Gothic Metal

GOTHIC METAL (1990-present)

Gothic Metal (or Goth Metal) is a sub-genre of Heavy Metal and Gothic Rock that combines the heaviness of Heavy Metal with the dark atmospheres of Gothic Rock. The music of Gothic Metal is diverse with bands known to adopt the Gothic approach to different styles of Heavy Metal music. The genre originated during the early 1990s in Europe originally as an outgrowth of Death-Doom, a fusion of Death Metal and Doom Metal. Lyrics are generally dark and introspective with inspiration from gothic fiction as well as personal experiences.

Gothic MetalPioneers of Gothic Metal (although the bands themselves never claim the title of Gothic-Metal) include Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema, all from the north of England. Other pioneers from the first half of the 1990s include Type O Negative from the United States, Tiamat from Sweden and The Gathering from the Netherlands. Norwegian band Theatre of Tragedy developed the “beauty and the beast” aesthetic of combining aggressive male vocals with clean female vocals, a contrast that has since been adopted by many Gothic Metal groups before them but not as a regular trademark.

During the mid-1990s, Moonspell, Theatres des Vampires and Cradle of Filth brought the Gothic approach to Black Metal. By the end of the decade, a Symphonic Metal variant of Gothic Metal had been developed by Tristania and Within Temptation.

In the 21st century, Gothic Metal has moved towards the mainstream in Europe, particularly in Finland where groups such as Entwine, HIM, Lullacry and Poisonblack have released hit singles or chart-topping albums. In the US, however, only a few bands such as Type O Negative, HIM, Lacuna Coil, Evanescence and Cradle of Filth have found some degree of commercial success.


The term ‘Gothic’ entered Heavy Metal music with the release of Paradise Lost’s Gothic album in 1991. Since then, fans have often been at odds with one another as to “which bands are, or most definitely are not, authentically Goth”. Some musicians have disputed the gothic label associated with their bands, including Rozz Williams of Christian Death and Andrew Eldritch of The Sisters of Mercy. In the Gothic Metal subgenre, members from such groups as After Forever, HIM and Nightwish have similarly downplayed or dismissed the gothic label from their music.


Music – The music of Gothic Metal is generally characterised by its dark atmospheres. The adjective “dark” is commonly used to describe Gothic music in general while other terms that are less frequently used include deep, romantic, passionate and intense. Gothic Metal has also sometimes been viewed as “a combination of the darkness and melancholy of Goth Rock with Heavy Metal”. Allmusic defines the genre as a fusion of “the bleak, icy atmospherics of Goth Rock with the loud guitars and aggression of Heavy Metal” and further notes that “true Goth Metal is always directly influenced by Goth Rock — ethereal synths and spooky textures are just as important as guitar riffs, if not more so”.

Gothic Metal is a varied genre with bands pursuing many different directions, from “slow and crushing variations” to “orchestral and bombastic”. The Doom Metal background of early pioneers like Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride has been taken up by groups like Artrosis, Ava Inferi and Draconian. The Black Metal approach of Cradle of Filth, Theatres des Vampires and early Moonspell can be found in such subsequent bands as Graveworm, Drastique and Samsas Traum while the symphonic Metal approach of Tristania and Within Temptation can be found in other groups like Epica, Sirenia and After Forever. Other variations include the Death Metal of Trail of Tears, the Folk Metal of Midnattsol, the Industrial Metal of Deathstars, Gothminister and Neon Synthesis, the alternative Metal of Katatonia, Lacuna Coil, Evanescence and the Metalcore of Motionless in White.

Vocals – There is also a diverse range of vocal styles in Gothic Metal. Male singers in the genre range from the guttural growls and black Metal shrieks of Dani Filth and Morten Veland to the clean baritone vocals of Østen Bergøy and the bass range of Peter Steele. For the female singers, the different vocal styles includes the screams and growls of Cadaveria, the “poppy” vocals of Tanja Lainio from Lullacry and the operatic soprano style of Vibeke Stene from Tristania.

There are more female singers in Gothic Metal than there are in any other Heavy Metal sub-genres but female vocals are neither necessary nor synonymous with the genre. Liv Kristine of Theatre of Tragedy and Leaves’ Eyes notes that the Gothic tag is often misinterpreted and points out that “not every band with female vocals is a Gothic band”. The genre is also known to attract more female fans relative to other subgenres of Heavy Metal music.

