The Denver Doom Scene Brings Darkness to the Mile High City
Bands like Khemmis, In the Company of Serpents, Dreadnought, and more balance out the sunshine and stoned hippies with heavy riffs and misery.
At first glance, Denver seems an unlikely place for doom. The standard of living is high, and the skies are sunny and blue. The city's musical history reveals a lot of jazz, folk, and Country Western music, and it's got a reputation for a certain outdoorsy, hippified vibe that's the polar opposite of New Orleans or Birmingham.
Despite all that (or perhaps because of it), Denver is home to one of the nation's strongest emerging doom scenes. Maybe it's that those skies are a little too sunny, or the ceaseless hordes of tourists mucking up downtown, or perhaps it's just stoned inspiration from all the legal cannabis in the air. Whatever it is, Denver has been churning out doom acts like crazy, and while they each boast their own unique sound, they do all have one thing in common: incredibly catchy riffs.
"The cool thing about Denver these days is that a lot of bands are taking elements of doom and mixing it up with other styles of metal," explained Nick Nunns, owner of Trve Brewing, a doom and metal-influenced brewery that has become a stalwart supporter of the local scene. "Spectral Voice is doing their death-doom thing; Khemmis is doing their doom-Maiden thing; In the Company of Serpents is taking doom and mixing it up with whatever esoteric weird shit Grant [Netzorg, In the Company of Serpents] is into. Nice to see people blending this shit up to come up with some killer, original music."
"Denver's heavy music scene seems to be generally comprised of bands interested primarily in writing compelling, original music," says Grant Netzorg, guitarist and vocalist for In the Company of Serpents. "If it's devastatingly heavy at the same time, great, but the onus seems to be on coming up with material that is not bullshit and comes from someplace genuine. At the same time, pretty much everyone involved is very supportive of the other bands in the scene. You see probably 20 or more people from bands at every show, whether it's an all local bill, or a big touring package. I've heard that other cities can be insanely competitive, with all sorts of backstabbing and posturing among local bands, but I see very little of that here. Bands here are generally supportive of one another, and people are stoked when their friends' bands see any success, as opposed to copping some whiny 'shoulda been us, man' sort of attitude that you see a lot of elsewhere."
Whether the major outflux of doom from Colorado is in spite of or because of local conditions, the scene is alive and thriving. Here are some of the major players doing the slow burn in the Mile High.
In the Company of Serpents
One of Denver's best known doom bands, the sheer heaviness and power that comes from this group make it hard to believe that ICOS is just a duo. Comprised of just guitar and vocals (Grant Netzorg) and drums (Joseph Myer), their introspective darkness and extremely careful songwriting choices explain why they've become a national doom phenomenon. Netzorg, a Denver native and Western enthusiast, actually comes from a Country Western background, a musical heritage which occasionally peeks through in their music.
"As far as heavy stuff is concerned, I love the sort of monolithic heft that bands like Neurosis and Swans conjure," Netzorg explained regarding the group's influences. "I also love eerie, spare music like Earth, and it's no secret that I'm a sucker for Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western stuff. Chelsea Wolfe is magnificent, and she does a wonderful job of melding overtly heavy sounds with spine-chilling softer pieces."
Khemmis' heavy metal doom epics rely on rock 'n' roll tropes and fantastical subject matter to create the unique sound which has already elevated them far above "local secret" status. The rising stars were heaped with praise for their most recent album, Hunted, and have carved out a very special niche for themselves within the current extreme metal pantheon.
"We're thankful to be part of such an excellent heavy music community here in Denver," said Dan Beiers, the group's bassist. "We've had some great fortune, most of it due to the bands and fans of this town coming to shows and banging their heads with us. We hope that Denver's scene continues to thrive and that more people come to realize what we already know—our city has some of the best heavy music today."
