What is Doomgaze? An introduction and the history of a heavy, ethereal underground genre
It’s an odd genre term you may very well have heard sometime over the last few years — and with more releases now than ever before getting the label from fans and critics alike, it looks like this underground genre is gaining in prominence.
Look online however and you won’t find much in the way of definitions — a Reddit thread here, a website tag there. For a while, there was a pretty great writeup by the site Arctic Drones, doing a good job of defining the sound and bringing together a selection of artists alongside. It’s an article I have to credit for perhaps being the biggest push forward into the genre for me. Sometime in late 2019 however, the website became defunct, and all that remains of that article is an archive link you’re not very likely to come across through a search engine.
Without any good sources or explanations, I can’t say the genre is likely to grow or be understood much outside of a devoted few — so in response, here’s everything I’ve found out over the last few years of seeking out this subgenre, as someone who’s listened to hundreds of releases tagged or linked as doomgaze. Where it began, where it went, where it is now…and where it’s going.
So, what even is doomgaze?
It’s a genre term given to a subsection of metal albums, all which follow a distinct sound. Start with imagining what ‘metal shoegaze’ sounds like in your mind, before we start whittling it down into what most constitutes the term. First, remove any black metal aspect you may be imagining — that’s blackgaze, the blastbeat-filled genre pioneered by French musician Neige and popularized by Deafheaven. Imagine heavy, droning, metallic wall-of-sound riffs instead, played at the pace of a doom metal record, and over the top of that add lighter tones, melodies, and the ethereal vocals of shoegaze to create a balance of sound. This soft/heavy contrast is core to what makes up doomgaze, and it becomes a recognisable, defining sound once you’ve stuck your feet into a dozen or so releases.
Right, so it’s shoegazey doom metal?
Well…not quite. Long, drawn-out riffs and the slow tempo of doom metal are certainly present on many releases, but it’s not a doom metal subgenre in the same way blackgaze is a black metal subgenre. If anything, it’s a subgenre of post-metal, I would say. Most artists included under the doomgaze umbrella, such as Jesu and Holy Fawn, are often called post-metal, and only a few have a connection to doom metal. Just like post-rock, the label of post-metal casts a pretty wide net, with artists ranging from Isis to Agalloch to Astronoid. Doomgaze artists found a niche within that genre that people saw fit to give a new name to, a niche that you’ll see has been developing for almost two decades.
‘Slow, wall-of-sound post-metal’ is the shortest, most accurate description I can think of. Why did doomgaze end up being the term? Not too sure, but it’s not as bad as ‘trap metal’ at least.
How about ‘metalgaze’ and ‘dronegaze’? Are they related to doomgaze?
Starting with the latter, dronegaze is an interchangeable name for early doomgaze, coming from how the three core artists (The Angelic Process, Jesu, and Nadja) had a strong connection to drone metal as well as post-metal and shoegaze. As later releases rescinded most of the connection to drone metal, the term fell out of favour and has seen little usage over the last decade.
‘Metalgaze’ is a pretty wide umbrella term that does include doomgaze — but it also includes (and predominantly refers to) blackgaze artists and other artists that combine any genre of metal with shoegaze influence, such as Deftones. Like dronegaze, it seems to have had the largest usage a decade ago, before ‘blackgaze’ grew as a term and replaced it. Over on Vice, you’ll see no mention of doomgaze in this article about ‘shoegazer metal’, and with the description’s mention of blast-beats and examples including Les Discrets and Lantlôs, you can see which side of metalgaze they looked at. Wikipedia states that metalgaze is an alternate name for all post-metal. With this in mind, metalgaze isn’t a suitable interchangeable name for doomgaze. It’s an example of ‘all A is B, but not all B is A’.
Have a Nice Life are doomgaze, and they’re not metal, right?
Thought I’d include a pointer here, as a lot of people when they’ve heard ‘doomgaze’ have only heard it in reference to HaNL — as far as the definition goes, HaNL isn’t doomgaze. The ‘post-industrial doomgaze’ joke name is just that, a joke/meme rather than a genuine descriptor, which I’m pretty sure was coined separately from actual doomgaze. They’ve got a distinct style of dark shoegaze for sure, but it’s one that was born out of post-punk, not post-metal. They’re as post-industrial as they are doomgaze.
