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Doom-gothic metal - its perception and interpretation by fans
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            The results that are presented in this article are part of a broader study investigating, from a psycho-socio-anthropological perspective, the relationship between the preference for a specific music genre - doom-gothic metal (part of the more encompassing style which is generically called heavy metal) - and the behavior and personality traits of young people that show such preference. The experimental study we have conducted examines the way being a doom-metal fan is affecting the structure of the attitude toward self. Due to space limitations, this article is only outlining the results concerning how fans interpret the components and image of the musical genre they prefer, as well as the impact this musical preference might have on their own personality. Taking into account that music represents an fundamental experience for young people, allowing for the expression of desires, tensions, conflicts and problems specific to this age - one of our informants defined it “the soundtrack that accompanies my life” - we assumed that by knowing someone’s musical tastes, one can further determine many other personality features.

What is doom-gothic metal?

            Doom-gothic metal is a musical genre which is commonly characterized as dramatic and romantic at the same time, pervaded by sadness and sorrow, depression and melancholy, creating a dark and meditative atmosphere of an intensity that no other musical genre possesses. For attaining such results, besides the musical instruments that have become traditional for heavy metal in general, many of the doom-gothic bands employ a range of harmonic instruments that characterize rather classical music, such as violins, cellos, piano, etc.

            The genre is characterized by a diversity of approaches ranging from the classical slow pace of doom metal to medium and extremely harmonic rhythms and occasionally to episodes of fast and energetic beats. Most bands combine clear vocals and slow guitars with growls and heavy riffs, the latter not being an essential feature of the genre, unlike in death metal which is one of the sources for doom and doom-gothic. The profundity of the message is an essential feature of this genre that can take various forms, from gutturals in bands such as Paradise Lost (the first period) to riffs ŕ la Black Sabbath in St. Vitus, to the transcendental sound marking the second phase of Lake of Tears (1996-2004) and the romantic depression pervading My Dying Bride’s songs.

            The lyrics of the genre were initially focused around a feeling of loss of hope which represents nowadays an essential feature of the genre. Recently however, the lyrics show a deeper and more personal level of involvement, with a focus on experiences such as love, grief, irreparable loss, loss of faith, etc. Religious texts have been also regarded as a potential source for lyrics, ideas and concepts; in most cases, however, they have only a symbolical function and should not be taken ad litteram. As far as the language is concerned, the lyrics can be written not only in English which was traditionally dominating almost exclusively in heavy metal, but also in Latin, Spanish, French, Greek or even Japanese, conferring a note of baroque to the genre.

            Usually, doom-gothic bands lend a great deal of attention to designing the various visual facets that are related in one way or another to their music: sleeves, logos, heraldic and so on. Some prototypical features in their visual art would be dark, somber, even sinister pictures, such as withered flowers, churches and statues, diabolic motives, etc.; the same conceptual features can be noticed in the choice for band names or song titles. Many bands or songs can be this way easy to identify as belonging to doom-gothic metal due to their less usual names, with mythological, poetical or historical relevance.

            Doom-gothic metal is overall a rather difficult - to listen to and understand - genre. First of all, it is not a commercial genre: it is common that songs last, in average, between 6 and 8-9 minutes, with records that go beyond 20 minutes. Second, their lyrics require a certain level of cultural, mythological, esoteric and occult knowledge in order to decode and understand the many historical and mythological references.

            The image of this genre in the perception of the “outsiders” is however totally different from the sketch above. Public opinion seem to have crystallized a doom / doom-gothic stereotype building around a series of prejudices concerning the behavior of fans, which are regularly associated with Satanism, suicidal tendencies, severe depression. The genre is however not related or serving any religious cult, in spite of the frequent references to mythological or religious motives - these are, as said above, limited to a symbolical value. Furthermore, the motive of loss of faith which is recurrent in doom-gothic lyrics can easily be related to Satanism. The message behind it however focuses on sorrow, grief and pain that led someone to losing faith and on the subsequent unhappiness, being rather a symbolic substitute for suffering.

            Doom-gothic metal is not overtly promoting a suicidal message and could hardly lead to it. The suicide is, normally, the consequence of various forms of mental disorder, which, in their turn stem from a combination of factors, including depression. It the psychiatric literature the latter is commonly described as a serotonin and norepinephrine disfunction, leading to a chemical disbalance in the brain. Music - of no matter what kind- constitutes, usually, one of the few colorful spots in the life of someone suffering from depression. Statistics are also relevant in this way - in more than 99% cases of suicide or attempt to suicide, the subjects have never had any kind of contact or heard of doom-gothic metal.

