28 essential songs from the shoegaze / heavy crossover
In late June, Hum surprise-released their first album in 22 years, Inlet. Not only does it close a very long gap between Hum albums, it also follows the prominent 2010s trend of bands blending shoegaze with punk and/or metal, a trend that was largely inspired by the music Hum released two decades ago. At this point, it has become clear that this type of heavy shoegaze is more than an approach shared by a few likeminded bands; it's a subgenre of its own, and in our review of Inlet, we said Inlet is "the album that this distinct subgenre needed."
Inspired by how much we love that new record, we've put together a list of 28 essential songs from the crossover between shoegaze and heavier genres of music like punk, metal, post-hardcore, and grunge. The list includes songs by the genre's flagship bands such as Hum and their likeminded peers Failure and Shiner, and it also looks back further to some of the songs that helped sew the seeds for their music, and it looks forward to the more recent bands who took this sound and turned it into something more prominent than ever.
Shoegaze, which was largely a British genre at first, dates back to the late '80s and really started to cement itself as a genre around the same time grunge and alternative rock were exploding in the US. Heavy shoegaze has sort of existed just about as long as shoegaze itself -- My Bloody Valentine's breakthrough 1988 single "You Made Me Realise" is heavy even by today's standards -- but the genre still overall stood more firmly adjacent to dream pop and noise pop than to the heavier alternative rock that was dominating the American mainstream. Some of the UK shoegaze bands were grunge-friendly (Swervedriver, Catherine Wheel) and some of the US alt-rock bands borrowed elements of shoegaze (The Smashing Pumpkins, Quicksand), but it was really bands like Hum and Failure who saw the potential to combine all this stuff for the entirety of an album. They in turn influenced Deftones, who sung the praises of bands like Hum and Failure and helped popularize their music. Still, it was a sound that struggled to fully catch on.
The 2000s birthed shoegaze-inspired metal from Alcest, Jesu, Boris, and other bands, and the 2010s birthed a whole crop of bands who took cues from a lot of the aforementioned bands and started tying these loose ends together. Bands like Title Fight, Nothing and Cloakroom led the way, and a whole slew of other bands followed suit. The underground popularity of those bands started to elevate the importance of Hum, Failure, and Shiner, and all three of those bands have now made proper comebacks. (Hum were actually the last to do so. Failure released their first reunion album The Heart Is A Monster in 2015 [the same year they toured with Hum] and their second In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind in 2018. Shiner released Schadenfreude, their first album in 19 years, this past May.)
Our list includes songs by all of those aforementioned bands and more, representing over 30 years of bands finding interesting ways to blend shoegaze and heavy music. We picked 28 of the most essential songs (plus two honorable mentions from the artist in each entry, so technically 84 songs), but this is really just a starting point; there are tons of others. Read on for the list (in chronological order) and let us know any good ones we missed in the comments...
My Bloody Valentine - "You Made Me Realise" (1988)
The most significant shoegaze band of all time could get pretty fucking heavy when they wanted to, and they did this as far back as 1988's "You Made Me Realise," the single where MBV really established the sound they're now best known for, and the song that gave the band their first breakthrough. As much as "You Made Me Realise" taps into the -gazey sound MBV helped pioneer, it almost sounds more like a Sonic Youth song than a typical My Bloody Valentine song, thanks to a clamoring, hard-hitting riff and an extended noise section (that gets even more extended and painfully loud at MBV's live shows). It's genuinely aggressive -- not just for shoegaze but for music in general -- yet those vocal harmonies are still soft as snow but warm inside. It's an outlier not just within MBV's discography but within early shoegaze in general, and it still sounds timeless today.
Swervedriver - "Rave Down" (1990)
Way before "metal-gaze" was a thing, MBV's UK neighbors and Creation Records labelmates Swervedriver were getting metal cred. "Rave Down," the title track of their 1990 sophomore EP (which also ended up on their 1991 debut album Raise) was made single of the week by a heavy metal magazine, which prompted guitarist Jimmy Hartridge to say "Maybe we're the start of an indie-metal cross-over" in a 1990 Melody Maker interview. If only he knew just how on point that comment would end up being.
