Locating Experiential Richess in Doom Metal
My dissertation, defended on 28 May, 2013, at University of California, San Diego, was one of the first scholarly treatments of doom metal. I sought to both explore what was at the time a relatively underrepresented genre in the wider scope of extreme metal and address some of the issues that I had with the larger body of heavy metal studies. The dissertation includes a brief history of the genre, musical analysis, thematic analysis, and a pscyhoanalytic account of a concert experience. Perhaps the most tangible contribution, at least based on the citations I’ve seen, is for groove as a central concept in understanding the genre. This carries implications for how doom is both constructed and experienced.
The full dissertation is available online.
This dissertation takes as its central topic the musical genre of doom metal. Largely absent from the scholarly literature on metal music, doom metal is set apart from other genres by its use of extremely slow tempi, repetitive and processual forms, and a thematic focus on mortality and weakness. It draws attention to the moment of experience, in terms of both bodily and emotional response, and away from closure and resolution. I divide my study of doom metal into three threads: musical analysis, thematic content, and the experience of a live performance. I begin with a concise history of the genre, followed by close analyses of two exemplary songs. Through this, I argue that doom metal is best understood as relying on groove for organization and propulsion. Rarely invoked in the study of metal, groove accounts for repetition and bodily entrainment and provides a framework for discussing both musical and experiential phenomena. Following this, I discuss the thematic content of doom metal and its relationship with that of other metal genres. By analyzing album artwork, lyrics, and the related medium of horror films, I demonstrate that doom metal is overwhelmingly concerned with the anxiety of death and the powerlessness generated by mortality. Unlike other genres that suggest solutions to or escapes from anxiety, doom metal bluntly forces a confrontation with uncertainty and denies resolution. I conclude with a reading of the experiential content of a doom metal performance largely through the lens of psychoanalytic theory, focusing on the concepts of jouissance, abjection, and the grain of the voice. I argue that performances of doom metal stretch volume, repetition and timbre to extremes to challenge the sense of self of audience and performer alike. Doom metal practitioners utilize these sounds, themes and performances to work against the resolution of anxiety and uncertainty; instead, they emphasize bodily immanence and the present moment. Through this combination, they create a context in which they are free to gain access to otherwise unattainable experience and knowledge that aid in an exploration of mortality, powerlessness, and the limits of the self.