One of the annoying things about talking about the best goth metal bands is that it automatically causes people to argue about which bands actually qualify as ‘real’ goth metal bands. I don’t exactly know what they’re expecting to accomplish here. This isn’t like testing something to see if it has any chlorine in it. There’s no objective definition for a goth metal band.
One of the things that makes this even more difficult is the fact that a lot of the artists themselves will argue about which labels accurately describe them. I would call Nightwish and After Forever two of my favoritegoth metal bands. However, both of them would probably argue with me about that, since they’ve tried to move away from the goth label for reasons that continue to elude me. Most of their fans still think of them that way, so that’s more or less how I think of them.
This just raises the question of whether or not artists get to identify themselves in a particular way according to their own set of standards or whether or not they should try to use some sort of an industry standard to make it happen. Even I’m not sure about how I feel about this. I support the fact that Evanescence rejected the ‘Christian’ band label, even though a lot of their songs have a distinctly Christian feel. Most Christian bands are more overt about it, and they use Christian imagery much more consistently. However, the debate about whether or not they count as a goth metal band is harder to settle. It’s been going on for nearly twenty years by this point, so it’s not going to be settled any time soon.
It seems like a lot of the bands that have managed to become mainstream in any way are less likely to be labeled as ‘real’ goth metal bands. In this case, it seems to be all about the subculture and feeling like you have refined tastes and that you know the genre better than a lot of other people. If you know something that’s really obscure, that makes you a ‘true’ fan. These days, it just means that a Type O Negative song appeared in your YouTube feed after you listened to the most popular song from Lacuna Coil, so I wish we would stop using that as a standard.
There seems to be a particular sound or set of sounds that will make most people think of goth metal. Usually, goth metal tends to have the raw, angry metal sound juxtaposed with the softer and more melodious sounds of goth rock. I’ve heard people outside the genre say that it sounds like someone playing classical music and heavy metal at the same time, which isn’t a bad description. There are usually different people performing the vocals. You’ll have a woman with a harmonious, heavenly soprano at one point in the song and a man screaming into the microphone at other points. The instrumental aspects of the song more or less accomplish the exact same thing. In my book, almost anything that uses those particular musical motifs can count as goth metal.
Within Temptation is one of the best goth metal bands out there today, and it’s a great one for the people who are new to the genre. People are still arguing about whether Within Temptation ripped off Evanescence or whether it’s the other way around, or which one of them qualifies as a goth metal band. I don’t care: I like both of them, and they both offer that distinctive sound that you can really only get with goth metal.
Sirenia is another great choice. They’re similar to Within Temptation in sound, but some people would say that they’re a little less mainstream. Epica is another great choice. Their songs really have a tendency to emphasize a lot of the best parts of goth metal, with the strong and aggressive male vocals and the high-pitched soprano female vocals. The ‘soprano and gravel’ style has managed to bring goth metal to life for years now.
Of course, I consider myself more of a ‘true fan’ of goth music than the people who endlessly argue over which songs actually qualify as the real deal because I like pretty much all of the bands that get labeled as ‘goth.’ Whether Anathema is the real thing, the Cure is the real thing, the Vision Bleak is the real thing, or My Dying Bride is the real thing, I can recommend them all.