It's not hard to see why a metal mag might've liked "Rave Down." That crushing riff in the middle of the song owed as much to sludge metal as the more pillowy parts owed to shoegaze. MBV could add some weight into their songs when they wanted to, but "Rave Down" really toed that shoegaze/metal line in 1990 as much as Hum's breakthrough hit "Stars" would five years later. Swervedriver not only ended up opening for Hum years later, they also did US tours in the early days with Soundgarden (1992) and The Smashing Pumpkins (1993). With monster riffs like "Rave Down" in their arsenal, it's no wonder the grunge-loving US crowds latched onto them.
Catherine Wheel - "Kill Rhythm" (1993)
Like Swervedriver, Catherine Wheel lived in the UK shoegaze scene but crossed over with the US alt-rock and grunge scene, and unlike Swervedriver, they scored some actual hits on our side of the Atlantic too. They flirted pretty directly with US alt-rock and eventually went full post-grunge on 1995's Happy Days. But right in between that album and the overtly shoegazy sounds of their early EPs and 1992 debut LP Ferment came the appealing middle ground of 1993's Chrome. Produced by frequent Pixies collaborator Gil Norton, Chrome was a full-on shoegaze/grunge crossover album and you need not look any further than opening track "Kill Rhythm" to hear Catherine Wheel blending shoegaze beauty with Headbangers Ball riffs.
The Smashing Pumpkins - "Rocket" (1993)
More so than any other major US alternative rock musician, Billy Corgan was obsessed with My Bloody Valentine. He took some cues from MBV on the Pumpkins' 1991 debut album Gish, but then MBV's Loveless came out later that same year and it totally changed the way Billy operated. He wasn't just borrowing sounds from MBV anymore; he was embodying Kevin Shields' level of studio obsession, control freakishness, and perfectionism. All of that energy was bottled up on Siamese Dream highlight "Rocket," which sounds like more of a love letter to Loveless than anything the Pumpkins released before or since. The Smashing Pumpkins are far from the only band to ever rip off My Bloody Valentine, but "Rocket" succeeds because it combines a hefty dose of MBV worship with Billy Corgan's own strong, unmistakable identity. As songs like "Quiet" from that same album remind you, part of that identity is being an unabashed metalhead, and as a result, "Rocket" offered up shoegaze with an added dose of heavy.
Starflyer 59 - "A House Wife Love Song" (1995)
Riverside, California's Starflyer 59 were one of the first bands signed to Tooth & Nail Records, a label best known for Christian alternative rock, punk, and hardcore, but the influence of UK shoegaze bands on this band was undeniable. The hazy atmosphere, the hushed dream pop vocals -- it was all there, and Starflyer 59 were just as good at it as the Creation Records bands. But when you heard their thick, low, eardrum-rattling riffs, it made sense why they ended up on a punk label. Starflyer 59 rivaled Melvins and Neurosis with the pure weight and blunt force of the riffs on a song like "A Housewife Love Song," but they always coated the heaviosity in a layer of haze. You feel the low end in your gut but the song is still blissful. It's an approach that a lot of today's bands continue to borrow.
Quicksand - "Delusional" (1995)
After New York Hardcore legends Gorilla Biscuits broke up, guitarist/songwriter Walter Schreifels began fronting his own band, Quicksand, which found Walter branching out from hardcore and getting more into alt-metal territory. He was really into shoegaze at the time too, and it showed. Quicksand didn't end up getting quite as hazy as their '90s tourmates Deftones (who Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega joined in 2009), but that atmospheric edge was there, especially on Manic Compression single "Delusional." It starts out as a tough, bludgeoning song, and Quicksand sound like they're floating on clouds by the time the soaring chorus kicks in.
Failure - "Saturday Savior" (1996)
LA's Failure started out as more of straight-up grunge/alt-rock band, but they slowly inched their way towards shoegaze and space rock, and it all culminated in 1996's Fantastic Planet, their third album and final new release until their mid 2010s reunion. There are a lot of songs on Fantastic Planet that perfectly navigate the shoegaze/space/grunge/punk/metal divide ("Stuck On You," "Another Space Song," "Leo," "Sergeant Politeness," to name four), but it's opening track "Saturday Savior" that really epitomizes what the heavy shoegaze sound is today. It's as catchy and anthemic as anything on alt-rock radio in the mid '90s, but it's cloaked in atmosphere and moves at a glacial pace. It's the perfect way to kick off the album that became their masterpiece.
