5. Moss- Sub Templum [Longest track: 35:31]
“Ritus,” this record's opener, all ebb-and-flow guitar throb, shimmering, candle-lit keys and arcane whispering, sets the stage nicely for an album full of Victorian, Satanic-leaning drone that's rife with foreboding from front to back.
The second, and second-longest, track on the album, “Subterraen,” realizes the fear and horror that the first track hinted at, like the 20 minutes of exposition in the beginning of horror film finally broken by the audience's first taste of blood. The band howls like some shadowed, lumbering Elder God, with the moments of drone adding to the tension like the details always artfully absent from H.P. Lovecraft stories. He always tells us it's for our sanity, but the wondering makes it work sort of the opposite.
“Dragged to the Roots” continues where “Subterraen” left off, if at a slightly increased lumber than the latter track. The album's unease is brought to a head with “Gate III: Devils From the Outer Dark,” which begins with a weighty guitar crush and builds on the already dark vibe with a spoken incantation similar to that of “Ritus,” the vocalist's British accent heightening the horror. Several minutes into the track, that incantation seems to have borne fruit, with the unearthly howls of the vocalist seemingly channeling the song's title devils. This song more than any realizes the band's Satanic drone vibe, and at 35:31 is the most gratifying on the record.
Of the other albums on this list, none can convey the constant sense of dread and unease that this album does, even with the genre's proclivity for producing unsettling sounds. Whether your perfect soundtrack to an October evening alone with Lovecraft, or just a drone record for when you've got an hour and fifteen minutes to kill, Sub Templum is a perfect example of doom metal done right.
4. Earth- Earth 2 (Special Low Frequency Version) [Longest track: 30:21]
If you haven't heard Earth's first LP, Earth 2, and can't or don't want to spend the money or time to buy or download it, I've got a solution for you.
Find an old rotary telephone, hook it up to a landline (preferably a poor one, for maximum effect,) and call up a friend who has recording software. Once the call connects, make a series of deep, long buzzing sounds with your mouth like “bzzzvvvvvvvv, bzzzzvvvvvv, bzzzzvvvvv” and have your friend record them through the telephone. On another track, have your friend record you screaming, with several seconds of space between each. Next, have him or her loop your buzzing over 15 or 20 minutes, and have your screaming come in at around the 7 minute mark and last for around 1 minute intervals, returning every 3 minutes. Drive over to your friend's house and play the track with the computer's subwoofer at maximum volume, and you have just created your own Earth 2 (Special Low Frequency Version).
Joking aside, this is a great album. It's just not one that's always particularly easy to listen to. Its run time totals 1:13:00, its track listing has only 3 songs, and its musical content, as described in the introduction, consists of only electric guitar and voice. Being one of the pioneers of the drone doom style, this record's strength doesn't come from its variety, but rather from some spiritual and emotional quality created by the tone and repetition of the guitar, cauterized by the screamed vocal interjections. As the album nears its middle, one feels as if one is deep in some intense form of meditation, both ready to speak in tongues and reach perfect Zen consciousness.
Like some of the greatest films of 40 years ago, this album is best experienced through a healthy suspension of disbelief. As long as you don't go in to the experience demanding a perfect album, you'll find something arguably better: a great one.
This album holds the dual honors of being both the most melodic record on this list and the least melodic record that Sleep have ever produced. While it may sound fairly tame on a list bookended by the piercing, Lovecraft-inspired Satanic howl of Moss and the extreme, deathgrowl-vocaled crush at the heart of “Sangre/Humanos” from Corrupted's Llenandose de Gusanos, this record singlehandedly derailed Sleep's career, seemingly on an upswing since the success of Sleep's Holy Mountain.
Their label redlighted the album because of its length, lack of multiple tracks and sheer extremity compared to their previous efforts. Even re-cut as the inferior Jerusalem, the label wouldn't accept it, and the band, refusing to compromise further, retreated into inactivity and eventual disbandment. Bootlegs of the Jerusalem cut of the album surfaced in metal circles, but it wasn't until 2003 that the album received a proper release as Dopesmoker, packaged with the bonus of a never-before-released live track called “Sonic Titan.”