Methods employed

The Questionnaire

            No investigation tool allowing for the analyses of issues and aspects specific to our topic was available. It was therefore necessary to elaborate a customized questionnaire relating the two aspects in focus - attitude toward self and the preference for doom-gothic metal in young people. A 100 items questionnaire was initially designed which has been tested during a pilot study on a number of 15 students from different universities in Bucharest; they accepted to participate subsequently to a discussion of the items. As a result of the pilot test and of the subsequent discussions with the 15 informants, the questionnaire has been revised and reduced to 38 items. The questionnaire was applied to a group of 36 informants aged between 19 - 28 years, all students in various universities in the main towns of Romania and following various specializations. All of them had in common the preference for doom-gothic metal (i.e. were listening to and were very familiar with the lyrics, music and evolution of bands categorized as doom-gothic bands). Based on the results obtained during the questionnaire stage of the project fours informants (i.e. those recording extreme scores) were selected for a more in depth analysis within case studies based on interviews and personality tests.

            Within the case studies the following methods were employed:

  • Semistructured interview, based on the standardized questionnaire applied in the first stage, in order to gain deeper insight on issues concerning the degree of involvement of the informants in their passion for doom-gothic metal, the role that this musical genre plays within the configuration of a self-representation and of the interpersonal relationships.
  • The „Who am I?” test envisaging to outline the conception toward self in our informants, in relation with their musical preferences, analyzing also the way they related themselves to the stereotypical image of the doom-gothic fan according to public opinion;
  • Scales for the measurement of attitude toward self such as The Self-Esteem Scale (SES, Rosenberg, 1965); The Self-Esteem Inventory (SEI; Coopersmith, 1967).

                Of the 38 items of our questionnaire, which were grouped around thematic areas corresponding to our objectives, this article will focus on the following:

  • The degree of involvement in their passion for this musical genre as expressed in time and financial resources spent in relation to it;
  • To what degree musical preferences are reflected on a behavioral level;
  • To what degree fans ascribe a message to this music, what is it - according to them - and to which degree they adhere to this message;
  • To what degree they identify themselves with the message and the essential features of the musical genre they prefer
  • The structure of the sample

                The questionnaire was applied to a number of 36 informants, aged between 19 - 28, students at various universities, in the main towns of Romania (Bucharest, Iasi, Cluj-Napoca, etc.), following different specializations. The ratio male-female was 50-50.

                The selection of our informants was done based on their preference for doom-gothic metal. We identified them as fans of this musical genre through their participation to specific activities such as concerts, forums, club meetings. The informants have received a printed copy of the questionnaire at home, being free to choose the moment of filling it in. When answered questionnaires were handed in, participants were informed on the possibility of being asked of their further cooperation during the case study stage.

    Sample structure
    Nr. crt.Form code.Sex Age SpecializationTown
    1. J.U.M 24Architecture Bucharest
    2. E. S.M 28Architecture Bucharest
    3. D.S.M 22Architecture Bucharest
    4. A.A.M 23Architecture Bucharest
    5. R.B.T.M 25Architecture Bucharest
    6. R.U.F 21Economics Bucharest
    7. V.D.F 21Economics Bucharest
    8. I.R.F 20Economics Iasi
    9. C.A.D.F 20Economics Iasi
    10. R.G.M 21Economics Bucharest
    11. D.I.M 21Economics Bucharest
    12. R.I.M 20Economics Bucharest
    13. R.T.F 22Computer Science / IT Bucharest
    14. N. V.M 21Computer Science / IT Cluj
    15. A.D.M22Computer Science / IT Cluj
    16. K.N.M22Computer Science / IT Cluj
    17. B.V.M 22Computer Science / IT Bucharest
    18. E.R.M 24Computer Science / IT Bucharest
    19. B.B.M 22Computer Science / IT Bucharest
    20. I.N.F 20Aeronautics Bucharest
    21. E.S.F 21Aeronautics Bucharest
    22. M.P.M 21Aeronautics Bucharest
    23. A.R.M 20Aeronautics Bucharest
    24. O.B.F 21Languages Bucharest
    25. C.M.I.F 21Languages Bucharest
    26. O.A.C.F 23Languages Bucharest
    27. M.B.F19Languages Cluj
    28. D.C.F 22Languages Bucharest
    29. O.C.F 20Languages Cluj
    30. M.G.F 20Languages Cluj
    31. A.L.F 20Languages Bucharest
    32. E.I.F 22Languages Bucharest
    33. St.A.M 21Languages Bucharest
    34. F.A.F 22Mathematics Bucharest
    35. F.S.D.M 22Mathematics Bucharest
    36. D.B.M 23Mathematics Bucharest

                Due to space limitations, this article will focus exclusively on those items that are related to how fans interpret the image of this musical genre and its affective impact, as resulted from the questionnaire.


