Ethereal Gloom: the Essential Death/Doom Albums

Death metal is obviously my favourite genre of music, and I’m no stranger to doom metal either. The two styles have been fusing together with each other since the late 80’s, and have been complementary to each other in many ways since. Bands like Autopsy realized the slow, heavy riffing of Black Sabbath, Trouble, and Saint Vitus was the perfect counterpoint to the extreme speeds that death metal had been pushing since its formation. The hybrid genre has many different iterations and niche styles now, such as the more cavernous sounds pioneered by Incantation, the Celtic Frost/Amebix fusion by Winter, and the more melodic or gothic approaches by bands like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Katatonia.

There is, however, one style of death/doom that I absolutely can never get enough of, and it’s the kind that includes gloomy, ethereal melodies to create some of the most sombre atmospheres I’ve ever heard. This specific style was honed in by the great Australian band diSEMBOWELMENT on their only full length, “Transcendence into the Peripheral” (1993). This album was absolutely monumental, and featured songs that ranged from brutal grinding sections to some truly melancholic pieces. Many death/doom bands have existed throughout the years, but it feels like a lot of them weren’t taking note of what diSEMBOWELMENT achieved on this record, or maybe they just couldn’t pull it off. Regardless, it feels like this style has seen somewhat of a resurgence over the last decade plus, with more bands coming out that capture the same feelings. To me, it is the perfect kind of music for a dreary winter day, which is something that is in no short supply up here in the Canadian prairies. I hope that in reading this, you can find something to get lost in during the most awful part of the year.

Disembowelment – Transcendence into the Peripheral (1993)

As mentioned, this was the album that really started this sound, and ever since hearing it in my late teens, I’ve been absolutely enamored by it. There’s huge death metal riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Incantation record, likewise, there’s evening some grindcore parts that show the band’s roots when they were playing that style under the moniker of Scum. What really sets this album apart from other death/doom records at the time was the more atmospheric pieces. The clean guitars and Gregorian chant-like vocals on tracks like “Your Prophetic Throne of Ivory” are so hauntingly ethereal, and yet so beautiful, you can truly get lost in it. The willingness to experiment on this record really sets it above and beyond anything else. I love the inclusion of the stand-up bass – the outro of the record sound so ominous with its usage. It doesn’t get much better than this, and if you haven’t heard this record, you are truly depriving yourself of an outer-worldly experience. Note that this has been reissued throughout the years, and there’s a self-titled compilation that includes the EP and demo tracks on a second disc as well!

Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing (2017)

I’ve reviewed this album before, and I honestly think it’s the best thing since “Transcendence into the Peripheral.” Featuring 3 members of Blood Incantation, this band had a lot of hype before dropping their debut album, and it masterfully executes this style of death/doom. A lot of the death metal influence on this record sounds like it was influenced by the classic Finnish death metal bands, and they really hit out of the park with the slow, atmospheric stuff. Their use of layering in modulated guitar leads takes it to the next level, and everything about it just sounds massive. I am anxiously awaiting a follow up.

Krypts – Remnants of Expansion (2016)

This Finnish band has been on my radar for a bit. I thought their demo was cool, but the debut full length didn’t really strike much of a chord with me. That changed with their sophomore release, as it gets into some territory that sounds like the desolation one would feel in cold outer space. There’s some great lead work intertwined with all the heavy low end, which is bound to hook anyone in who appreciates this style. The follow up to this record is also fantastic, so don’t sleep on that one either.

Sinistrous Diabolus – Total Doom//Desecration (2013)

Sinistrous Diabolus are an old cult band from New Zealand, having released a demo in 1993, and finally dropping this monumental full length 20 years later. I bought the LP pressing immediately upon hearing the one track that was premiered online, the album closer “The Essence of Divinity Given to Abstraction of the Human Mind.” This track truly harnesses a similar vibe to diSEMBOWELMENT, with it’s usage of clean guitars and orchestration. They have some other material that really focuses on dirgey soundscapes, which is also enjoyable unto itself.

Anhedonist – Netherwards (2012)

Anhedonist kind of led this style in the early 2010’s, starting with “The Drear” demo before unleashing this massive piece of death/doom a year later. There’s some truly gloomy stuff on here, and a variety of sounds at that. One track in particular bends more towards the melodic side, but the album’s epic closer spirals into some truly dark territory. There’s quite a variety of twisted vocals soaked in despair, which is also mirrored in the lead playing as well. Anhedonist, like many death/doom bands, has a limited output, but all of it is worth checking out.

Assumption – Absonditus (2018)

I stumbled upon this Italian death/doom band a few years ago, and I was immediately taken by their ability to tap into that diSEMBOWELMENT sound while expanding on it at the same time. There are only two members of this band, with one of them handling drums, and the other layering in everything else, including flutes. Flutes certainly aren’t an instrument that comes to mind when one thinks of death metal, but the way it’s utilized on this record creates a unsettling and eerie atmosphere. This album is a mere 3 songs clocking in at 36 minutes, making it pretty easy to listen to on repeat. Both the previous EP and demo are great, but they really knocked it out of the park with this release, and I am eagerly awaiting a follow up!