History of Doomgaze
Part One — The Dronegaze Era (2001–2007)
I think shoegaze should be held in a higher regard than it usually is. Rather than being just another genre, it was created around an entirely new method of guitar playing — the glide guitar — with the sole purpose of pushing the most experimental sounds out of the world’s most popular musical instrument, noises and tones that had just never been heard before. This experimentalism is what I feel makes up the foundation of shoegaze, and why some of the most creative musical works ever released can be found in the genre.
Mixing metal with shoegaze isn’t a new thing at all. In fact, people have been doing it almost as long as shoegaze itself has existed — take Hybernoid’s 1994 album The Last Day Begins? for example, a gothic/death-doom mix which includes reverby, airy guitar sections (though they say they’d never heard shoegaze before, the same way Neige says he hadn’t before he made Le Secret). In the same vein, some link 1996 album Brave Murder Day by Katatonia as an early shoegaze metal mix, though I personally can’t hear much shoegaze going on there, there’s certainly less going on there than in Hybernoid.
Where did doomgaze start? The earliest example I can think of that I’d fit into the mould of the genre is the third track off Flood, the 2000 Boris album. It’s the proverbial ‘flood’ of the album — there’s heaviness, strong reverb, metallic guitar, the tempo, the soaring vocals — it all matches. If you don’t want to consider just one track off an album as the start of a genre however, that’s fine, as we only need to head forward one year to find the start of a bigger leap into the genre.
“We wanted to create the music we weren’t hearing others make and wanted to hear ourselves, and I wanted to make music that might mean to others what Swans music had meant to me.”
That was the driving force behind the first release from The Angelic Process, then a solo project by multi-instrumentalist K.Angylus. Beginning with the release of theangelicprocessep in April of 2001, he quotes the use of crescendos and transitional structures from Swans (the legendary band which had disbanded a few years prior), the heavy drumming of Neurosis’ Times Of Grace, and the experimental guitar sounds from My Bloody Valentine as the main influences behind his first work, the building blocks on where he founded his sound. On top of that, he utilised the bowing technique of using a violin bow on a guitar, much like Jónsi of Sigur Rós, to achieve more textural sounds. This new subgenre was self-dubbed ‘Ambient Drone Metal’ at the time.
theangelicprocessep would set the foundation for the subgenre that would follow it…or at least, that’s what I assume as it has never surfaced online, other than the names of the four tracks that make up the EP. His following debut album later that year however, …And Your Blood Is Full Of Honey (the name of which looks to be a reference to a track on Soundtracks for the Blind), is certainly freely available. It carries a melodic, heavy wall of sound that hadn’t been heard in anything before. From the intro of the very first track, Welcome To Oblivion, you can tell the experience you’re in for the rest of the album. This release was described as being more doom oriented than the lost debut EP.
K.Angylus’ sophomore album released in 2003, Coma Waering, built on the foundation he’d created with the previous releases, but with a more honed sound and melodic layers on top. The result was a monolithic album that I’ve seen described as living in a dream and a nightmare at once — a truly transcendent listen. The heavy shoegaze drones sound apocalyptic, but so warm and uplifting. One of the true highlights of the genre, listened to on speakers preferably, at a volume which shakes the room if you can get away with it.
Coma Waering would be TAP’s last release until a several-year hiatus. In the meantime however, there were some new artists joining them in this new genre…
In 2002, long time industrial metal pioneers Godflesh disbanded — painfully. Guitarist and vocalist Justin Broadrick suffered a nervous breakdown, the result of a number of stresses. The result was creative writing in a new direction, one that had been hinted at previously. Godflesh’s 2001 album, Hymns, featured a hidden track one minute after the final song on the album, Jesu. This hidden track would showcase what was to come from Broadrick’s next project, which was to take its name from this track.
Jesu was the result of a cathartic, unconstrained writing process that diverged from the industrial metal that Broadrick was accustomed to, taking him in a direction of heavy, shoegaze-inspired post-metal. 2004’s EP Heart Ache would be a solo effort, before the full self-titled debut LP would release later that year, featuring contributions from long-time associate and drummer Ted Parsons, as well as bassist Diarmuid Dalton. The result was an album full of strong, slow, heavy riffs that are unrelenting apart from a few brief moments.
2006 EP Silver would continue the metal shoegaze path for Broadrick, but with a lighter, poppier tone. That’s still not saying much of course, it’s still spectacularly heavy shoegaze, but not as crushing as the self-titled album. Second album Conqueror would go even lighter-but-still-heavy, resulting in what should be an easier listen in the Jesu catalogue — perhaps a good starting point for new listeners.
