People who listen to metal have a reputation for being narrow-minded, and in some cases it’s true. Luckily, there is another side to the coin. For everyone that spews venom on crossover bands like Alcest, VOLA and Anathema, there’s someone who understands that the metal tag isn’t the end of music.
I’d be the first to admit that I was a stuck up metalhead for a long time, even driving a long hate campaign against all melodic death metal when In Flames and Soilwork decided to release some questionable albums. Eventually, I cooled it, as I realized non-metal has a heavy influence on metal. There are also many bands not connected to metal at all that are simply fantastic.
One thing is for sure: growing your musical influences definitely makes you both a better listener and a better songwriter. Since this is a doom metal-dominated site, many of the artists on the list will work especially well if you like stuff like Katatonia, Paradise Lost and Anathema.
About the author
I’m Stefan Nordström, an aspiring musician and content creator. This is one of the ways I promote Soliloquium, my progressive death/doom metal band. If you’re searching for new music in the style, it would be awesome if you listened to my stuff on:
Anna von Hausswolff
Anna von Hausswolff has tried out many dark music styles and has excelled at most of them. She started out as a singer/songwriter type artist before turning to a strange, epic mix of ethereal wave, experimental, drone and art pop. 2018’s “Dead Magic” had some of the most otherworldly sounds yet, and I can definitely see this one appeal to many metal fans.
Musically, it’s quite non-metal, but the overall epicness and darkness of her music should appeal. She’s also one of the most unique-sounding artists today. Not to mention that her live gigs blow most extreme metal bands out of the water.
Antimatter is one of the darkest and most personally hard-hitting bands out there for me. The connection to Anathema’s Duncan Patterson is what got most people into Antimatter back in the day, but now it’s run by vocalist/guitarist Mick Moss.
The band treads the ground between several genres, like electronic, trip-hop, progressive rock and singer/songwriter. What is particularly impressive about Antimatter is how they keep getting better. 2018’s “Black Market Enlightenment” is my favorite album by them so far, and they show no signs of slowing down.
Similar to Anna von Hausswolff, Chelsea Wolfe makes dark female-fronted music with crossover tendencies. Chelsea Wolfe has written everything from singer/songwriter music to doom metal, and all of it is high quality music. It’s a perfect gateway from metal to non-metal, unless you really despise female vocals.
The noisy bombast of the song “Carrion Flowers” is what first caught my ear about Chelsea Wolfe. I even saw her perform it at the Brutal Assault festival in Czech Republic, showing her strong connection to the metal community.
The Cure might be fronted by an old man wearing gothic make-up, disturbingly enough being the most common reason why I’ve heard metalheads reject them. The Cure may not be a heavy band in a direct sense, but 1989’s “Disintegration” definitely had a big impact on gothic metal, alternative metal and doom metal. They have a lot of very dark material that I was young and dumb enough to stay away from for a long time.
Premier death/doom metal band Daylight Dies quoted (I think it’s gone from their website now) The Cure as one of their biggest influences. Katatonia has done the same at times. Hell, there’s even a cool DIY video of Jonas Renkse singing a song from “Disintegration” at a wedding.
Dead Can Dance
Dead Can Dance is a pretty wild band that experiments with many different dynamics and atmospherics. If you enjoy metal bands gone soft like Anathema and Throes of Dawn, it’s highly likely that you will enjoy Dead Can Dance, as they are a strong influence. Their strange, ritualistic soundscapes are one of a kind.
Fair warning is that some of the material can be extremely strange and out there. If it’s too much, try starting with Anathema or Throes of Dawn to transition. Another cool project in this vein is Duncan Patterson’s (Anathema/Antimatter) atmospheric project Íon.
Depeche Mode has had a strange influence on metal and rock, especially the alternative and gothic kind. Paradise Lost have made plenty of albums and songs reeking of Depeche influence, and they’re far from the only ones.
If that isn’t reason enough, some of their songwriting and atmosphere is just unbeatable. Depeche Mode is a truly dark band. They may not be extreme, but many of their darker moments can rival many metal bands in terms of feeling. Don’t be afraid to venture away from their most well-known albums. A lot of the most intense songs are on other albums, like “The Darkest Star” (below) from 2005’s “Playing the Angel”.
Duh, Pink Floyd! Well, I was a metalhead for many years without giving them and in-depth chance. Pink Floyd was mostly “The Wall” theatrics for me. That all changed, once I discovered their darker, more emotional material.
“Comfortably Numb” and “Wish You Were Here” are both classic starting points, but the “Dark Side of the Moon” albums is where Pink Floyd really works for me. Don’t forget cheesy (in a positive way) 1994 David Gilmour album “The Division Bell”. It’s utterly non-metal and sentimental, but has some really great tunes once you get past the cheese factor.
The early Pink Floyd material can also be a non-metal gateway. “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is a weird, ritualistic tune that has gotten its fair share of metal covers.
Non-metal is not only rock. Dark, moody music comes in many shapes and British trip-hop giants Portishead got my attention when I should’ve been way too much of a metal purist to appreciate them. Some of their tunes are dreadfully depressing and aching to doom metal in mood.
This can be confirmed by the fact that My Dying Bride actually covered the Portishead track “Roads”. And it’s a great cover version too! “Roads” is also my favorite Portishead track, being one of the most subdued, bleak songs I’ve ever heard. Most doom metal bands are still trying to reach these heights.
Slowdive’s genre-defining shoegaze efforts are really not a far stretch from some of Alcest’s blackgaze sounds. Singer Neil Halstead even sings on the song “Away”. The first two albums are dreamy, original and mesmerizing. Some of the more alt rock-ish tendencies might scare metal fans away, but I’d just give it the time to stick.
1993’s “Souvlaki” is the band’s classic, but I find 1991’s “Just for a Day” to be equally mesmerizing. Once you stop thinking of pure aesthetics, you quickly realize that this is one of the most dreamy, surprisingly dark bands ever.
VOLA being metal or not is a silly argument that really is irrelevant, but they’re not featured on Metal Archives. The band has many influences, both metal and non-metal. Djent, progressive metal and progressive rock would probably be the most adequate genre descriptors.
Genre-labeling aside, VOLA is one of my favorite bands of the last few years. The band’s super-dynamic songwriting and catchy vocal melodies makes it irresistible. VOLA are clearly not afraid to go very heavy or very mellow, making their music one hell of a ride. In contrast, the songwriting is refreshingly simple, despite the fact that many moments in their music are both polyrhythmic and melody-based at the same time.
Final words on non-metal
And that’s it! I hope this gave you some solid non-metal bands to try out. Many of them are pretty famous of course, so I might need to expand this list at some point. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. Check out my band Soliloquium if you enjoy doom metal or other kinds of Scandinavian darkness.