Lyrics – The lyrics of Gothic Metal are known to be melodramatic, fantasized, romantic, dark or sometimes gloomy. For the three English bands that helped to pioneer the genre, their gloomy lyrics reflect their background in Doom Metal while the dark or melodramatic lyrics sometimes inspired by stuff like horror fiction draws influence from Gothic Rock. The music of My Dying Bride has been noted as “dripping with treachery and pain” from a “lyrical fascination with deceit and transgressions of every variety”. Lyrics that focus on suicide and the meaninglessness of life can be found in Anathema while Paradise Lost too has “never lost their depressive edge”.

Gothic fiction, a literary genre that blends horror and romance, has been a source of inspiration for the lyrics of many Gothic Metal bands like Cadaveria, Cradle of Filth, Moonspell, Theatres des Vampires and Xandria. Critic Eduardo Rivadavia of Allmusic identifies drama and mournful beauty as requisite elements of the genre. For My Dying Bride, the subjects of “death and misery and lost love and romance” has been approached repeatedly from different angles. The common gothic theme of lost love is a subject that has been tackled by such Gothic Metal bands as Theatre of Tragedy, The Wounded and Leaves’ Eyes.

Lyrics based on personal experiences is another common feature of many Gothic Metal bands such as Anathema, Elis, Tiamat, Midnattsol and The Old Dead Tree. Graveworm moved away from fantasy stories in favor of personal lyrics after finding them more suitable for their style of music. The lyrics of fellow Italians Lacuna Coil also do not feature any “fantasy stuff or something that you cannot find in reality” as their co-vocalist Cristina Scabbia finds it desirable that people can relate themselves to her band’s lyrics. Similarly, the band Lullacry features lyrics on the subjects of “love, hate, passion and pain” because a person “can easily connect to a song” with lyrics “about human relationships”.

History (Precursors)

Black Sabbath's debut album (1970)

Black Sabbath’s debut album with its gothic cover art

Heavy Metal music is perceived by many members of the Goth sub-culture as the “crass, crude macho antithesis of everything that their music represents”. In contrast to the “softer” and “more feminine” character of Gothic music, the Heavy Metal genre is typically associated with aggression and masculinity. Despite this difference, “a few bold souls have identified Black Sabbath’s eponymous 1970 debut album as the first ever ‘Goth-Rock’ record”. The author Gavin Baddeley notes that the title track of the album “describes a satanic rite, complete with driving-rain and tolling bell sound effects, while the cover focuses on a black-cloaked, spectral-looking girl in a graveyard, shot through a sickly pale ochre filter”.

Other commentators have described Black Sabbath as the “absolute prototype Gothic heavies” and observed that by separating the band’s music “from their Heavy Metallic connotations”, one “could cull a killer Goth album from their first five LP’s, with every future reference point and requirement intact”.

The “vaguely medieval, minor-key sounds” of Rainbow, Dio and Judas Priest has also been described as “Gothic” prior to “the emergence of goth rock as a post-punk genre”. The bands Blue Öyster Cult and Iron Maiden have featured some Gothic lyrics in their music on songs such as “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and “Phantom of the Opera”. Deep Purple’s song “Stormbringer” has been called a “Goth Metal treasure”. The Danish Metal band Mercyful Fate had also demonstrated “a Gothic obsession with evil and the occult”. Frontman King Diamond continued exploring his interest in Gothic storytelling after establishing a solo career under his own moniker, issuing “a series of concept albums which told Gothic horror tales with sound effects and song”.

During the 1980s, the former Misfits frontman Glenn Danzig also “occupied the no man’s land between Goth and Heavy Metal”. With the dissolution of his second band Samhain in 1988 and the creation of his own eponymous act, Danzig went on to combine Heavy Metal riffs with “a heavily romanticized, brooding, Gothic sensibility”.

