Doom Metal has existed since the earliest days of heavy metal. A sub-genre of Metal, Doom has very close ties to other sub-genres such as Sludge, Stoner and Funeral Doom, and is identifiable for its trudging tempos (60-75bpm is pretty common), repetitive riffing and droning leads, and hints of psychedelia evident in band names, song titles, lyrics and album covers.
Doom is all about taking you on a sonic journey. It incorporates aspects of fantasy which, like numerous other Metal sub-genres, can be at least partly traced back to Robert Plant's mystical lyrics on Led Zeppelin's hugely influential fourth album. Plant's lyrics were largely inspired by reading JRR Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings in the run up to those sessions, which began in December 1970, as well as being informed by the band's interest in mysticism and the occult.
Doom and Black Sabbath
But if Doom Metal can be connected to just one band, it is without question Black Sabbath, whose heavy, downtuned riffing and slow tempos were a direct influence on the Doom sound. In fact, without Black Sabbath's "proto-Doom" there wouldn't be Doom Metal as we know it today!
Black Sabbath set the recipe for Doom Metal on their debut, self-titled album. The first track, also called "Black Sabbath", begins with a repeating, brutal sounding tritone (or triad) played by Tony Iommi, trilling the final note in the triad over tolling bells, thunder and rain.
Black Sabbath's first track on their first album makes good use of the tritone, a core element of Doom Metal.
Famous Doom Bands
Since Black Sabbath, the Doom mantle has been picked up by bands such as Electric Wizard, Sleep, Candlemass, My Dying Bride, Saint Vitus, Cathedral, Pentagram, Sunn O))), Bongripper, and Paradise Lost.
Instrumental Doom band, Bongripper take long, slow, droning songs to another level - their longest studio track is The Great Barrier Reefer, weighing in at 79:22
Since medieval times, the tritone has been known as diabolus in musica due to its unsettling, dissonant sound thanks to the inclusion of the diminished fifth, and became linked to the devil himself.
Thanks to Black Sabbath popularising the sound, the tritone became a central element of Doom, as well as many other Metal and Rock genres. It's such a core concept that Slayer even named their eighth studio album "Diabolus in Musica"!
Which Guitar Tunings For Doom?
So along with a liberal dashing of tritone riffing, to get that crushing Doom Metal sound you'll ideally want to downtune your guitar. Here are seven of the most popular Doom Metal guitar tunings:
While less common in doom metal, it's possible to use standard tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E) to achieve a brighter, more melodic sound which helps to cut through the heavy distortion.
Drop D (D-A-D-G-B-E) is all over Heavy Rock and Metal music, and it works brilliantly for power-chord riffing in Doom too. Simply take your typical E standard tuning and "drop" the low E by a tone, to D. Easy!
Tune all the strings down one whole step from E standard to achieve a heavier sound: D-G-C-F-A-D. At this point, it's worth considering going up a gauge of strings to recover some of the tension of E standard tuning. These Stringjoy 10-52s should do the job:
[product=stringjoy-signatures-heavy-bottom-light-gauge-10-52-nickel-wound-electric-guitar-strings] The Stringjoy Signatures Heavy Bottom Light Gauge (10-52) guitar strings are built for heavy riffing and dextrous soloing. Compared to a typical 10-52 set, the Signatures Heavy Bottom Lights increase the B-string from 13 to 13.5, and reduce the A-string from 42 to 40. The result is better tension and a more balanced feel across the strings. [/product]
Drop C involves tuning to D standard (see above) then dropping the low E-string down another whole tone: C-G-C-F-A-D.
The "original" low tuning (C#-F#-B-E-G#-C#), pioneered by Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi on the band's third album, Master of Reality (1971).
Perhaps the most common tuning for Doom today is C standard (C-F-Bb-Eb-G-C). C standard tuning has been popularised by the likes of Sleep and early Electric Wizard, and offers a good halfway point between E standard and lower tunings without requiring truss-rod adjustments and much thicker string gauges (although by now you will want to be using something like these Stringjoy 11-50 strings:
[product=stringjoy-signatures-balanced-medium-gauge-11-50-nickel-wound-electric-guitar-strings] The Stringjoy Signatures Balanced Medium Gauge (11-50) guitar strings are built for big sounds with responsive bending. The heavier-than-typical low string helps to balance out the set nicely, with good tension across the strings, while also making the set suitable for down tuning. [/product]
There are lower tunings found in Doom, but B standard is about as low as you'll commonly find. Also known as "baritone tuning", B Standard (B-E-A-D-Gb-B) effectively moves your E standard tuning up a string, removing the high E and adding the bassy low B.
Which Guitars Are Best For Doom?
Some guitars are just built for Doom Metal: the Gibson/ Epiphone SG and Les Paul, and ESP/LTD EC series are all serious contenders for the best Doom guitar.
But there's nothing stopping you grabbing whatever guitar you have to hand, as - unlike many other genres - your pedals, amp and cabinet will have more of an influence than your guitar on your Doom tone.