Inverloch – Distance Collapsed (2016)

Two decades after the monumental diSEMBOWELMENT full length, a couple former members formed Inverloch to continue down that same path. They released an excellent EP in 2012, and then this full length four years later. There are many elements and parts throughout the record that beckon back to a particular moment on “Transcendence into the Peripheral,” acting as a clear statement on what the band intended this album to sound like. It’s by no means as incredible, but honestly, what is? This is still a great album and is totally worth anyone’s time who loves their former work.

Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia (1993)

Finland’s Rippikoulu was a cult band that released two demos and then fucked off until people caught onto how great those demos were through the power of the internet years later. “Musta Seremonia” was their second demo, and it’s one of the heaviest recordings from the Finnish death metal underground in the early 90’s. It’s a little on the raw side, but again, this is a demo, and it kind of adds to its cult appeal. But make no mistake, this stuff is massively heavy, and has the right eerie atmosphere, and its influence can certainly be heard via many of the contemporary bands featured on this list. There’s some evil sounding synthesizer parts that further add to the doom and gloom on this cult piece of death/doom. It’s been reissued a ton in recent years, so definitely seek it out!

Mortiferum – Disgorged from Psychotic Depths (2019)/Pervesed in Torment (2021)

Seattle’s Mortiferum are the only band on this list where I’m mentioning more than one album, and it’s honestly because I can’t choose between the two. Both of them are masterful displays of death/doom, as they are full of massive riffs and perfectly dirgey lead playing, drenched in nice modulation. There’s definitely a good dose of Finnish death metal influence throughout both albums, and it’s sure to satisfy your cravings for crushing desolation. Bonus trivia fact: the bassist on their demo was in Anhedonist, so you know this is worthwhile!

Void Rot – Descending Pillars (2020)

Most of the bands on this list are relatively new bands, and I believe Void Rot are probably the newest band on this list. This Minneapolis quartet put out an EP and split before this album, both of which really piqued my interest. Much like Mortiferum, they utilize a lot of midpaced tremolo riffs backed with double bass that give away to more open parts. They fill up a lot of the space by throwing in some arpeggiated chords and simple lead melodies. The atmosphere is also very similar to Krypts, so you’re bound to enjoy this record if you want more of that.

Worm – Foreverglade (2021)

Florida’s Worm has been around for a decade now, but they didn’t start off playing dismal death/doom. They ditched their initial black metal sound on the sophomore album, “Gloomlord” (which also rules), and then followed it up with this monster last year. Much like Inverloch, there are some parts on “Foreverglade” that sound almost directly lifted from diSEMBOWELMENT, but they’ll change it up just enough that it’s different. Specifically, they borrow some of the clean guitar chord progressions, and it sounds just as dark on this record. Worm does have some elements that set them apart from every other band on this list, and that’s namely the inclusion of neoclassical lead guitar playing. Contrasting with the open space of the real doomy sections, they’ll throw in these sweep arpeggios on top. These guys seem to have a lot of creativity in them and hopefully they keep pushing it.

Womb – Split w/ Disciples of Mockery (2001)

Womb consists of three musicians who also played on the debut Incantation LP. Craig Pillard (who fucking sucks as a human, but undeniably was on some great death metal records) is on vocals and 2nd bass guitar. That’s right, Womb features two bassists and no guitars, and they somehow manage to create a very ethereal atmosphere by putting some modulation and delay effects on one of the basses. Songs like “Thong” are so perfectly done, and it provides great contrast to some of the more monolithic (and dare I say, industrial influenced) riffing such as in the opening track. The band only released the songs that are on this split, but apparently have a full length that has been shelved for years. If there’s one unreleased album I’d love to hear, it has to be the Womb album. Alas, Disciples of Mockery at least got a full length out (which features the three members of Womb configured into a quartet with the usual dual guitar set up), and I’ve always loved that album.

I hope that anyone who bothered to read this list found something to go listen to. This is by no means a definitive list, as you can really find yourself crawling down a hole to find similar sounds (and in discussing this list with a friend, he mentioned Decomposed who are worth a gander too). There’s a great band out here in Alberta, Nephilim’s Noose, who put out a solid full length in this vein of death/doom, and I’d feel like a schmuck if I neglected to mention them. You may find that funeral doom satisfies your craving for grief and desolation, as that style eschews the fast parts and emphasizes on the slow parts. If that sounds attractive to you, definitely don’t sleep on bands like Evoken, Esoteric, or Mournful Congregation. This is perfect music for days where everything looks grey, and if you’re like me, it’ll help make the worst days feel a little more tolerable.