The doom-metal genre tag is one applied liberally across a diverse breadth of heavy metal bands. The one constant in all of them is a shared connection in their DNA to the slower-paced riffs from the Black Sabbath playbook. We love faster Sabbath classics such as “Paranoid” and “Symptom of the Universe,” but doom-metal took its cues from the lurching slow death that drove the band's namesake and other epic tracks such as “War Pigs.”
Los Angeles has long been known for its expansive metal history, but recent years have seen a resurgence locally in the thicker musical rumble of doom. The trio of bands below — each with their own different perspectives and approaches to delivering heavy-metal thunder — are shining examples of what our city is bringing to doom-metal fans in 2018.
Behold! The Monolith
“It's cliché, but it's the truth. Tony Iommi is ground zero for this stuff.” —Behold! The Monolith guitarist Matt Price
The trials and tribulations of Behold! The Monolith have been told within L.A. Weekly's pages before. The band were poised to break out of the L.A. scene after their second release, 2012's Defender, Redeemist. Their welding of slower-paced doom-metal riffs with faster-paced moments of black metal and progressive-metal ambition won over discerning ears, but tragedy befell the band in June 2013, when vocalist-bassist Kevin McDade was killed in an automobile accident two weeks before their first nationwide tour.
Guitarist Matt Price and drummer Chase Manhattan regrouped, with Jordan Nalley stepping in on vocals and Jason “Cas” Casanova filling in on bass. The group's 2015 record, Architects of the Void, received acclaim from a large number of metal journalists, but momentum never developed and Nalley departed the band toward the end of 2016, two weeks before a scheduled performance at Southwest Terror Fest in Tucson, Arizona.
Behold! The Monolith contemplated moving forward with that show as an instrumental band, until a friend of the band recommended Ekaterina Gorbacheva, who had moved to Los Angeles from Russia to study music at Musicians Institute. Since her first performance with the band a year ago, Gorbacheva's blood-curdling black-metal screams have added a new dimension to the template the band had in place.
“The fact that the band has this history ... I think is a beautiful thing, and I wanted to honor the people that came before me,” Gorbacheva said during an interview outside the Five Star Bar before a recent performance.
Behold! The Monolith's musical approach has always been a bit more diverse than the doom-metal tag initially implies. Their last two records have been full of winding twists and turns. The band embrace slow-paced rumble, blistering speed and proggy time changes all within the same song.
“Doom is such a weird word,” Price says. “[Behold! The Monolith] came more from the stoner-metal world at first, then we started slowing down some of our riffs, and all of a sudden we were doom.”
After a year with Gorbacheva on vocals, Behold! The Monolith are aiming to begin 2018 by heading into the rehearsal room to write material for a new record. Price is the remaining member from the band's origins and during our discussion indicates that the band's musical direction won't be changing too much.
“I like the twists and turns that we do, but we're trying to get smarter about it and not just twisting and turning for the sake of it,” Price says. “I love listening to hypnotic riffs and repetition as a fan, but maybe I have A.D.D. or something, because when I try to play that it's short and we move on quickly.”
“As long as it's heavy, or spooky-sounding, that's it!” —Yidhra guitarist Dave Krocker
Yidhra are a stoner-doom quartet that has almost as long — and as tumultuous — a history as Behold! The Monolith. Only one month after the band's first show in 2008, Yidhra vocalist Grant Story was paralyzed in an automobile accident. Guitarist Dave Krocker recruited Ted Venemann, an old friend dating back to their younger years slugging it out in L.A.'s punk and hardcore scene, to handle vocals at a benefit show for Story.
Since Venemann joined up, the band have gone on to put out two EPs and one full-length of heavy head-banging stoner-doom riffage, most recently on 2015's Cult of Bathory. The group's approach to the sound is a bit more traditional, with a heavy emphasis on the desert-rock guitar sound popularized in the early '90s by Kyuss, and moments of fury infused from the members' early days in the punk and hardcore world.
For Venemann and Krocker — both now in their 40s — the move into slower-paced doom is a natural extension of both the music they played when they were younger and what they loved growing up.
“A lot of the bands that are popular in doom metal all had backgrounds in hardcore and punk,” Venemann says during an interview outside the Lexington Bar before a recent set. “Sunn O))) came from hardcore and Melvins came from punk. Black Flag started as hardcore and then slowed their stuff down. Someone asked me [on Facebook] how I got into doom. My answer was 'God of Thunder' by KISS.”
While Black Sabbath are inevitably referenced in our interview, the amalgam of heavier rock moments, downtuned Melvins-esque guitars and Venemann's gruff vocal shouts is what makes Yidhra's doom-metal stew one that is equally heavy and catchy.
“The word 'doom' has become almost as identifiable as the words 'metal' and 'punk' itself,” Venemann says. “There's a lot of stuff that gets called doom that I don't think has anything to do with it. I hear something and I'm like, 'This sounds more like Jimi Hendrix to me'.”
Almost 40 years ago, the city of Los Angeles birthed Saint Vitus, one of the most influential bands in the doom-metal movement. Saint Vitus were notorious for standing alongside some of SST Records' most vociferous hardcore punk acts and slowing their guitars down to almost a grinding halt. But on a national level, the current Los Angeles doom-metal scene remains a mostly “locals only” phenomenon.
“There might be some residual bad feelings from the Sunset Strip days,” Venemann says. “I've had friends from San Francisco who will say 'fuck L.A.' and then five years later they'll be living down here because they figured out it's awesome down here and super cultural. I think there's just so many fish in this pond, and the pond is so big, it's harder to stand out.”
“I thought either ... I'm going to get murdered or I'm going to join a really good band!” —High Priestess drummer Megan Mullins
High Priestess bassist Mariana Fiel had started 2016 by posting a Craigslist ad looking for a drummer to join her in a duo that would play droning psychedelic doom-metal similar to beloved Bay Area act Om.
“Originally I wanted to do just a drums-and-bass project, something more ambient,” Fiel says.
Drummer Megan Mullins found the listing and filled that end of the original proposed duo, but the course of the project took a turn when Katie Gilchrest, a musician in the process of relocating to Los Angeles from New York, found the listing as well.
“I told her, 'I'm a guitarist but this sounds like my dream project,'” Gilchrest says.
High Priestess have so far recorded one self-released demo, but the strength of that demo and local live performances has made the band stand out fairly quickly. They're a power trio in every sense of the word: Fiel's repetitive rumbling bass riffs combine with Gilchrest's psychedelic world music–infused guitar work and Mullins' ability to rain down every cymbal crash with brute force to create one of the more compellingly hypnotic doom-metal releases of 2017. Gilchrest and Fiel also expertly utilize harmonized vocal croons to enhance the atmospheric aura around the proceedings.
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For all three band members, getting lost in the drone of what they do is a release from the chaos of the outside world around them.
“There's so much tension right now in the world,” Fiel says. “This is very therapeutic music. There's so much anger and frustration, and just being able to scream really helps.”
The group's demo is due to be remastered and re-released in 2018 through Bay Area stoner-metal label Ripple Music.