Having said that, you'll ideally want a guitar with humbuckers. Both vintage-style PAFs and low-to-medium output modern humbuckers will work fine - or you could even opt for P90s. The key to a good Doom Metal tone is dialling in darkness, thickness and richness, and humbuckers work superbly for this. They also tend to drive your pedals and amp harder than single-coil pickups.
The Gibson SG has been used in Doom Metal since the earliest days of the genre. Its thick, warm and full-bodied tone comes from its all-mahogany body and humbucker pickups, and makes the SG the quintessential Doom Metal guitar, well suited to slow, heavy riffs. You can pick up an Epiphone version for much less than the Gibson versions.
Gibson Les Paul
The Gibson Les Paul provides a slightly more articulate sound than the SG thanks to its maple cap. A blues and rock staple, the Les Paul is perfect for Doom, too. Gibson Les Pauls aren't cheap, so if you're on a budget (i.e you don't fancy dropping £2k on a gigging guitar) consider an Epiphone Les Paul Standard or Custom instead.
ESP/LTD EC series
The EC series excels thanks to its high-output pickups, fast neck and weighty mahogany body, which gives a suitably heavy tone for Doom Metal.
Best Amps For Doom Metal
Matamp Green: Iconic Doom amps. Credit: Matamp
The key to a great Doom sound is a high powered amp set pretty clean. The guitar pedals do almost all of the heavy lifting in this genre, but a good foundation is vital. More power equals more volume and headroom, as well as a much better ability to handle the low frequencies which are a pillar of Doom Metal - consider 50 watts as the bare minimum if you want to be taken seriously!
And with all that power on tap, a mic'd up 1x12 isn't going to cut it. You'll ideally want a 4x12, if not several full stacks, as pushing air is what this genre is all about.
If someone mentions "Doom" to you, the chances are that you'll think of a Sunn Model T, as popularised by the band, Sunn O))) (they took their name from their favourite amp manufacturer!)
Originally favoured for their value and volume, Sunn amps have proven a wise choice for the Doom Metal genre as they take pedals incredibly well. Some models can also be used as bass amps, and so naturally gravitate towards the thick, monolithic, low-tuned sounds that make Doom so distinct.
The Matamp GT120 120w head is a cornerstone of Doom, thanks not only to its thunderous, bassy voice but also for its slime-green tolex and graphics which instantly link it to the genre's psychedelic tendencies. If 120w isn't enough, there are also 150w and 200w models available!
Orange is the other prevailing colour of Doom thanks to the thick tone and fuzzy overdrive of amps such as the Rockerverb 100. According to Orange Amps' official website, Matt Pike of Sleep / High On Fire can use as many as "nine heads, mostly Rockerverbs and Dual Darks, and twelve cabs. Haters will say they ain’t all plugged in, but haters are wrong."
A Marshall JCM800 is a great option for Doom, especially given its blistering volume. Dial in some hair, crank the volume and slam a fuzz into the front end for instant destruction.
The Laney LA 100 BL "pre-Supergroup" is where Doom started, thanks to Tony Iommi's immense riffs. Crank the Mids and Highs and feed it a Treble Booster or fuzz (or both!) for some epic sounds.
The Ampeg SVT-2 Pro and Ampeg V-4B - both bass amps - are popular models for Doom Metal. The former is a very impressive 300w, and the latter is a not-insubstantial 100w, meaning they can both offer up plenty of headroom and can easily handle downtuned riffing.
Which Guitar Pedals Are Best For Doom?
Guitar pedals are an essential ingredient for Doom Metal. You've hopefully read about the need for high output clean running amps above, and now you need to add some pedals to the mix.
Fuzz pedals are widely used, giving a huge sound to the downtuned riffs. Of all fuzz pedals out there, the Big Muff-type offers the most "Doomy"sound thanks to its beefy low end, scooped mids and plentiful gain.
[product=whimsy-machines-jeff-v2] The Whimsy Machines Jeff V2 is a Muff-style fuzz - but not as you know it! For a start, the JFET gives this some beautiful amp-like overdriven sounds, but it can get incredibly Muffy too. In case you were wondering, Jeff stands for "JFET Big Muff". The V2 builds on the first version with some truly unique features. There's a switchable pre-amp oscillation control, a clipping boost, and a Sweep control to focus your EQ. [/product]
[product=kma-machines-chief-disruptor] The KMA Machines Chief Disruptor is a massively tweakable Muff-style fuzz, featuring tons of options to get your perfect sound, including 3 Gain modes, active EQ with adjustable and switchable Mids controls, Top-Boost circuit and Clean Blend with Pre- or Post-EQ options. Its stacked voltage topology makes the Chief Disruptor one of the loudest pedals out there. [/product]
Rat pedals are among the most popular of distortion circuits used in Doom, thanks to their availability and aggressive sound, although there are plenty of other options out there.
[product=drunk-beaver-heavy-bat] The Drunk Beaver Heavy Bat is the "ultimate Rat-style pedal" (at least according to Stefan Karlsson of the Guitar Pedal X blog), who says that the Heavy Bat is "probably my favourite ever Rat to date - even against something as excellent as JHS Pedal’s PackRat." The Heavy Bat takes the guts of the Bat and Bat Cold War and adds tons of additional switching and modifications for what must be one of the most complete pedals in this genre - ever! [/product]
Doom is not the place for pristine digital delays - the filthier the better, and that's where an analogue delay (or analogue emulation) comes in.