Not only are The Munsens active in the existing Denver scene, they are also helping to bring even more heaviness to the area. Brothers Shaun and Mike Goodwin (who handle guitar and bass respectively and vocals collectively) also run DUST Presents, a promotion company in Denver responsible for booking the annual Electric Funeral Fest in the South Broadway neighborhood.
"In respect to the overall Denver heavy music scene, we still consider ourselves newcomers," Mike says. "It's been a welcoming place to play, and we've met some incredible musicians. The people and bands who've been involved far longer than us built a really solid foundation here. It's great to see Denver bands achieving national and international recognition. It's a positive thing for those bands, obviously, but also for Denver music as a whole. We hope the good times keep rolling."
The dudes used to be divided, living between New Jersey and Denver. This made touring and recording difficult, but as they all made the move to Denver, they released a killer self-titled tape that has redefined the Denver doom sound with its catchiness and straightforward staying power. Similar to powerhouse acts like Electric Wizard, The Munsens put on a hell of a live show and also do a good job of capturing their distinct sound in the studio.
While not technically doom in the strictest of senses, Dreadnought is certainly doom-influenced, and their thorny take on progressive rock is making major waves both in town and nationally. While many prog bands draw most of their energy from intensely technical riffs, Dreadnought chalk their colorful sound up to influences that also include black metal, folk, and post-metal. The combination of dual female vocals and flute and keyboard alongside traditional metal instruments makes them both trendsetters and keepers of the deeper, more esoteric side of Denver doom.
Of Feather and Bone
Of Feather and Bone officially falls outside of the true doom category, but draws plenty from its miserable influences, and they fit in just fine on the Denver circuit. They incorporate elements of doom and sludge into an extreme metal cauldron that boils over with hatred, even on the sunniest of Denver days. Although they have only released a two-song demo todate, they have already built up quite a following both in town and nationally on the underground circuit of blackened, crusty doom and grind.
These guys describe their music as sludge and funeral punk, and they really aren't kidding around when it comes to the sheer levels of brutality they can generate with their music. Those who are used to leaving home without ear plugs will want to pick some up before Primitive Man take the stage. The low frequencies they generate alone are enough to physically move the room, and fans are often lulled into a doom trance just watching their live shows.
Self-described as "misanthropic in approach," Primitive Man is one of those doom bands that really thrive on the depressive, and use that negative energy to dredge up emotions most feel are best yet untapped. These guys have over a dozen releases total (including collaborations with other groups and a full-length on Relapse), and you won't catch them slowing anything but their tempos anytime soon.
Cult of the Lost Cause
All good doom scenes need a more ambient option to balance things out, and Cult of the Lost Cause is more than happy to step into that role in Denver. The Mile High's answer to bands like Pelican or Neurosis, COTLC is dark, doomy and slow, without being too overstated. Signed to Sailor Records, Cult of the Lost Cause have been making complex, dreamy post-metal, and as a self-described "post-metalgaze-ambidjent" act, COTLC don't shy away from relying on melody and experimentation to expand their sound. While they may not be as slow or heavy as some of their counterparts, they definitely know how to keep the low-key vibe going.
Call of the Void
Call of the Void's take on doom may be sludgier than that of their hometown peers, but the sound the Boulder outfit creates is still very distinctly Colorado; there is a definite tinge of mountains and madness to their music. Their proficient soloing and catchy-yet-depraved rhythms are all their own, which caught the ear of Relapse Records back in 2014. Literally named after the urge to commit suicide, these guys understand the angry, angsty side of doom just as well as any discomforted Southerners. One only needs to take a brief listen to Call of the Void to be convinced of their potential for darkness and despair.
As a group that has both opened for a Led Zeppelin cover band and played an underground doom festival, Cloud Catcher are that entry point for Denver doom, and an excellent example of the spirit of versatility that imbues the scene itself. Their focus on catchy, true-to-form classic rock riffs makes them passable as a straightforward rock group, but their psychedelic lyrics and heavy, Sabbath-inspired riffs place them squarely on the doom spectrum.