The Swiss group Celtic Frost was another precursor to Gothic Metal, translating the influence they drew from Gothic Rock acts Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees into their own albums. The band’s “radical fusion of violent Black Metal and elements of Classical music” was dubbed “Avant-Garde” and had a huge impact “on the evolution of European Heavy Metal”. Christofer Johnsson of the Therion cites Celtic Frost’s 1987 album Into the Pandemonium in particular for playing a key role in the development of the ‘Gothic and Symphonic wave of bands’ in the 1990s, noting further that neither his group Therion nor Paradise Lost “would have sounded the way we did without Celtic Frost”.

Gothic Rock had emerged as an offshoot of post-Punk in the 1980s but by the end of that decade, the genre had splintered into different directions with bands such as The Cure, Mission U.K. & Siouxsie and the Banshees incorporating “more pop and alternative elements” while The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilim and Christian Death took on a “heavier, sometimes Metal-influenced approach”. The Sisters of Mercy was one of the leading Goth bands of the 1980s, playing “a slow, gloomy, ponderous hybrid of Metal and psychedelia, often incorporating dance beats”. The band only released three full-length albums with the debut First and Last and Always released in 1985. Their last album Vision Thing arrived in 1990 as one of the earliest attempts to mix Gothic music with Heavy Metal.

Fields of the Nephilim had also released only three studio albums before their initial dissolution in 1991. They have since reformed, released more albums and been recognized for their influence on the “glut of Metal bands” in the early 21st century “that incorporated obvious elements of Goth into their sound — especially detected in their appreciation of symphonic and keyboard sounds (as well as their fashion sense)”.

According to Allmusic, “Goth Metal first emerged during the early to mid-’80s, centered around Los Angeles’ so-called ‘Death-Rock’ scene headed by Christian Death”. Acclaimed as the “founding fathers of American Goth Rock”, Christian Death went through a major personnel change in 1985 with the departure of the band’s leader and founder Rozz Williams. Guitarist Valor Kand took over the reins and under his leadership, Christian Death subsequently pursued a more Metal-oriented direction. In particular, their 1988 album Sex and Drugs and Jesus Christ has been described by critic Steve Huey as “heavy Goth-Rock bordering on Metal”.


The Peaceville Three

Nick Holmes is the vocalist of the pioneering Paradise Lost. The group is known to have influenced many subsequent bands in the genre. As a musical style, Gothic Metal “truly began in the early 1990s in the north of England” with the three bands Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema representing “the core of the movement”. They are all also three of the bands that pioneered the Death/Doom sub-genre, showing why Gothic Metal originated from Death/Doom. All three bands were signed to Peaceville Records during the early 1990s and have since been known as the “Peaceville Three”. They had roots in “frenetically abrasive Death Metal, but they were also influenced by what Paradise Lost vocalist, Nick Holmes, described as the ‘really bleak, dark sound’ of Dead Can Dance”.

Other Pioneers

The year 1988 saw not only the formation of Paradise Lost but another early Gothic Metal pioneer, the Swedish band Tiamat. In North America, Peter Steele had formed Type O Negative in 1990 out of the remnants of his former Thrash Metal band Carnivore. Inspired by the use of female vocals on Paradise Lost’s second album Gothic, The Gathering released their debut album Always… in 1992 with growling vocalist Bart Smits supported by female singer Marike Groot.  The Gathering’s “introspective atmosphere owed a creative debt to Dead Can Dance, and established them as a leading band in their native Holland.


Beauty and the Beast

The term “beauty and the beast” refers to an aesthetic contrasting “angelic” female vocals with male growls or aggressive singing. Paradise Lost and The Gathering had already made use of this technique on some songs from their earlier albums but it was the Norwegian Theatre of Tragedy that first released an entire album devoted to this approach with their self-titled debut in 1995.

Gothic_Female vocals

Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), Amy Lee (Evanescence), Simone Simons (Epica), Vibeke Stene (Tristania)

Other bands that contrast aggressive male vocals and clean female vocals continued to emerge in the late 1990s. Trail of Tears had formed in 1994 while Tristania formed in 1995 and The Sins of Thy Beloved were formed in 1996. All three Norwegian groups released their debut albums in 1998. Tristania stood apart from the others with their use of three distinct vocal styles in the “operatic soprano Vibeke Stene, clean-singing counter-tenor Østen Bergøy, and harsh, Black Metal-style shrieker Morten Veland”. Their second album Beyond the Veil in 1999 made use of a ten members choir and featured violin passages from Pete Johansen of The Sins of Thy Beloved, earning “rave reviews” across Europe.