Unfortunately, said masterpiece wasn't received as well as it deserved to be, and Failure broke up just a year later. Like Hum, the album became hugely influential over the years, and with the band's eventual reunion came the long overdue recognition of Fantastic Planet as one of the true classic records of '90s alternative.
Deftones - "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)" (1997)
Deftones even sometimes had a -gazey edge on their 1995 debut album Adrenaline, the only album in their discography that really sounded at all like nu metal -- a genre they are wrongly often associated with -- but it was on their 1997 sophomore album Around the Fur where it became clear that Deftones were following in the footsteps of Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins, Failure, and Hum (who had released their hit "Stars" two years earlier). Deftones got even more adventurous and experimental on their 2000 masterpiece White Pony, which is home to several songs that belong on this list, but Around the Fur's "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)" is directly focused on navigating the heavy/shoegaze divide and it does so in a way that still sounds like it could come out today. It's a little more straightforward than the White Pony stuff, but it's about as perfect as heavy shoegaze comes.
Hum - "Isle of the Cheetah" (1998)
Hum's 1995 hit "Stars" is the band's most historically significant song, a super catchy fusion of post-hardcore and shoegaze that managed to get this type of music on the radio, but its one hit wonder status has done a disservice to the rest of Hum's music in the mainstream public eye, so I chose something else for this list. Plus, as fantastic as 1995's You'd Prefer an Astronaut is, its followup Downward Is Heavenward is really the album where Hum pushed their sound to the limits and raised the bar for what heavy, spacey, shoegazy rock could be. It's a crime that the album was viewed as anything but a creative and artistic leap from its predecessor.
It's hard to pick just one song, but the nearly-seven-minute opener "Isle of the Cheetah" is a great place to start. It immediately introduces Downward Is Heavenward as a more ambitious album than You'd Prefer an Astronaut, with jangly acoustic guitars, gentle piano lines, thick layers of sludge, prog riffage, and Matt Talbott's angelic vocals all swirling together to create the song's towering wall of sound. "Stars" was digestible enough to become a fluke hit, but the world wasn't ready for something as immersive as this.
Far - "Bury White" (1998)
Far were more associated with post-hardcore and emo than their close friends and Sacramento neighbors Deftones, but they had some shared musical middle ground too, and by their 1998 magnum opus Water & Solutions, Far had begun embracing the shoegazy side of post-hardcore too. Nowhere is this clearer than on opening track "Bury White," which takes notes from both Hum and Quicksand and fuses together chunky riffs, spacey atmosphere, anthemic melodicism, and hardcore grit. Between Far and his zillions of other bands, frontman Jonah Matranga was never a devotee of the heavy/shoegaze thing, but on this song and a few others on Water & Solutions, he mastered it.
See also also: Deftones' "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) (Acoustic)" with additional vocals by Jonah, Jonah performing "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)" with Deftones, and Jonah performing it solo (like he often does), plus Deftones and Far covering Jawbox's "Savory" (a non-shoegaze song that probably influenced more than half the bands on this list)
Castor - "Stay Lo" (1999)
The underrated Castor hailed from the same Champaign-Urbana, Illinois hometown as Hum, and bassist Derek Niedringhaus went on to play in Centuar with Hum frontman Matt Talbott while singer/guitarist Jeff Gerber went on to play in Year of the Rabbit with Failure frontman Ken Andrews. So Castor may not have been one of the biggest names in heavy shoegaze, but their members played with the biggest names in heavy shoegaze, and it's easy to see what those musicians saw in this band. They nailed a fusion of space rock and post-hardcore, and they managed to make it their own. They were a little rawer and a little closer to the Champaign-Urbana emo scene, yet they still managed to sound majestic.