The last of the main three pioneering artists in the genre is Nadja — by far the most prolific artist of the genre in terms of releases, with 53 albums in total according to RateYourMusic. These include 29 in just four years alone, though a lot of these are ambient, re-recordings, or split releases. The product of Aidan Baker, a move to Berlin in 2005 saw Leah Buckareff joining the project on bass.
In terms of genre, they’re also further on the drone metal side than the other two, especially since you’ll be hearing just that on a lot of their releases. The 2007 re-recording of Touched and the 2008 single & EP Long Dark Twenties and Christ Send Light respectively are perhaps the best embodiments of Nadja’s interpretation of doomgaze.
In 2005, The Angelic Process would resume, with a new member by the name of MDragynfly. With two members, playing live was possible for the first time, and they would perform their premiere live show in January 2006. In a year, the solo project had turned into a husband and wife duo. MDragynfly became the bass player and brought additional vocals and electronic textures to the project’s music. After two further EPs in 2006, everything would coalesce into what would end up being their final album, 2007’s Weighing Souls with Sand. This album is beyond description, by me at least. Their sound was now fine-tuned to perfection, as was their songwriting. Their increasing popularity and prominence would earn them a vinyl release with Profound Lore Records.
Scheduled to perform an overseas tour in Europe during September of that year, an accident would leave the band unable to play just a month before the tour — K.Angylus had broken his hand, a hand that he mentions was already permanently damaged following a near-fatal car accident when he was 18. Despite attempts to be able to play, in October, the band would be put on hold indefinitely.
“Even with surgery, a recovery that would allow me to play well enough to continue the band is not assured. Such a surgery would also require extensive muscle reconstruction and bone resetting and will take an estimated year and a half to 2 years to heal.
I have made music for the last 12 years…nearly half my life. I’ve done The Angelic Process for nearly 9 of those. When I think about who I am without music, I don’t really know. Sometimes, something is so much a part of you…”
On April 26, 2008, he would die by suicide.
He would never hear the later releases of Swans, his favourite band, who would reform two years after his death. No footage of The Angelic Process playing live exists.
Part Two — An Overshadowed, Defined Decline (2008–2013)
With the loss of the largest band in the genre, and very few emerging and innovative artists to fill the void TAP had left, the genre would go heavily underground. Jesu’s releases would be less critically received, and Nadja’s output declined to one ‘proper’ album every few years. Both would receive less attention for their work. Most of the critics moved onto the new blend of metal and indie coming from the underground — blackgaze, which was picking up steam following Alcest’s releases. New artists were flocking there too, with releases like Lantlôs’ .neon receiving high critical acclaim and Deafheaven’s Sunbather going on to be one of the largest albums that year. The little doomgaze that did come out got generally no notice.
Artists in this period include the short-lived Akasa, a seemingly TAP inspired act who may have gotten somewhere if they released more than just two EPs. Fragment and Iroha were two unapologetically Jesu clones that, while releasing some stuff worth a listen (Fragment’s Home especially, highly recommended for Jesu fans), didn’t do much to advance or add to Jesu’s style of doomgaze. There are some real hidden gems in this period — Megaton Leviathan’s Water Wealth Hell on Earth is a great album I came across only a few months ago, and a free one too — but a sticking theme is the connection to drone metal from the first few years. A small few were starting to shed it, however.
The earliest doomgaze album I’ve found that dropped the connection to drone metal is La Stanza Di Swedenborg by Italian duo Vanessa Van Basten, released in 2006. The album was a huge creative leap, and it’d be several years more until other albums like it hit the world, with releases like Leaving by Planning for Burial and Abysmal Lullabies by Arctic Sleep, both in 2009. Steps were starting to be made in a different direction, but very little notice was taken. But something else did happen in this time — the genre finally got a name.
Ambient drone metal, dream sludge, bliss metal and lava-flow metal (?) were just some of the terms floating around to describe what had been released in the last few years. ‘Shoegazer metal’ and ‘metalgaze’ started getting traction around 2007 and throughout 2008, but as you’ll see especially here, it covered everything from TAP to the then two-year-old Alcest (discounting that debut black metal EP) to Katatonia and Caïna. Doomgaze (along with dronegaze) as a term would start popping up in 2009, from the last.fm tag description to articles here and there calling Nadja a doomgaze band. I’m not too sure where the name came from, maybe this guy for all I know. For whatever reason, it would take blackgaze another year to start popping up widely in 2010. But when it did, as one of the comments in that 2007 forum correctly predicted, it was this black metal side of ‘metalgaze’ which would ride a high wave.
