburg impressed many this year with Ghost Shirt Society, and if you haven’t heard this album yet you cannot miss it. Find some time and get lost in the wicked, whirling, and disarming textures Antethic have to offer.
Spotlights is Brooklyn-based married couple Mario and Sarah Quintero. Their self-description, “sludge-gaze”, is an appropriate one as their sound is sludgier and more uptempo than most of the entries on this list. The duo takes the best of bands such as Deftones, ISIS, Jesu, The Ocean and My Bloody Valentine and molds it into their own expression through a masterful blend of trippy sludge riffs, layers of shoegaze-y ambience and meditative synth tones. Their 2017 album Seismic, produced by Aaron Harris (Palms, Isis), showcases the band at their boldest and tightest yet.
North Pinion is an hour-long fusion of brutality and beauty from the Santa Barbara, California-based band LANAYAH, formed in 2015. Six tracks in length, it sounds like the halfway point between Alcest and Russian Circles, with pieces of Deafheaven, Oathbreaker and Godspeed You! Black Emperor thrown in. Trying to make such a wide variety of musical elements work well together is risky and ambitious, but North Pinion is a testament to its feasibility by the right combination of skill, imagination and determination. The band does a great job in interweaving explosive guitar riffs, tribal drumming and vocal screams in multi-sectioned compositions with constant switches between violent outbursts of energy, quiet, delicate moments and euphoric passages.
The muddy production cuts both ways. While it enhances the rawness that characterizes the album, it also largely undermines the emotional impact at certain points; better production would take the album to another level.
All in all, North Pinion is a highly impressive and eclectic gem, and the fact that it is only a debut album makes us wait in anticipation for what LANAYAH will do next.
THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLYThrough A Glass, Darkly (Self-titled)
Taking heavy influence from fellow Texas residents This Will Destroy You, Through a Glass, Darkly’s self-titled album is a distorted, rumbling beast. While it feels like an homage to Tunnel Blanket, it captures its own identity with a tendency to lean more towards the doom aesthetic. The drummer also provides a heavy right hand, keeping the momentum of the songs billowing with tension. The album is packed with long, tension-filled tracks as well as shorter ambient passages, which all lead to the finale, aptly titled “At Last”. Through a Glass, Darkly have plenty to offer with their debut release, and hopefully they grow more into their sound on consecutive albums.
FROM OCEANS TO AUTUMNEther/Return To Earth
This Charlotte, North Carolina band emerged after ten years of working with experimental doom-laden soundscapes with what on the surface appears to be one of the most impossibly daunting records of 2017: a 107-minute double album that begins with three of the first four songs clocking in at between 13 and 19 minutes. Upon further digging, this initial quartet (Ether) was in fact mostly improvised in-studio, while the final seven songs are a more fully-constructed effort (Return To Earth). However, from the first twinkling notes of opener “Quintessence/Core,” this album is a silky-smooth, startlingly-listenable record that somehow manages never to be boring. Awash in mesmerizing guitar tones and never afraid to work into a solid groove, this is the kind of record that takes a hold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s a work that you can easily become lost within, and while there are heavier elements that are reminiscent of doom, this one is more about the ‘gaze. It’s also experimental and challenging, with long stretches of ambience and moments where the rhythm seems to purposefully fall apart. Ether/Return To Earth is a perfect example of music that you experience more than simply listen to.
DEAD SUNMatka // батько
With only two songs to their credit, this Chicago band is certainly the most neophyte, unproven quantity on this list, but the brief EP they released in February 2017 has more than enough promise to warrant coverage. While there may be some discussion to be had about their inclusion within doomgaze, we seek to have some malleability in our definitions; Dead Sun certainly excels with its reticent vocals and slowly chugging guitar and bass progressions. The opening track, “Mother,” proves to be one of this year’s most infectious doomgaze tracks – it begins with a deliberate but bouncy drum beat that gives way to a verse part that can almost be reminiscent of Death Cab For Cutie at times, and when the track gets loud, it gets LOUD. The battle between a simple-yet-powerful riff, screeching feedback and a melodic lead part during the track’s second half is truly something to behold. Keep an eye out for Dead Sun, as it appears that they have new material in the works for 2018.
DREAMSWELLAct I EP
A very young band coming from Philadelphia, PA, Dreamswell released their debut EP Act I earlier this year, exuding a savvy and confidence in songwriting beyond the band’s years. With evident touches of Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle, their sound has a solid doomgaze foundation with beautiful female vocals sung over heavy, fuzzy guitar riffs and an air of disappointment and anxiety that looms over. While production on Act I EP could be better, and ideas could be expanded upon further, it is still a promising start by a young band showing great potential.
*Please note that the playlist doesn’t feature some of the albums and bands covered here as they are currently unavailable on Spotify.