A beginner’s guide to goth metal in 5 albums

Type O Negative, Lacuna Coil and Paradise Lost
(Image credit: Press/Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images)

Throughout the 1980s, metal and goth were two separate and distinct scenes, warily eyeing other through the dry ice of some dark provincial nightclub. But in the 1990s, these two outcast genres came together to create a grandiose new strain of music in the shape of goth metal.

Over the subsequent years and decades, goth metal grew in scope and ambition. It became an unlikely commercial powerhouse, thanks to the likes of Type O Negative and HIM. Its boundaries blurred with those of other genres, not least black and symphonic metal. 

Today, goth metal is a crucial part of the musical landscape - even bands who would never dream of calling themselves ‘goth’ have drawn inspiration from it. Here are five classic albums that represent the beating, black heart of goth metal.

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Paradise Lost – Gothic (1991)

Most of Paradise Lost were still in their teens when they released their debut album, Lost Paradise, and it showed. A callow hybrid of death and doom metal saddled with a Budgens-level production, it was a triumph of exuberance over expectation.

This follow-up showed what Paradise Lost were capable of. As the name suggested, Gothic was richer and darker – the opening title track featured operatic female vocals and orchestral sections cribbed straight from the Celtic Frost playbook, while the crepuscular Eternal and Silent are shrouded in threatening gloom. 

The gothic elements promised by the title were more subtle and less obvious than they would be on subsequent albums, but they were there all the same. If goth metal as we know it has a starting point, this is it.

Type O Negative – October Rust (1996)

Type O’s second album, Bloody Kisses, may have brought goth metal to the masses, but it was this follow-up that stands as their most grandiose statement of intent. Stripping away the last remnants of Peter Steele’s hardcore past,  October Rust represents the culmination of Type O’s progress from ugly ducklings to ugly swans, honing their dreamy alt-pop sensibilities while nailing some of their most affecting doom atmospheres in Red Water, Wolf Moon and Haunted, while Steele’s hymn to the joys of the menage a trois, My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend, remains one of the greatest singles of the era, goth metal or not. But it’s the lush harmonic textures and radiant romanticism that proved the biggest revelation, holding the attention for 70-plus minutes of unorthodox beguilement.

HIM – Razorblade Romance (2000)

From its hot pink album cover with the angular, androgynous and bare-chested Ville Ville staring defiantly out with a lit cigarette and bone structure that would send hearts and other organs a-flutter to the unabashedly romantic lyrics of Join Me In Death and Gone With The Sin, HIM’s second album introduced a new wave of gothic metal, one that was more Lord Byron than Count Dracula. 

The Finns’ affinity for an irresistibly poppy chorus amidst the swathes of goth metal shines through on the earworm choruses of Right Here In My Arms and Poison Girl, and quite rightly, the record went to number one in multiple countries, including Finland, for the first time. The definitive HIM record, Razorblade Romance is an irresistible slice of goth-metal romanticism that’s truly stood the test of time.

Lacuna Coil – Comalies (2002)

Gothic metal can get a bit over-cluttered with atmospheric bells and whistles, but Lacuna Coil’s focus was on crafting beautiful, straighforward, emotionally charged songs, the duetting ‘beauty and the beast’ vocals of Christina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro lending the band’s crisp doom structures a flamboyant, impassioned USP.

Sumptuously ethereal with dual vocals as ferocious as they are beautiful, Comalies remains the Italians’ masterstroke, and set a benchmark for modern, gothic-tinged metal. The heady combination of stunning production and 13 flawless tracks took them from the passionate underground of Europe to the world stage.

Idle Hands – Mana (2019)

It seems insufficient to call this Portland, Oregon crew’s thrilling debut LP ’gothic metal’. It’s not metal played in a gothic way: it is gothic rock, and it is heavy metal, two distinct forms precociously mastered, melded and deployed with both studious respect and passionate conviction, plus a crucial knack for an affecting chorus. They’d change their name to Unto Others soon afterwards and release the equally compelling Strength in 2021.

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