Saturday, December 5, 2009

Proto-Doom Metal

Proto-Doom Metal -

Where Metal Began and Its Earliest Influences

Most people think that all early metal is Doom Metal. Certainly, most Doom bands claim Black Sabbath as their first influence. And most Doom bands sound like Black Sabbath in some sort of amalgamation or appropriation. Usually their music is slower than most other types of metal, like Thrash or Death metal. There is, however, a slight distinction between what is now considered Doom and the early bands (like Sabbath) that informed and inspired it. In fact, Doom Metal and early metal could be considered genetic chimeras (two very different things in one body) born of the same mother.

Early Doom influences can be described more easily by their sound than later, authentic Doom bands. Listeners often know instantly the sound of Doom by the slowness and heaviness of the music. In it’s simplest description, Doom “emanates a dark and brooding atmosphere that cannot be found with such intensity in any other genre” ( Certainly, Black Sabbath fits that bill, as well as other bands from the 70s (like Pentagram, Deep Purple, and Jerusalem) that are sometimes considered Doom. But these bands should actually be labeled “early metal” or “proto-Doom.” In fact, most founding members of these early bands, while accepting the recognition of influencing later Doom bands, do not accept the Doom label for themselves. They consider themselves (and rightly so) originators of Metal or Heavy music in general. It is only with bands from the 80s that the label of Doom becomes appropriate, and then, unfortunately, insufficient.

It is in the 80s that Doom could no longer be just described as slow and heavy. The pioneers in 80s Doom (Trouble, St. Vitus, Candlemass, etc) were too diverse to be relegated to that description; and because of this diversity, several sub-genre labels emerged. claims that there are no less than thirteen sub-genres today, all of which are the bastard sons of Doom and other metal genres.[1] These sub-genres are products of musicians wanting to add something different and relevant to the musical landscape. No one wants to be just like their idols – they want to be better. But what of these earlier pre-Doom influences? Some say that all early heavy rock music can be put into the proto-Doom category, including bands like Iron Butterfly. If this is the case, then certainly the bands Jerusalem and Pentagram belong in that group.

Jerusalem released its eponymous album in 1972, which resulted in gigs with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zepplin, Uriah Heep and Status Quo. The band continues to have a cult following today despite having disbanded in 1973. [2] Founding member, Paul Dean, always wanted Jerusalem to be “about rock in its purest and most basic state” while other band members were more interested in exploring different musical directions. In fact, Dean was very insistent that Jerusalem was not “forced into areas created by peer pressure and the accountants and lawyers who were beginning to take over and run the music business based purely on commercial terms.” No doubt, part of Jerusalem’s appeal to true metal fans arises from Dean’s musical integrity. This interest is evident in it re-release of the 1972 album by Rockadrome Records.

The songs on Jerusalem’s only album are “based around 12 bar blues and boogie” (Dean). Like other bands of their era (Deep Purple and Led Zepplin) they took their love for American blues music and transformed it into hard, heavy rock music. They soon discovered from their first gig that playing originals based on blues was easier than playing the cover pop tunes of the day because most audience members were not familiar with blues music and since the songs were original, the audience would never know when the band missed a few notes or the singer forgot the words (Dean).

But why are fans continuously looking back to the originators of Doom instead of exploring the newest versions? The reason is that Doom, in its purest form, has the same type of appeal as other true genres, like blues. There’s just something about this first form of metal that still appeals to listeners who prefer their music heavy and hard. Proof of this is not only Jerusalem’s re-release and growing fan base, but also respectable sales of Black Sabbath, Pentagram, and Deep Purple albums.

Another reason for the continued interest in original Doom bands is explained by Ian Christe in his book, Sound of the Beast, The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, that the interest was kept alive by the “bands whose emotional qualities more than made up for their lack of flash” (349). [3] It wasn’t just the lack of speed or flashy outfits that made these bands different. It was the “heavy heart” of the music itself that contributed to its timeless appeal (Christe 349). Even in the beginning, Christe defines the early proto-Doom band’s power, revealing that “Their gloomy tones were a captivating siren call to a deep unsatisfied void within modern consciousness” (5). When things get too flashy and fast, metal fans run back to Doom every time. In its simplicity, made of the “power of chord delivery as opposed to sheer speed” (Sharpe-Young 246), its popularity endures. [4]

Like Jerusalem, Pentagram remained in relative obscurity until fans rediscovered it when other Doom bands cited the band as a major influence. [5] Unlike Jerusalem, Pentagram never disbanded. Despite an ever-changing lineup, Pentagram continued to make albums from 1972-2006 (Sharpe-Young 254). Of course, their influences were blues and Sabbath and other metal bands of the day like UFO and Uriah Heap. With one original member, Pentagram plays shows today, bringing their proto-Doom style to new listeners who have yet to discover the original and pure style of Doom. Pentagram is being lauded in larger numbers than Jerusalem, most likely because they are currently touring with one original member, Bobby Liebling, in the lineup. Liebling positions himself as an originator in interviews and with fans, so much so that Pentragram’s legend in metal increases daily. Jerusalem has no such crusader.

Now that there is a considerable history of metal to be explored and studied, all family trees are scrutinized and celebrated. Today, those who try to situate this history in some sort of social significance agree that newer Doom bands inevitably are compared to Black Sabbath in one way or another. One such example is Sleep’s Jerusalem album described by J. Bennett as “Sabbath in slow motion” (292). All Doom, no matter what era it came from, can be traced back to Sabbath. When newer bands cite bands like Jerusalem or Pentagram as influences, they are still nodding to the grandfather of it all, Sabbath. No matter the sub-genre of the sub-genre, the fact is that all forms of Doom metal a born from the soul that gave birth to heavy metal itself.

[1] According to, these sub-genres are Atmospheric Doom, Avant-garde Doom, Black Doom, Death Doom, Drone Doom, Funeral Doom, Gothic Doom, Grindcore Doom, Proto Doom, Sludge Doom, Stoner Doom, Traditional Doom, and Epic Doom.

[2] Dean writes that “After 35 years they have a bigger fan base now than they did at the beginning and it’s still growing!”

[3] Christe lists the best of these bands as Burning Witch, Cathedral, Candlemass, Corrupted, Dream Death, Earth, Eyehategod, Melvins, The Obsessed, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Sleep, and Trouble.

[4] Sharpe lists the best of these bands as Anathema, Candlemass, Cathedral, Electric Wizard, My Dying Bride, Pentagram, Reverand Bizarre, Saint Vitus, Samael, Sleep, Solitude Aeternus, The Obsessed, and Trouble.

[5] Cathedral was one such band.

No comments:

Post a Comment