Of note in 2010 — the doomgaze term was most likely spread wider by post-rock band This Will Destroy You, who would use it to describe their then upcoming album, Tunnel Blanket, as can be seen here, here and here. Though it’s more a post-rock/drone record, the first track, Little Smoke, could certainly pass for early non-drone-metal doomgaze.
Part Three — A Rekindling (2014-)
By no means am I saying doomgaze ‘made a comeback’ as such in 2014 — rather, it was the start of a slow-burn resurgence comprised of both old and new bands bringing new sounds under the doomgaze label. Whilst mostly in obscurity, doomgaze releases would start picking up both in number and in creativity.
2014 brought us Leonov’s self-titled debut, Miserable’s Halloween Dream EP, Vagrond’s Regret which offered a doom/prog metal take on the genre, as well as Lantlôs’ switch from blackgaze to a more doomgaze sound with Melting Sun. The next year would bring us Au De La by Big Brave, Lack by Solip and Slow Day by GENA (a personal favourite) among others. 2016 proved similar still, a large notable release coming from FVNERALS and their album Wounds.
2017 would be the largest year yet, one where the genre’s prominence would start to grow outwards with the release of some large albums. Palehorse/Palerider’s debut album Burial Songs would prove rather popular in underground circles, including placing #1 on the site Echoes And Dust’s list of records of the year, who would remark it was the year that “Doomgaze became a fully-fledged ‘thing’”. Planning for Burial would release Below the House, Spotlights would deliver atmo-sludge tinted doomgaze with Seismic, and big gothic-rock artist Chelsea Wolfe would deliver a solid doomgaze release seemingly by accident with the release of Hiss Spun, where the ethereal vocals and reverb alongside heavy doomy guitars would combine to create something pretty faithful to the term. In the following years, this gothic/ethereal wave/doom metal style of doomgaze would gain several artists, notably Frayle, E-L-R and Iress. Plenty of artists would start to define themselves by the term, mentioning it in their bios or in interviews. Finally, 2017 would be the year of Arctic Drone’s writeup, which was perhaps the first attempt at collecting artists and their releases together with a solid description behind it.
2018 would deliver one of the most polished, promising releases in the genre yet with Holy Fawn’s debut album Death Spells, one hour of perfectly crafted doomgaze to serve as one of the best entry points of the genre, as well as being a great showpiece of how music as heavy as this can still be dreamy and ethereal. 2019 brought Enders by Dead Swords and The Valium Machine by Outlander, the first track of which is one of my favourite tracks in the genre.
Bringing us up to 2020, we’ve had perhaps more releases than any year so far already. Highlights include Bloodletting by Mountaineer, A Dead and Aimless Hum by Shedfromthebody, Drugs by Sugar Horse, and comeback album Inlet by Hum. There have been several fantastic releases coming out every month so far in 2020, and hopefully, it keeps up. The 2020s are looking promising so far…for doomgaze that is, not much else.
Hopefully, this article/guide gave you more backstory and a better understanding of doomgaze, whether you’ve come across the genre term for the first time or you’ve been listening to it from the start. For a long while, there’s been no easy way to keep track of doomgaze releases, especially the ones released into relative obscurity. So from now on, I’ll be running a list of all doomgaze releases I’ve found, including new additions from the last 60 days if you’re following along, over on RateYourMusic. Of course, if there’s anything that you’ve found before me that should be on there, let me know.
A few months ago I assembled a doomgaze playlist for the ‘RYM Ultimate Box Set’ project, which can be found here. Spotify & Youtube playlists are included.
Also, while Arctic Drones no longer has a website, they still have an active Spotify presence including a doomgaze playlist which is updated regularly.
Want to help spread the word? Maybe recommend an album to a friend (Holy Fawn and Palehorse/Palerider are the best starting points, I feel), and if they’re interested, let them know the name of the genre, have a laugh at it, and chuck them a few more releases. If friends aren’t receptive, try a forum or a subreddit. The more people who know about the genre, the more it’ll grow. There’s some incredible creativity and work under the label and it deserves to be heard more than it is right now.
If you write up articles for music websites, maybe put up a doomgaze article? Or highlight one of your favourite releases from the genre, I’m sure most of your readers would be new to it. Either way, up to you.
Still wish ‘dream sludge’ stuck instead…