Plans to erect a giant statue of late Motörhead frontman Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister in the Staffordshire town where he was
VERSUS: Gothic vs. Turn Loose The Swans
Welcome to Versus, the series where we'll look at two albums in metal history, compare them, to see which one was the better record.
In this edition, we're going into the bleakness and hopelessness of doom metal and seeing two of the heavyweights of doom & gothic metal battle it out. In a dark and foreboding battle to see who wears the crown of thorns on the throne of the deepest depth of sadness and mourning that is this genre. Let’s begin this dreary fight in a battle I’m calling “The Melancholia Rivalry.”
In this corner, we have Britain’s Paradise Lost with their second album; 1991’s Gothic. One of the pioneers of death/doom metal, along with Anathema and another band it will be facing later on in this article, as part of what is dubbed by fans as “The Peaceville Three” since all these bands were on Peaceville Records at the time of their popularity. Gothic is also the band’s foray into the genre of gothic metal, which some credit Paradise Lost as one of the first bands to be showcased in the genre.
Opening up the album is the title track; the song has a very Candlemass style guitar riff to it in the more traditional doom metal sound. Vocalist Nick Holmes’ guttural delivery has a nice reverb tint in the production, matching the reverb and delay-soaked guitar leads behind him. When the female vocals of Sarah Marrion kick in, you begin to hear the gothic elements that it is a trademark of the genre. The guitar leads are very atmospheric and add that dreariness and emptiness to the song. Holmes’ death growls are so strong and so deep, it makes perfect sense that he would fit so well when he would join Bloodbath in 2014.
A standout track for me is “Dead Emotion;” a faster paced song than the cliché of low and slow doom metal, almost a traditional heavy metal sound, reminiscent of Mercyful Fate. Though faster paced, the song is laced with fuzz and distortion giving it that sludgy, doom-ridden feel to the sound. The choir that kicks in and accenting Holmes’ growls mixed with cavernous reverb at the end of the chorus, just hits so good. A brief orchestral arrangement is done really well at the three quarters mark, that segues into an impressive guitar solo, with some neo-classical elements in it. Ending the song with a doom-laden gothic-tinged feel and a standout on the album.
“Rapture” continues the aggression and anguish on the previous track with more intense growl sections. The track “Eternal” gives off some symphonic strings sections that reeks of gothic culture with the continued faster than normal doom metal sound with great cavernous guitar solos adding to the loneliness and empty feeling of the song’s mood. The rest of the album delivers the band’s fusion of death/doom with gothic elements and orchestral instrumentation, leading to the instrumental closer “Desolate” which brings this doom classic to a close.
Their opponents; fellow countrymen My Dying Bride with their second album, 1991’s Turn Loose the Swans. This release was a further departure from the band’s debut As the Flower Withers. With full violin playing added to the band’s sound, and vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s vocals were mixed with death metal growls, spoken word passages, and clean singing sections. Like its opponent, the album was also an inspiration to the gothic metal genre. With the band not only helping create the genre, but also continue using these elements in later releases.
Opening the album is “Sear Me MCMXCIII;” with simple and sorrowful piano and emotional violins playing, mixed with Stainthorpe’s somber speaking voice into a gothic crooner like singing style, sets a brooding and melancholy tone for the record. With only these three elements, it almost sets a template to doom metal intros in building tension in a dark and entrancing way. The following track, “Your River,” starts with clean guitars with atmospheric delay and reverb, showcasing the space and emptiness the band brings on this album. The distorted slow-paced guitars kick in, with violin adding the dreary emotion to the track, in between the chugging and drum fills. The double bass and fills on the drums hit hard, in between the chugging when the pace picks up, and wailing high notes into a short bass solo, almost giving the song dynamics and layers to it before vocals kick in at about the halfway mark. The low and slow feel of the song during the verses keeps the cliché of doom metal, but with the surprisingly faster paced and quick drum fills, break the stereotype and add uniqueness to this over nine-minute opus.
“The Songless Bird” starts off with an almost dungeon-synth style keyboard section, leading into wailing and distorted guitars, ringing in the background and letting the notes hang. Adding to the heaviness without playing a lot of notes or at a faster pace. A faster track, Stainthorpe’s vocal delivery has aggression to it with hints of gothic metal in his delivery and tone in his lyrics. Double bass hits nice in the mix in between the hanging notes and guitars ringing in the doom and droning atmosphere of the song. Growl vocals actually kick in at the three quarters mark, and are VERY similar to the vocals of Paradise Lost, which I can see why many fans have compared their sound to them.
A standout track for me is “The Snow in My Hand”, with elements of death/doom and faster paced guitar playing with some double bass in the middle of it. I can see where the inspiration and influence to bands like Insomnium take from this album. The violins before the double bass and chugging riff is such a good headbanging moment with Stainthorpe’s vocals at his most guttural. This atmosphere also continues on the album’s title track. Wrapping up the album is the song “Black God." With reverb-soaked keys and droning atmosphere, clean vocals (both female and male) and sorrow-laced violin and piano, it ends the album with a beautiful black bow on top on this legendary doom record.
So, after the candles have gone out and we have closed this depressing chapter of doom metal history, who won? This is another tough one for me to decide, both records bring unique and different takes on the gothic & doom metal genre. If you like your songs a little faster, leaning more towards the gothic theme, then Paradise Lost. If you like your doom low and slow with longer songs and that atmospheric and depressing feel, then My Dying Bride. In the end, I would go with Paradise Lost with Gothic but by a VERY, and I mean VERY, close margin. Both are amazing records and both scratch that itch when I have that dark, forlorn and depressing feeling. Gothic has to me, better instrumentation and I feel like they get the same message across in their music, without filling out the song length just to add more darkness or atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, Swans is still an amazing record and I do like the record a lot, but for me, I feel like I could listen to Gothic any time, while with Swans, I feel like I have to be “in the right mood or mindset” to listen to it. Both bands have great records throughout their histories and definitely the go-to for doom metal and both releases are a great introduction to doom metal.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Leave your comments in the comments section below & your suggestions on who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.
One last thing, doom metal and many genres of music talk about depression and suicide. With the way the world is right now and everything going on, along with many famous musicians we have lost to suicide, we here at This Day in Metal want to make sure every metalhead gets the help they need and have someone talk to if things get overwhelming, and want to help improve their mental health. If you are struggling with your mental health and need help, please reach out to someone you can trust or you can use the link below for a list of International Suicide Hotlines if you can’t talk to anyone or things get really tough for you.