Tag Diving: Doomgaze
Like dumpster diving, but digital.
I first came across the word “Doomgaze” when I bought this witty shirt. A funny jab at ridiculous attempts to put music into micro-compartments, I thought. Imagine the amount of eye-rolling and air blown out of my nose when I recently learned that this tag is indeed used for an astounding number of releases on Bandcamp. “Pshah!”, I went, and proceeded to listen to a lot of them, because combining doom and shoegaze actually sounds pretty good to me. So here’s four worthwhile (well, mostly) releases that kinda do that, starting with the one that kicked this off. I’d say common denominators are too few to warrant the genre descriptor, but maybe that’s just bitterness about my shirt seeming less preposterous now.
The sophomore effort from New York-based married couple Sarah and Mario Quintero’s Spotlights had actually been sitting in my inbox for quite some time before I got a handle on it. That might be because I received it at the tail-end of summer, which is not an appropriate time of year to listen to this. By now, however, wind and rain are making a triumphant comeback, and so, trudging to work one overcast morning, I gave Seismic another try, and found that it clicked. The basis of Spotlights’ sound is rather simple on paper: viscous, sludgy guitars are juxtaposed with dreamy vocals and lovely sounds of a synthesizer. This sort of clash might not sound like anything particularly new, but these two pull it off in a way that has kept me coming back rather consistently. I would put Mario’s soothing vocals somewhere between the quieter moments of Deftones and Life of Agony. They’re far from mourning or moping, but never exactly happy, either. Instead there’s an ethereal quality to them that often makes everything feel dream-like and floaty. This atmosphere is further helped by the sounds Sarah conjures on her Moog. Whether providing a consistent backdrop all throughout a song or coming to the fore with sparse, yet effective melodies, they always serve to enrich the mood and help to immerse you in the music to the point where it feels like you’re being carried away down a stream. It’s not always a quiet stream; while it doesn’t exactly become a raging torrent on songs like “Learn To Breathe” or “A Southern Death”, Spotlights are certainly capable of picking up the tempo now and then, most notably around the midway point of the album, where Mario even breaks away from his usual tone to briefly burst into screaming. Plus those guitars I mentioned earlier ensure that no matter the tempo, the sound is almost always based around rumbling heaviness that favours the low end. Their sound is warm, but nonetheless harsh; if the vocals and the synths are memories of summer, the guitars are the reality of fall. I’ll concede that the album could be a bit shorter; at roughly 65 minutes, I find it hard to get through in one sitting. Still, I have to commend them for scratching a very particular itch very well.
I was at first tempted to call Dead Swords drone, mostly because the total lack of any percussion and the extremely slow tempo are quite reminiscent of the classics of that genre. And I must say that those two aspects didn’t do a lot for me at first. But soon after turning the music off, I was surprised to find that the chorus of the first song (yes, there’s choruses on here!) had already wormed its way into my head. The weary, yet weirdly comforting chant of “Lay her down, lay her down” kept coming back to me, so I returned to the album and soon found that there are many more great moments like that – although comfort is not something that Dead Swords dish out regularly. No, lines like “It would all be that much easier if I had a little faith” are delivered with the poignant, unflinching sincerity of a truly resigned man. Nonetheless, they are sung beautifully, reminding me of sad folk music or perhaps some sort of dark country. Where the two-man project further differs from the minimalist amp worship of drone metal is in the fact that instead of single chords ringing out indefinitely, there are actual riffs, so that the tremendous wall of sound that the guitar creates is not just a monotonous foil for the singer to work against but instead provides rich texture and emotion to every song. To that end, it helps that it is also capable of wonderfully melancholic melodies that bloom and fade again like flowers. Granted, the intricacies of both this and the lyrics (the given lines are the only bits I can make out clearly) tend to somewhat drown in the amply applied reverb, but that’s kind of an important aspect of the whole sound, stressing the “-gaze” part of the doomgaze tag, and contributing greatly to the feeling of drifting through nothingness without any anchor. I would not have it any other way. Put this one on whenever Planning For Burial and Have A Nice Life (both of which can also be found under doomgaze) seem a tad too exciting and you simply want to fall into a catatonic state on the couch after drinking by yourself.
This is a bit of a bewildering release. Lord Sun start things off with a slow burn: roughly six and a half minutes of calm ambient sounds that slowly ramp up in intensity and volume. Not spectacular, but it managed to set a mood and left me curious. Hopes rose as the second track kicked in a tad more forcefully with droning guitars and wordless, distant wails for vocals. The atmosphere strongly reminded me of some songs off the fantastic The Crystal World by Locrian, albeit less dark and creepy. It’s like walking through a forest at dusk and hearing strange sounds in the distance. Regrettably, this is the second shortest track on here, and things don’t get better. Track three surprised me by suddenly deviating somewhat from the ambient/drone formula; after a pleasant intro, unexpectedly dynamic drums set in with an upbeat, unchanging rhythm that doesn’t really seem to want to fit with the slow guitar. And then the vocals come in. Oh boy. I wish he would have stuck with what he did before, because both the cleans (as clean as it gets, anyway – reverb and that) and the screams are downright grating. I began to suspect that the music may have been created in an improvisational manner, which the next track seemed to confirm. It’s a return to the atmosphere of the second song, but sounding like a mess this time, guitar and vocals doing seemingly random things at random points, like a jam session that doesn’t come together. Still, after the earlier caterwauling, this is not too bad. The final, longest track continues in a similarly random way, as if everything has come off the rails for good by now. It hits some good spots, but they’re not sticking to anything long enough to flesh it out. It’s a microcosm of the whole album, revisiting everything it did right with everything it did wrong.
Probably the least metal release featured here today, but certainly among my favourites. Winkie essentially play a dense, if minimalist, often slowed-down variation of Loud Guitar Goth filtered through half the distortion effects in the book. It sounds a little like they stumbled across some pre-recorded drum loops and some abandoned recording equipment covered in a thick layer of dust (and inexplicably wrapped in gauze) in some small attic and decided to do something with it right then and there. A fuzzy guitar strums away at sometimes punk-like, sometimes droning riffs, and – together with those repetitive drum patterns – creates foundations that rarely change much throughout a song. Nonetheless, a good amount of emotion and atmosphere is injected into the songs by what Winkie layers on top of these simplistic blueprints. Synths equally capable of melody as they are of mean screeches and eerie atmospheric boops and plonks, as well as Female vocals that are often as distorted as everything else, yet always ring through clearly and pleasantly. They’ve somehow survived the warping and mangling that the rest of the music has undergone. Much like with Spotlights, this creates a clash of darkness and beauty that has a hypnotizing, cathartic effect. The approach, however, is quite different; significantly more lo-fi, and resulting in an overall claustrophobic atmosphere. Instead of musings under the wide, grey sky, think more along the lines of a basement goth club in the small hours, where the fog machine has gone nuts to the point where you can’t really be certain there’s anyone else on the dance floor – but you’d rather be alone, anyway, perfectly content to dance by yourself until everything goes numb.