It can be hard to define funeral doom metal when one of its distinct qualities is the shear feeling that it pulls forth. It could be said that while depressive black metal is an ode to profound suffering, funeral doom is an ode to the profound emptiness that follows. While the dirge-like pace seems to be the great unifier, exceptional funeral doom artists fill this void by finding their own beauty in times of uncertainty and loss.
While you may be well-versed in the likes of Shape of Despair and Mournful Congregation, other noteworthy artists old and new can be unearthed through some serendipitous searching. In the era of Bandcamp, the number of records out there are vast. While there are surely thousands worthy of recognition, here is a taste to be kept in your thoughts during these difficult times.
Bell Witch (US) – Longing (2012)
While Bell Witch has been understandably championed for their almost hour-and-a-half long track, Mirror Reaper (2017), the Seattle drum and bass duo’s earlier works should not be overlooked or forgotten. Their 2011 demo, Longing (2012), and Four Phantoms (2015) form a trinity of lore seemingly birthed from the tribulations of personal troubles and underground grinding. As reflected in their name, Bell Witch’s mastery of haunting through the ages is central to the point of view that they have carved out within funeral doom. Perhaps no greater display of their subtle-yet-consuming storytelling can be found in Longing.
Beginning with somber feedback, anticipation is built for the heavy punch that ebbs and flows, dismantling the subgenre’s risk of monotony. Druid-like clean singing offsets traditional doom bellows before static and a well-placed strum contextualize recitations from The Masque of the Red Death. The strategic sample serves as a bridge to one last heavy outburst before the outro, which nods back to where things ultimately began. Together, these pieces give meaning to the echoes within a hollow vessel.
Solemn They Await (AU) – Sanctuary in the Depths (2012)
While Sanctuary in the Depths is the only release Solemn They Await has under their belts, the album’s most modern manifestation is the result of years of cultivation. Originally released in 2009 as a demo, it eventually came back to life even stronger in 2012 with new tracks and remastered versions of the old. In a time where user-generated platforms mean music is cranked out simply because it can be, it is refreshing to see an artist taking the time to organically expand a concept. The result for Solemn has proven to be an apocalyptic take on the sweet sorrow of parting.
While most doom metal crosses over with horror in a more 70’s Rob Zombie sense, Sanctuary in the Depths highlights that funeral acts don’t have to be quite so campy. The relentless operatic singing paints the atmosphere of an exorcism film, possessing a kind of holiness that runs alongside a voice siren-calling from the depths. Like with Longing, cavernous pits are warmed up with details like bell chimes and robust clean vocals, mourning all the good things that will be lost when the omen becomes a reality. Supremely doomy both in the traditional and metal sense, Sanctuary is perhaps one of the more accessible albums out of an ilk that’s quick to be deemed a bore.
Nortt (DK) – Endeligt (2017)
Blazing trails since ’95, Nortt has been consistently releasing content while taking in surrounding movements via osmosis. A little bit blackened, a little bit symphonized, Nortt merges funeral doom with DSBM. In fact, the one-manner’s only split is with no other than Xasthur himself. While it is difficult to pick the brightest (or maybe in this case, dullest) record from the lineup, Nortt’s most recent full-length Endeligt serves as the culmination of many years of hard work.
From the album’s start, it is clear that Nortt has lived the formatively important days of turn-of-the-century depressive black metal. His chords just possess that definitive crunch. Still, Nortt turns matters into a mourning song by invoking an old out-of-tune piano that lingers in permanence despite its age. Genuinely unnerving notes are so distorted that it is difficult to put your finger on the instrument from which they are being produced. Over time, Endeligt reaches more of a place of peace as unsettled nerves fall into hypnotically dying anguish—an important reminder that loss isn’t necessarily a fixture to fear as time heals all.
Slow (BE) – V – Oceans (2017)
Perhaps the most aptly named of the bunch, Slow is another outfit that finds great life lessons in the wake of deafening absence. Last year’s Oceans is noted as being the fifth installment in their discography, suggesting that each numbered album is part of a linear concept. Practitioners of an especially atmospheric style of funeral doom, different spheres of nature are invoked in each venture. It is only fitting that Oceans explores the vast potential of funeral doom’s instrumentation as well as the depth of human emotion.
While Oceans slowly beats onward through emotional retching, the story has dimension as glimmers of hope occasionally peek through. Post-metal-style lead guitar work floats above more traditional funeral doom rhythm. There are moments that can compare to post-depressive, but Slow is more avoidant of going full-force into bright tremolo in favor of keeping it steady and not overly muddled. Matters grow a bit angrier and more distorted as they develop, demonstrating that, for some, resentment builds as the pain of loss wanes.
Frowning (DE) – Funeral Impressions (2014)
While one-manner Frowning started out of the gate with a split with Aphonic Threnody, he gained his own footing with Funeral Impressions (2014) and Extinct (2017). While both albums are hearty displays of melancholy, Funeral Impressions is noteworthy for the amount of diversity found in an inaugural full-length. By and large, Frowning seems to be less hung-up on storytelling. Rather, he sets his sights on encapsulating the mood of doom’s darkest subsect.
Funeral Impressions provides precisely that—different sensory elements of a horror movie-like funeral. Organs and soft choir initially greet visitors before the tone becomes more sinister and occult-driven at times. Bass is heavy and given due credit through solo time while vocals are well-placed, crushing growl-bellow hybrids. While guitar solos (in the traditional sense) are more of an anomaly in funeral doom, Frowning makes them work without them feeling dated; most are counterbalanced with more introspective piano or orchestral breaks. Together, these elements preserve both a mood and art form that may be difficult to confront but is worthy of being understood.