Gothic metal is a form of heavy metal that mixes the down tuned heaviness and pessimistic lyrics of doom metal with the dark, forbodding, and sometimes romantic atmosphere of gothic rock. Lyrics usually broach the subjects of pain, loss, death, romanticism, lost love, personal experiences, fantasy or subjects from gothic fiction. Songs tend to be long with many instrumental pieces included. Vocal styles range from screams and shrieks to booming bass and baritone clean vocals. Gothic metal can go in may different directions, as elements of it have been used in black metal, death metal, and alternative metal. In all cases, the music can be defined as really heavy, dark, and bleak.
There are many metal bands that have been named as major influences to the creation of gothic metal in the early 1990’s, mostly because of gothic subject matter in their lyrics, dark imagery used in albums, the use of minor-keys, bell tolls, and horror sound effects. These bands include Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost, Rainbow, Dio, Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple, and Mercyful Fate. The other piece to gothic metal is gothic rock which emerged in the mid 1980’s as part of the post punk movement. Of the bands that emerged as gothic rock, The Cure, is probably the most well known and influential. However, Christian Death is most often credited with both the creation of goth rock and being the main influence on the creation of goth metal. They began their career as more of a gothic rock band with pop influences, only to make major changes in the band in the mid 1980’s. In 1988, they would move away from the pop influences and added a much heavier sounds to their gothic rock atmosphere. The heavy elements that were used, although not quite metal, closely bordered on doom metal.
In the early 1990’s three bands that pioneered the death doom subgenre of heavy metal would take the sound birthed by Christian Death and take it further to create gothic metal. My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, and Anathema took the heavy musical elements of death doom and combined them with gothic rock elements, like classical instruments, keyboards,cleaner vocals, some female vocals, and gothic atmospheres. From here many other gothic metal bands would begin to emerge.
Essential Gothic Metal Albums:
- Bloody Kisses (Type O Negative)
- Comalies (Lacuna Coil)
- Mandylion (The Gathering)
- Draconian Times (Paradise Lost)
- Beyond the Veil (Tristania)
- Irreligious (Moonspell)
- Decipher (After Forever)
- Mother Earth (Within Temptation)
- October Rust (Type O Negative)
- Danzig (Danzig)
- Turn Loose the Swans (My Dying Bride)
- Serenades (Anathema)
- Fallen (Evanescence)
- Unleashed Memories (Lacuna Coil)
Probably one of the most well known and successful gothic metal bands of the 1990’s was New York’s own Type O Negative. The band was formed in 1990 by Peter Steele, former singer of crossover thrash bands Fallout and Carnivore. Type O Negative would continue to have a few crossover thrash and hardcore songs on their albums, but they mostly moved toward long gothic metal songs with slow bass vocals, a down tuned bass guitar driven sound, organs, and strange noises. Their album, Bloody Kisses, released in 1993 is considered a breakthrough gothic metal album and to this day is one of the subgenres most successful releases. The song “Black No. 1” became a gothic metal anthem, as it described gothic metal and its fans demeanor and style perfectly. Type O Negative would continue to release gothic metal material on the subjects of sex, death, the occult, and lost love until the untimely death of Peter Steele in 2010.
With the popularity of gothic metal on the rise in the mid 1990’s, bands began to experiment more with the sound. Based on the gothic black metal sound of Celtic Frost’s Mega Therion, the majority of gothic metal bands began to mix melodic female vocals with their growling and downtrodden male vocals. Some bands, like The Gathering, dropped their male singers all together. Bands like, Evanescense would use this formula mixed with some alternative metal and find major commercial success. All female vocals or mixed female and male vocals tend to be the norm in gothic metal at this point as it gives a great combination of dark heavy metal and the soothing romanticism of the female voice.
At the present time, the most popular and commercially successful gothic metal band is Lacuna Coil. The band uses dual female and male vocals, but heavily still features the female vocals. With the release of their album Comalies in 2002, they became the best selling artist in the history of Century Media Records. They are also the best selling heavy metal and hard rock artist of all time in Italy and they were the first gothic metal to get airplay on American hard rock radio. Evanescense is more recognizable to many as they were pushed heavily by their record company and got play on top forty radio with their crossover alternative sound. However, Evanescense owes much of their success to their predecessors in Lacuna Coil and probably would not exist without them. Lacuna Coil’s albums continue to debut high on the charts and they remain one of the most sought after gothic metal bands on the metal concert circuit.
Gothic metal continues to evolve and be a major force in the metal world and has influenced bands in almost every category of heavy metal music. Fans of the music are unmistakable with their jet black dyed hair, black clothing, pale complexions, and overall emotionless demeanor. The music has been a major uplift for disaffected youth, as the lyrics and moods are easily identifiable to them. The genre has certainly come with its controversy as many people have blamed gothic metal and its fans for atrocities like the Columbine shootings. Despite the opinion of some, gothic metal bands and fans tend to be some of the most docile and learned people in heavy metal. Most would bury themselves in a book rather than commit an act of violence. It is definitely a tight knit community of people who keep mostly to themselves, but the outlet that the music gives the outcast community certainly explains why the music remains and most likely will continue to remain popular.
Symphonic Gothic Metal
Symphonic gothic metal mixes gothic metal with the use of classical instruments, operatic female vocals, and melody. Within Temptation is credited with the creation of symphonic gothic metal with the release of their first album Enter in 1997. They took the operatic female vocal approach of the gothic metal band Tristania and added orchestral elements. Shortly after, other symphonic gothic metal bands would emerge including After Forever, Epica, and Therion.
Dark metal is heavy metal with all lyrical content dealing with horror, violence, and the occult. The lyrical elements of this category are straight out of gothic rock and gothic metal and the songs often have a gothic atmosphere. However the songs can have a faster thrash or death metal tempo and drumming instead of the slow doom metal pacing. Well known dark metal bands include Danzig, Aeternus, and Moonspell.