By then, the band had risen to “the top of the Goth Metal heap” with their “lush, symphonically enhanced” approach. They were “dealt a potentially crippling blow” when singer, guitarist and principal composer Veland left the group to form Sirenia. Tristania has continued to prosper with subsequent releases and has since been “regarded as one of the world’s premiere Goth Metal bands”.

For over a decade, this beauty and the beast aesthetic has flourished with many representatives across the European continent. Cradle of Filth has also been known to make use of this approach through guest female vocalists such as Liv Kristine and Sarah Jezebel Deva. A few critics have since lamented that the approach has been “done to death by countless bands” to the point that it has become something of a cliché in the genre.

Symphonic Gothic Metal

Tristania was not the only Gothic Metal band that brought a symphonic edge to their music. Influenced by the Peaceville trio of Paradise Lost, Anathema and My Dying Bride, the Dutch band Within Temptation was founded in 1996. A debut album Enter was unveiled in the following year, followed shortly by an EP The Dance. Both releases made use of the beauty and beast approach delivered by vocalists Sharon den Adel and Robert Westerholt.

Within Temptation’s brand of Gothic Metal combines “the guitar-driven force of Hard Rock with the sweep and grandeur of symphonic music”. The critic Chad Bowar of describes their style as “the optimum balance” between “the melody and hooks of mainstream Rock, the depth and complexity of Classical music and the dark edge of Gothic Metal”. The commercial success of Within Temptation has since resulted in the emergence of a large number of other female-fronted Gothic Metal bands, particularly in the Netherlands.

Another Dutch band in the symphonic Gothic Metal strain is After Forever. Their debut album Prison of Desire in 2000 was “a courageous, albeit flawed first study into an admittedly daunting undertaking: to wed Heavy Metal with progressive rock arrangements and classical music orchestration — then top it all of with equal parts gruesome cookie-monster vocals and a fully qualified opera singer”. A second album Decipher followed in 2001 with music that was described by guitarist Sander Gommans as being in the style of Within Temptation. Founding member, guitarist and vocalist Mark Jansen departed After Forever only a few months after the release of this album.

Jansen would go on to form Epica, another band that performs a blend of Gothic and Symphonic Metal. A debut album The Phantom Agony emerged in 2003 with music that combines Jansen’s death grunts with the “angelic tones of a classically trained mezzo-soprano named Simone Simons, over a lush foundation of symphonic power Metal”. The music of Epica has been described as combination of “a dark, haunting gothic atmosphere with bombastic and symphonic music”. Like Within Temptation and After Forever, Epica has been known to make use of an orchestra. Their 2007 album The Divine Conspiracy was a chart success in their home country.

This blend of Symphonic and Gothic Metal has also been arrived at from the opposite direction. The band Nightwish from Finland began as a Symphonic Power Metal act before introducing gothic elements on their 2004 album Once, particularly on the single “Wish I Had an Angel”. They continued to mix their style of “bombastic, symphonic and cinematic” Metal with a Gothic atmosphere on their next albums Dark Passion Play in 2007 and Imaginaerum in 2011. In the book Rough Guide to Heavy Metal, Essi Berelian describes Nightwish as “Gothic film score Metal”. The Swedish group Therion also introduced Gothic elements to their brand of Symphonic Metal on their 2007 album Gothic Kabbalah.

Finnish Scene

In the 21st century, Gothic Metal has enjoyed a strong mainstream presence in Finland with many representatives enjoying commercial success. In addition to the aforementioned HIM, the bands Charon, Entwine, For My Pain…, Lullacry, Poisonblack, Sentenced and To/Die/For have all found their singles or albums hitting the top ten of the Finnish charts. Of these bands, Sentenced notably formed as far back as 1989 with their early albums in the melodic and blackened death Metal vein. For My Pain… was formed as a supergroup with members from other prominent bands in Finland including Nightwish, Embraze, Eternal Tears of Sorrow and Reflexion.

2 comments to Gothic Metal

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