Cave In - "Big Riff" (2000)
A year after releasing the pulverizing metalcore of their great 1999 debut album Until Your Heart Stops, Cave In stepped into the space rock/post-hardcore waters for its also-great-but-entirely-different 2000 followup Jupiter. On album highlight "Big Riff," Cave In soak their big riffs in the same kind of soaring, spacey, reverby atmosphere that Hum and Failure had used on their then-final albums. Cave In still had a tougher East Coast hardcore undercurrent and a more thunderous low end than the -gazier bands, but when it comes to talking about heavy, spacey music, no conversation without Jupiter is complete.
Shiner - "The Egg" (2001)
Kansas City's Shiner came up in the post-hardcore scene and they got progressively spacier with each album, peaking with 2001's The Egg, their final album until this year's Schadenfreude. The Egg sort of occupies the middle ground between Hum (who Shiner toured with and briefly shared a member with) and the harder sounds of Cave In, but even that description doesn't quite capture the magic of this album. It was one of the more unique gems to come out of turn-of-the-millennium post-hardcore, and its soaring, climactic title track is just one of its many highlights.
Centaur - "The Same Place" (2002)
Hum's 2020 reunion album Inlet is thicker, hazier, and heavier than anything Hum released in the '90s, but the new sound didn't come out of nowhere. Frontman Matt Talbott hinted at it in 2002 with the sole album by his short-lived, post-Hum band Centaur. Some of In Streams' songs are actually janglier and lighter than anything by Hum, but songs like the seven and a half minute "The Same Place" (and "Thimbles") are pure heavy-gaze and really sew the seeds for the sound Matt Talbott would dive even deeper into with Inlet. In Streams is the hidden gem of Talbott's discography, and "The Same Place" is as crucial to the development of heavy shoegaze as anything by Hum.
Hopesfall - "Escape Pod for Intangibles" (ft. Matt Talbott) (2002)
The same year Matt Talbott released the Centaur album, he produced Charlotte, NC post-hardcore band Hopesfall's sophomore album The Satellite Years and sang on its penultimate track, "Escape Pod for Intangibles." The Satellite Years marked a big leap into cleaner, more melodic, more atmospheric territory than Hopesfall's rawer, more metallic 1999 debut The Frailty of Words, and with Talbott giving "Escape Pod for Intangibles" a warmer vocal delivery, Hopesfall ended up with a song that perfectly combined their heavy roots with their shoegazy aspirations. 18 years later, and with The Satellite Years guitarist/songwriter Ryan Parrish back in the band, Hopesfall pushed even further into heavy-gaze territory with their great 2020 single "Hall of the Sky." Maybe they'll make the next great heavy shoegaze album? Meanwhile, "Escape Pod for Intangibles" is where it all began.
Boris - "Farewell" (2005)
In their 25+ years as a band, Boris have experimented with like, most styles of music: sludge metal, drone, post-rock, shoegaze, punk, thrash, noise, psychedelic rock, ambient, dream pop, J-pop, and probably even more that aren't coming to me at the moment. On some songs, they combine sludge metal and shoegaze. "Farewell" is one of those songs. Within a genre of music where sometimes bands start to sound interchangeable, the seven-and-a-half minute Pink opener sticks out like a sore thumb (in a good way). Boris have a way of always sounding like Boris, whether they're playing thrash, drone, or anything in between, and "Farewell" is not at all an exception. A lot of shoegazy metal bands channel the guitars of shoegaze but no other element; Boris are the opposite. "Farewell" is a gorgeous, dreamy shoegaze song by all standards, with guitar work that's noisy, sludgy, and caustic. It's heavy shoegaze as only Boris could do.
Jesu - "Silver" (2006)
As the frontman of Godflesh, Justin Broadrick released some of the filthiest industrial metal ever made, and after that band's 2002 breakup, he started Jesu, with which he took his sound in a much prettier-sounding direction, incorporating post-rock, post-metal, shoegaze, and more. Jesu's 2005 self-titled album blended shoegaze and sludge metal in a way that was even more abrasive than the above-mentioned Boris song and more firmly planted in metal, but their followup EP Silver toned things down a bit and directly channelled the shimmering beauty of the original shoegaze era. Its title track sounds like My Bloody Valentine trudging its way through a sludge metal swamp, and the result is a song that's as dreamy as it is bone-crushing. As important as the Hum/Failure era is for today's heavy shoegaze, it shouldn't be overlooked how much of a crucial stepping stone Jesu's mid 2000s music was too.