    Degree of involvement

                In order to establish how likely the preference for this musical genre might really have an impact on our informants’ behavior and personality, we sought to understand how deeply they are involved in their passion for doom-gothic metal. This was analysed in a series of items concerning the time and financial resources (CDs, concerts, clothing, trips, etc.) that were spent in relation to their passion for this musical genre. The results of these items are summarized in the two tables below and show that in general, doom-gothic fans can spend an average of 6-8 hours / day listening to their favorite music and invest also some of their financial resources for it:

    Time dedicated to listening to doom-gothic metal, expressed in hours / day
    Nr. hoursNr. answers%

    Financial resources allotted to the interest for doom-gothic metal
    Allotted moneyNr. answers%
    I don’t spend money for music--
    Not much170,472
    About half 150,416
    Almost all my money411,1
    All my money go to my favorite music--

    Reasons leading to a doom-gothic preference

                The analysis of why our informants prefer doom-gothic metal showed a general tendency for the participants to identifying themselves with this musical genre. Informants were instructed to select only one item that would apply and encouraged to add their personal comments in the case they considered the chosen answer is not describing sufficiently their option. Almost half of our informants, both male and female, claim to be listening to this kind of music for being representative of their own personality. The next most rated reason which, according to our participants, would justify their adhesion to doom-gothic metal is the vision of life it promotes. It was mostly female informants that opted for this answer. The other two reasons that have been selected were: a) is the best musical genre; b) my friends are listening to this kind of music.

                8 out of 36 participants added a number of personal reasons such as: poetry, quality and meaning of the lyrics; feelings awaken by the lyrics; melodic line and instrumentation; or mentioned that the lyrics are more „intelligent” and more „interesting”, from a literary point of view, than in other genres of rock.

    Reasons for preferring doom-gothic metal
    It is the best kind of music90,25
    It represents me170,472
    My friends listen to this kind of music50,138
    This music tells the truth about this hopeless world--
    It seems interesting for its vision of life50,138
    I am attracted by the somber and dark images, and by the macabre lyrics of the songs (about death, blood, etc.)--

    The message promoted by doom-gothic metal and participants’ adhesion to it

                In order to establish the degree of involvement in their preference for doom-gothic metal, but also for identifying indirectly a number of personality traits of the participants, seen as relevant also for the configuration of the attitude toward self, a number of items focused on the message promoted by this musical genre. All participants, unanimously, think that doom-gothic metal is carrying a specific message and all of them, with one exception, declared that they pay attention to the lyrics. In order to describe this message, participants were asked to choose three features they considered most relevant for the message they perceive and three adjectives that, according to them, would characterize it. Most participants (63,8%) indicated as a prevalent motive of the message promoted by doom-gothic metal the suffering. Next most rated motives were, in this order: love (50%), loss of hope, philosophy, and nihilism. No informant opted for hate or misanthropy.

    Themes of the message of doom-gothic metal
    Religion 30,083
    Loss of hope, despair 110,305
    Loss of faith20,055
    Death 40,111
    Sufferance, pain 230,638

                The majority of participants characterized the message as profound (86,1%) and melancholy (66,6%), and to a less extent pessimistic, somber or idealist. No informant selected depressing or stimulating.

    Attributes of doom-gothic metal message
    AttributeNr. answers%

                Two thirds of the participants have declared that they agree with the message promoted by doom-gothic metal to a high extent; the rest of 33,3% showed a moderate adhesion.

    The degree of adhesion to the message of doom-gothic metal
    Degree of adhesionAnswers%
    Very much --
    To a certain degree120,333
    Very little--

    The relationship between the preference for doom-gothic metal and the attitude toward self

                The items grouped in this section had the objective of establishing correlations between the preference for doom-gothic metal and components of the attitude toward self of the participants, as it results from their overtly expressed opinion. The participants were instructed to check any of the answers that would match their opinion being encouraged to add personal comments in the case they would feel the need to justify their answers.

                The majority declared that they think the music they are listening to on a daily basis is influencing their attitude toward self. For 44,4% of the subjects, the preference for this kind of music is stimulating in a creative process, for 22,2% doom-gothic constitutes a motivation. 11,1% of the subjects consider that listening to their preferred music is accentuating their state of mind, others - 16,6% associate this music with skepticism.

