The Best Gothic Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2020




Releasing an hour-long (or 80-minute-long, if it's the limited edition) album in a genre that has been wearing out its welcome is a bold move. An even bolder move is starting your album with a 20-minute-long opus. The only way you can attempt this is if you have complete confidence that you still have something to say. And with Rien Ne Devait Mourir, an album whose inception started as far back as 2009, Angellore attempt their "darkest, most symphonic and ambitious work", which is evident from the presence of choirs, organs, folk instruments, and the long compositions. But then again, none of these things are that new either, so Angellore still had to rely on the good old art of writing compelling songs and trying not to sound too melodramatic.

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Celestial Season had once turned to stone(r), but 20 years is a long, long time, and the band evidently spent that time carefully planning the resurgence of the gothic death-doom style that first put them on the map in the mid-'90s. Though The Secret Teachings retains some sonic holdovers from its less sober(ing) predecessors, particularly in the exaggeratedly blown-out bass, the point of this album's heaviness is to remind us of the time when the Peaceville Three walked the earth. The lead vocals are usually growled, but they are sometimes cloaked in the echoes of clean chants so languid that they sound like slurred speech; with the dramatic and dolorous violins and lead guitar lines, The Secret Teachings feels bowed by the weight of misery, but the esoteric production makes the album feel anything but maudlin. It is lachrymose, like all great doom of this variety, but not desirous of consolation - simply consigned to trudging through its wicked lamentations for eternity.

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Though Tuomas Saukkonen had discontinued every other project to focus on Wolfheart back in 2013, we somehow managed to get a new Dawn Of Solace. With the vocals mostly handled by Mikko Heikkilä, who has worked with Tuomas on Black Sun Aeon, Waves blends a lot of the usual melodeath sounds of Tuomas's bands with some Suomi gothic doom and gloom, with the paces even slower, the feelings even more morose, and the vocals even cleaner and more melancholic, perfectly synergizing with the instrumentals to push forward the gloomy Nordic sorrow with its memorable melodies and solos that actually work to the songs' benefit.

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Dool is the type of band we don't see often enough in this category: not the sultry doom goths, not the operatic sympho-goths, but the post-punk goths, the goths who suddenly woke up in the '80s after an overdose of old occult psychedelia put them to sleep for many years. Heavily inflected with that long-forgotten psych rock feeling, shepherded by Ryanne van Dorst's handsomely tinny voice, Summerland is a cool and catchy collection of summery witch rock hits, wrapping up big hooks in spidery guitar lines that linger just too long for your peace of mind. Though often quite upbeat, Summerland has a stubborn strain of melancholy in its heart, and the darkness closes in sooner or later every time.

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The replacement of Lisa Johansson with Heike Langhans has given a new lease on life to Draconian, with the strong promise of Sovran fully realized on Under A Godless Veil. The components of their sound are well-established (contrasting Beauty-and-the-Beast vocals, gloomy atmospheres, doom riffs), but they have not been so effectively utilized since their early-career classic Arcane Rain Fell. The vocal performances from Langhans and Anders Jacobsson are a major highlight, but the quality and range of the songwriting also shines, with the extreme metal elements in "The Sethian" and post-rock hints in "Ascend Into Darkness" standing out in particular.

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There's several female-fronted gothic doom acts featured in this year's gothic metal category, but Lethian Dreams are an altogether different beast to the likes of Draconian and Light Field Reverie. The vocal performance of Carline Van Roos is very subdued, a faint voice conveying a distance and sense of longing above the trudgingly slow doom riffs and extreme metal-leaning faster riffs. Sacrificing immediacy for a sense of serenity that drifts through the slow-burning compositions constituting A Shadow Of Memories, Lethian Dreams manage to evoke a strong atmosphere of melancholy presented with beauty, from the haunting vocal melodies and stirring guitar melodies right down to the incredibly picturesque album artwork.

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The debut record of Draconian vocalist Heike Langhans' latest project, Another World, reveals Light Field Reverie as a similar yet distinct entity when compared with her main project. Rather than trading with a growler, Langhans has for the most part sole vocal responsibility here; she shines in this leading role, adding a haunting quality to these richly atmospheric Gothic doom efforts. Something else that adds to this record is the intriguing use of electronics, bringing a modern touch to the proceedings with the inclusion of pulses and beats alongside the more traditional keyboards. The modern sensibilities also cross over into the songwriting, with pop influences in the title track utilized to great effect. Possessing a solid amount of sonic overlap with Draconian whilst remaining unique, Another World should appeal nicely to fans of Gothic doom who appreciate some novelty being added to the sound.

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Nicumo bring that signature Suomi melancholy to gothic metal on Inertia, weaving recognizably Finnish guitar melodies and soulful clean vocals into a musical base that derives clear inspiration from bands such as Paradise Lost and Sentenced. There's doomy trudges, bleak melodic choruses, and memorable solos throughout Inertia, along with dalliances with saxophones, hard rock, and more extreme metal territory that pop up across the album to surprise listeners. A very accessible approach to gothic metal that works well both in its softer and heavier moments elevates Inertia from being just another slab of sad Finnish metal into something truly worthy of your attention.

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"Threnos" - related to our English "threnody," and no more cheerful a term, fitting to preface one of the most agonizing musical elegies that betid our barren souls last year. On Thorns I Lay are still newly returned to the gothic death-doom sound that they debuted with so many years ago, but the feeling of that endless ache is one that they apparently remember quite well, for Threnos is on par with their best work, extremely consistent in tone, writing, and production and possessed of a massive presence that adds weight to every strike of the bass drum, every guttural growl, and every slowed-down riff. Its despondent chords fall with an impossible heaviness independent of volume or distortion, melding with keys, violin, and wrenching leads to pick at any open emotional wounds you may be nursing. We've known it for thousands of years, but On Thorns I Lay continue to prove a simple truth: no one knows how to build an artful tragedy like the Greeks.

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With Medusa, Paradise Lost came full circle. They showed everyone that they could be as heavy again as they were in their early days and now with Obsidian they are offering a career-spanning album in the sense that you can hear almost every sonic path that they have walked over the years. The gothic vibe is back and those who were not convinced by the one-dimensional nature of its predecessor will be thrilled to listen to a record that is a lot more varied and "listenable". After 16 albums and more than 30 years in the scene, it is incredible how Paradise Lost refuse to become stale and keep producing such quality material.

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Write-in votes

Deathwhite - Grave Image
Dogma - Mallevs Maleficarvm
Ecnephias - Seven - The Pact Of Debauchery
Katatonia - City Burials
Mono inc - The Book Of Fire
Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine
Rope Sect - The Great Flood
Secrets Of The Moon - Black House
The Smashing Pumpkins - Cyr
Veil Of Secrets - Dead Poetry
Walk In Darkness - On The Road To Babylon