[product=signal-cheyne-echoflow] The Signal Cheyne Echoflow is a tape-style delay with adjustable modulation. In addition to the external controls, it includes 2 internal dipswitches: one to adjust the voicing between bright and dark, and one to kill the dry signal for a completely wet delay sound. [/product]
[product=raygun-fx-aurora-v2] The Raygun FX Aurora Lo-Fi Delay V2 takes you deep into space with its combination of analogue-style decay and dedicated Space control that goes from background wash to full on black hole implosion. The Aurora Lo-Fi Delay V2 has two selectable delay speeds; short and long. It also features two delay modes, one being lo-fi and the other being very lo-fi! This is definitely a pedal for all you fan of analogue noise and textures. [/product]
Want an even bigger sound? Use an octave pedal pitched one or even 2 octaves down for the heaviest, filthiest sound!
[product=hungry-robot-the-monastery] The Monastery is a polyphonic octave generator, offering simultaneous octave up and octave down with minimal latency and excellent tracking. Independently control upper and lower octaves for crushing Doom tones! [/product]
Doom relies on sustaining, droning notes, and to pull that off effectively a compressor will really help. Don't underestimate how important a compressor is for Doom!
[product=fredric-effects-zesty-comp] The Fredric Effects Zesty Comp is an evolution of the classic Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer compressor. A characterful rather than transparent compressor, the Zesty Comp thickens your tone, adding sustain, attack, presence and even some top-end sparkle. As Tim at Fredric Effects explains, "This is truly compression as an effect - there are none of the 'is it on?' moments you can get with certain transparent compressors". [/product]
[product=signal-cheyne-b6k-parallel-compressor] The Signal Cheyne B6K Parallel Compressor is a studio-grade compressor with a comprehensive suite of controls including an internal pre-compression signal cut to prevent clipping. Go from always-on subtle sustainer to full-on squash thanks to its parallel dry blend circuit. The B6K includes an ultra-clean buffer: even when off, the pedal will take the high impedance signal from your guitar and lower it to drive it along long cables or through multi-pedal set-ups with no high-end signal loss. The buffer brings back the sparkle, as if you were plugged directly into your amp. You can run the B6K at up to 18V for the ultimate in clarity and headroom. [/product]
If you can't afford a big old valve amp, a preamp pedal will do a great job of emulating the characteristic sound of a particular amp model.
[product=bleak-district-electric-sun-no] The Sun?No is a preamp inspired by the band Sunn O))), whose doomy metal sounds were produced with the help of Sunn Model T amplifiers. Using a combination of op-amp and 3 cascading JFET (e204) gain stages, the Sun?No is impressively versatile and amp like, and responds well to changes in dynamics. It captures the essence of the Sunn Model T sound, unleashing massive distortion! Like the amp, the Sun?No works great with bass. [/product]
[product=formula-b-eighty-master] The Formula B Eighty Master is a fantastic Marshall-in-a-box pedal, emulating the firebreathing JCM800 in both its 50W and 100W incarnations. "There’s definitely some magic going on inside this circuit." - Guitar Pedal X [/product]
Doom Riff Theory: The Basics
Doom Metal is centred on the minor pentatonic 5-note scale that we all know and love (R, ♭3, p4, p5, ♭7).
Many Doom bands write riffs incorporating the most evil of sounds - the tritone, as mentioned above. To achieve this sound, take your regular minor pentatonic scale and add a ♭5 (R, ♭3, p4, ♭5, p5, ♭7). This gives you an extra, and highly effective, note to riff on. It sounds metal as fuck, but is also known as the Blues scale because that tritone can add so much expression when used in more traditional, lower gain blues or blues rock genres.
The "full fat" minor 7-note minor pentatonic is known as the natural minor scale, or Aeolian mode (R, ∆2, ♭3, p4, p5, ♭6, ♭7), and another great Doom riffing tip is to raise the ♭7 a semi-tone to ∆7 (R, ∆2, ♭3, p4, p5, ♭6, ∆7). This major 7 now creates the harmonic minor scale and acts as a useful passing note in a Doom Metal context.
You could also take your natural minor scale (R, ∆2, ♭3, p4, p5, ♭6, ♭7) and flatten the major 2nd to achieve the Phrygian mode (R, ♭2, ♭3, p4, p5, ♭6, ♭7). This minor 2nd, a semi-tone above the root note, gives a sense of unease and tension which fits the Doom genre perfectly, leaving the listener waiting for a resolving note.
Another non-resolving sound can be achieved by raising the ♭3 of the natural minor scale (R, ∆2, ♭3, p4, p5, ♭6, ♭7) a semi-tone to a major 3rd (R, ♭2, ∆3, p4, p5, ♭6, ∆7).
So basically, it's really hard to sound bad when riffing power chords in Doom; as long as you stick to the slow tempo, a low tuning, and use some great pedals and high output amps, you'll do great!
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