                As instructed, our informants provided a number of comments in order to justify their opinions:

                “It makes me feel calmer when I am agitated and gives me the strength to go on” (I.R., f)

                “I can’t tell it makes me be more skeptical, rather it correlates with the skepticism that characterizes me”. (E.S., m)

                “It is a strong music, with personality.” (J.U., m).

                “In general, it makes me feel better, I manage to communicate better and have contact with people that listen to the same kind of music”. (R.I., m)

    The relationship between doom metal and the attitude toward self:
    Influence Answers%
    It enhances my general mental state40,111
    It makes me feel generally disappointed20,055
    It makes me be more skeptical60,166
    It makes me be more pessimistic--
    It motivates me80,222
    It makes me more optimistic--
    It makes me to trust more myself--
    It stimulates me to create160,444
    It makes me feel like giving up--
    Other --

                According to the collected data, the preference for doom-gothic metal is endorsed on a behavioral and expressive level to a rather high extent by more than half of the participants and moderately by the rest. The external marks that would identify them as adepts of this musical genre, according to their overt statements, are: haircut (i.e. long hair), clothing, body-piercing and tattoos; the relationship between such “marks” to their musical preferences was detailed during the case studies. The participants were instructed to select all applying answers.

                In two cases, two male subjects declared that their musical preferences have no behavioral or expressive correlative. Very few female participants opted for the answer haircut.

    Behavioral and expressive endorsement of doom metal
    Expression Participants%
    Clothing 150,416
    Body piercing110,305

                From a psychological perspective, our results showed that doom-gothic metal appears to have a positive, mobilizing effect in most cases (66,6%), a calming effect or an euphoric-state inducing effect. In 6 cases, all 6 male participants declared that the effect of the preferred music is a state of melancholy. The participants were instructed to check all applying answers and provide further details that would help clarifying their options:

    Psychological influence of doom-gothic metal
    Form of manifestationAnswers%
    It cools me down160,444
    It’s irritating-
    It makes me feel euphoric110,305
    It’s depressing-
    It saddens me-
    It makes me feel happy-
    It makes me feel melancholic60,166
    It stimulates me240,666


                “It stimulates me to dream and it cools me down” (A.D., m).

                „I know people think that gothic or doom would be a depressing and pessimistic music etc. On me has this calming effect and helps me express or understand myself better. I think this music has something to say in its lyrics too.” (R.I., m)

                The answers provided to the question „Which is mostly associated to the preference for this musical genre?” suggested that, according to our informants, the defining element of doom-gothic metal is the vision of life it promotes in its message. The result is also confirmed by the answers received for the item meant to identify the reasons that were essential in configuring the preference for this musical genre. The second defining element of doom-gothic metal, according to the answers received from our informants, is represented by attitude, followed by image, state of mind, message and the feeling of belonging to a group. As instructed, participants were free to choose all applying answers.

    Significant components of doom-gothic metal
    Dance, movement--
    Mental state130,361
    Its vision of life230,638
    The affiliation feeling100,277

                According to our informants, the most defining attribute ascribed to the preferred music was the induced state of mind, followed by the message and musical complexity. A few participants opted for the attributes melodicity and force. Relevant in this respect is the comment added by one of the female participants, where she is trying to establish a connection between all the attributes suggested under this item:

                „If I have to pick just one feature, then it the mental state it induces. But we cannot forget that it comes from the lyrics (the message) and from the melodicity. And the entire atmosphere created by the song is transporting one into another world; on the other hand, it’s a big deal that you start listening to the song enraged as a bull, and before its ending you end up dreaming to I don’t know what thinks the singer is telling about; plus, it has also a comforting message (something like, there are also ppl in this world that are in huge trouble but never give up), which gives you the strength to fight and go on” (I.R., f).

    Defining attributes of doom-gothic metal according to participants
    The mental state it induces240,666

    The stereotype of a doom-gothic metal fan

                During a preliminary documentation stage of our study, we could notice, both in the literature, as well as in numerous articles, magazine comments or other non-scientific publications, frequent mentions to a stereotype of doom-gothic metal fans. Public opinion appears to have perpetuated a negative image of the young affectionate of doom-gothic as a person characterized by depressive and aggressive tendencies, alcohol (and to a less extent drog)-addiction associated to anti-social behaviors and, primarily, with a tendency to self-harming behavior. For this reason, while designing the questionnaire, we introduced a section meant to test to which extent this stereotype is confirmed by the fans of this genre. Their answers did not confirm the stereotype, but most participants needed to point out that they were aware of such a stereotype and distanced themselves from it, adding a number of personal comments.