It's a tragedy that this album took so long to release, not only because the band might have continued making records if Dopesmoker had been well-received, but because it's a damn good album. It trades in all of the melody and most of the Black Sabbath worship of Holy Mountain (still the band's finest moment) for even slower riffs, a droning vocal delivery that's admittedly jarring on first listen, and a silly-yet-triumphant narrative about a stoner exile mirroring the biblical Jewish one which follows a caravan of “weed priests” in search of a stoner Holy Land (hence the alternate title.)
It takes a listen or two to get used to this incarnation of Sleep's sound, and one can understand why a label would initially balk at releasing it, but upon further listens it becomes apparent that Sleep were on to something. The tragedy is doubled by the fact that none of the members' post-Sleep output compares to their former band's catalog (sorry, High on Fire fans), and one is left only to wonder how awesome, stoney and droney a fourth Sleep album might have turned out to be.
2. Boris- Absolutego [Longest track: 1:05:35]
I'm not one to mince words, so we might as well get one thing out of the way: There's more Earth worship on this record than a picnic full of druids. Due to that fact, it might seem strange that Earth 2, a major inspiration for this album, is all the way at the four spot, while this record is one position away from number one. However, there are a few things that this record boasts of which Dylan Carlson's album is in short supply. Two of the more important of those things are drums and Japanese people.
Absolutego also carries a sense of importance and propulsion that keeps your interest better over one hour-and-five-minute track than any of the fifteen-minute to half-an-hour pieces on Earth 2. The feedback-flooded droning spaces are well tempered by peaks of discernible riffs, pounding drums and cathartic howls.
The real surprise, however, is that while you'll be pleased every time the band's playing reappears on the track, this is the rare minimalist metal performance where you're not just waiting for it. Boris' strength on this album is the ability to convey emotion through both negative and positive space, exuding as much energy when they're letting their guitars feed back as they are when they're playing them.
1. Corrupted- Llenandose de Gusanos [Longest track: 1:13:55]
What makes an album the best doom metal release ever (for purposes of this list, anyway; you can't really expect me to choose)? The longest, slowest song ever written? One single riff, repeated over the full playing time of four discs? Real honest-to-God monks, chanting in the key of that riff for half of one of those discs? Guest vocals from serial killers?
It's undeniable that all of those things are cool, but unfortunately that was a trick question; the truth is, the real secret is that the band making the record has to be Corrupted. Corrupted's mixture of sludge vitality and doom creep, all cut liberally with a streak for drone and the avant-garde, make them the perfect group to achieve a proper balance between doom metal and its relative genres without sounding boring or self-serving.
Despite that balance, the album itself opens on what many headbanger dictionaries would define as a boring note. For the first five minutes of “Sangre/Humanos,” we as listeners are given nothing more than plaintive piano-plinking. At around the five-and-a-half mark, that plinking is joined by a low-register mumbling. Those two rather un-metal neighbors keep each other company until the near-maddening point of almost the 17-and-a-half minute mark, when finally, serendipitously our old friend feedback makes an entrance, ushering in the belles of the ball, doom metal riffs themselves. When those leaden riffs begin to land, it's like the entire fragile world built by the last fifteen-plus minutes is beginning to disintegrate in clouds of smoke and feigned ambience. The cathartic entrance of these elements makes the preceding 17 minutes, which on paper seem incredibly tedious, become absolutely essential to the gravity of the rest of the composition.
Thus begins the doom metal track proper, as much time as it took to appear. What continues to impress me, no matter how many times I listen to this and other Corrupted recordings, are the vocals. Corrupted's vocalist's style, in contrast to that of other bands on this list, seems more suited to a death metal or goregrind recording than the genre the band plays. However, the vocals complement the somber, oppressive atmosphere, creating an occult vibe not unlike Moss's entry at the number 5 spot. The vocals seem carefully weighted to mesh with the piano, guitar and drums on the track, never letting over-emotion or unnecessary aggression draw away from the aggregate.
After the 50 minutes of “Sangre/Humanos” has completely drained the blood from your body, the ambient, 74-minute “El Mundo” hovers over it in disbelief, conveying in pure wordless feeling what the former track did with doom metal and piano.
Overall, what makes Llenandose de Gusanos a cut above the rest of the albums on this list is the ability to distill and amalgamate such a variety of styles and sounds into one cohesive package. While other albums on this list may contain similar components, none live up to the presence and sheer power of vintage Corrupted. If you disagree, then go ahead and tell me what other doom metal band shared a split with Discordance Axis and 324. No, seriously.