                Most participants declared they do not have a tendency to showing self-harming behavior. Nevertheless, 1/6 of our informants think that indulging in a negative psychological state has a self-harming effect that can be accentuated and sublimated through music. About 20% of our participants associated their preference for doom-gothic metal with occasional drinking habits, maybe more than in average persons and they defined this as a harmful behavior.

                As far as anti-social behaviors associated to doom-gothic (or other genres of metal) fans are concerned, all participants denied this connection. Most of them felt the need to add personal comments of a defensive nature, underlining that it’s all prejudices. With the permission of the participants, we are quoting the most significant:

                „I think metal in general it’s a kind of music that forces one to modify a bit the attitude toward the others, because, contrary to other kinds of music, where you just sit down and whine “Oooh, my life”, all metal subgenres have had always a motivating message, persuading to take some attitude toward what you don’t like and don’t allow the rest to smash you. Although the lyrics in doom-gothic aren’t that much focused on this motivating message, generally, in the lyrics you find the idea that the main character got pissed off with the situation in which he/she is, and tried to do something in order to get out, and only when they saw it was impossible and was left alone, with no help, no friends, etc. starts crying”. (I.R., f, 20 de ani)

                „None. It’s the image of the aggressive metalhead, which is violent, a drunk, a firestarter, a junkie, which, at least, in Romania, gained field” (J.U., m, 24 ani)       

    The case study

                The interview was designed in order to gain further insight on the data collected during the questionnaire stage. 4 informants were selected, which recorded extreme scores (2 highest - 1 male, 1 female - or lowest - 1 male, 1 female) for those items focusing on attitude toward self, as well as a significant degree of involvement in their preference for doom-gothic metal. The semi-structured interview was based on a number of items of the questionnaire that were focused on the overall objectives of the study.

                The data provided by the interview confirmed and consolidated the results obtained during the questionnaire stage; we sought to gain further insight into the following areas:

  • Affective and motivational impact: affirming the motivating character of doom-gothic metal; on the other hand, the depressive nature of some lyrics or melodies was also confirmed;
  • the conflictual ego-feature was more precisely configured, defined by the co-existence of contradictory affective states in the participants subjected to interview; the relationship between this kind of music and the oscillation between an escapist, dreaming tendency and an extremely realistic skepticism.
  • The nature of the message transmitted by doom-gothic music and the importance of the lyrics: the adhesion to the thematic range proposed by this musical genre and the correlative vision of life;
  • The music represents me as a person: spiritual, affective, image and attitude affinities;
  • Self-assessed self-image in relation to the projected image about self: self-distancing from the stereotype perpetuated by public opinion and anti-social or self-harming behaviors associated to it;
  • The role of the preference for doom-gothic metal in participants’ life and in their inter-personal relationships: the association between doom-gothic metal and significant events or important persons in one’s personal history - as an essential stage in knowledge of the self, discovering of the self or of self qualities.
  •             The projective test CSE: by using this test, as well as the attitude scales, we envisaged to identify the particularities of the attitude toward self and of representation of self. Based on the compositions that our informants which were selected for the case study were writing, we have obtained the following relevant information:

  • the tendency for our informants to not lending, explicitly, an important role to psychological features in self-presentation, preferring rather an indirect approach of this aspect, fact that could be connected to the tendency toward introversion that resulted during the questionnaire stage of the research, but also by using other methods;
  • the tendency to identify themselves with the preferred music and its message, and the tendency to give much importance to hobbies or leisure activities, among which the preference for doom-gothic metal was the most significant;
  • the defining importance of friends in the system of personal relationships;
  • the tendency toward isolation and introversion;
  • the attitude at the same time romantic and realistic toward the problems of life;
  • a high level artistic sensitivity and creativity.
  •             Scales for assessing the attitude toward self - SES and SEI: the results obtained by applying these two scales for the assessment of the attitude toward self that are most commonly employed in similar studies showed significant correlations with the results obtained during the questionnaire stage (the scores obtained for the attitude toward self - self-evaluated and projected) and the data obtained by applying the projective test CSE. The two tests, and especially S.E.I, confirmed the very significant correlation between the preference for doom-gothic metal and the component imagination of the attitude toward self. Other particularities that were confirmed by such tests were:

  • the tendency toward escapism, dreaming;
  • awareness of the complexity and conflictual nature of their ego;
  • the difficulty in attaining, with ease, a series of objectives within specific kinds of social interactions.

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  • Copyright©2004 Gabriela SAUCIUC, all rights reserved. The author's written consent is required in order to reproduce any part of this article. Free to use in Search Engines.

    Introduse de Gabriela Sauciuc:

  • Doom-metal - perceperea si interpretarea genului de catre fani
    Doom-gothic metal - its perception and interpretation by fans
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