Title Fight - "Head In the Ceiling Fan" (2012)
It's never really possible to pinpoint one starting point for a new musical trend, and if you've read this far, you already know that there were tons of predecessors to the 2010s heavy shoegaze movement, but when Title Fight released "Head In the Ceiling Fan" off 2012's Floral Green, it was like the shoegaze shot heard round the punk world. Title Fight were already a well-established punk/post-hardcore band before they indulged in the Hum worship of "Head In the Ceiling Fan," and once they did, at least a dozen other established punk bands quickly made similar moves. They were trendsetters, but "Head In the Ceiling Fan" doesn't stand the test of time just because it introduced the emo revival to You'd Prefer an Astronaut. The style could be traced back to Hum, but the songwriting was all Title Fight's, and it remains one of the most affecting songs in their consistently great catalog. Title Fight dove even deeper into shoegaze with Floral Green's 2015 followup Hyperview (their last album before going mostly on hiatus), and as good as that album is, "Ceiling Fan" remains their crowning achievement in heavy shoegaze.
Cloakroom - "Bending" (2013)
Cloakroom emerged in 2013 with a couple familiar faces: frontman Doyle Martin previously fronted the emo revival band Grown Ups and the pre-La Dispute screamo band Lion of the North, and bassist Bobby Markos fronted the math rock band Native and played in one of Evan Weiss' many bands, Stay Ahead of the Weather. But with Cloakroom, they made sludgy shoegaze and slowcore and they emerged as one of the first great bands of the '10s punkgaze movement. Everything they've put out has been great, but their debut Infinity and its single "Bending" left a mark right away, so that's the one I'm picking for this list. More Jesu than Hum, Cloakroom traffic in glacial-paced, heavy-as-bricks shoegaze that has a real downer vibe but still maintains a pretty side. Like "Head in the Ceiling Fan," "Bending" took new sounds and made them feel fresh, and even to this day, it sounds hypnotic.
Paramore - "Future" (2013)
Paramore were influenced by Hum and Failure and Far when they were first starting out (and they covered Failure's "Stuck On You" early on), and though you can hear some of that influence creeping into their 2005 debut All We Know Is Falling, it wasn't until the eight-minute closing track of their self-titled 2013 album that Paramore went full heavy shoegaze. The song starts out eerie and quiet, with Hayley barely bringing her voice above a whisper, and it ends in shoegazy sludge metal as heavy as either of the above-mentioned Jesu and Boris songs. It's an outlier in Paramore's discography, and they pull it off so well that I wish they'd do more of it.
Nothing - "Hymn to the Pillory" (2014)
Like Cloakroom, Nothing's members had been around (frontman Nicky Polermo fronted the hardcore band Horror Show in the early 2000s and then played alongside American Nightmare/Cold Cave's Wes Eisold in XO Skeletons), but they reinvented themselves with Nothing and became one of the key '10s punkgaze bands in the process. Following some promising early EPs, Nothing took the burgeoning punkgaze movement by storm with their 2014 debut full-length Guilty of Everything, and opener "Hymn to the Pillory" carried the Hum torch so well that they got invited to open the Failure/Hum tour the following year. "Hymn" isn't the catchiest or the most popular Nothing song, but it's among their most soaring, sky-scraping songs and it made for a fine opener to their first LP.
Lantlôs - "Azure Chimes" (2014)
Lantlôs started out in the late 2000s as one of the early post-black metal bands, but by 2014's Melting Sun, they had toned down the blackened elements and evolved into a band with warm, clean vocals and walls of sludgy shoegaze guitars. It's a beautiful record that falls somewhere in the middle of MBV, Hum, and Jesu without losing the distinct vibe that always made Lantlôs stand out from the growing pack of post-metal bands. It's hard to pick just one song but opening track/lead single "Azure Chimes" really sets the tone for this album and it nails a near-perfect balance between heavy and hazy. Also, Lantlôs haven't released an album since Melting Sun but apparently its followup Wildhund is finally on the way. Stay tuned!
Superheaven - "I've Been Bored" (2015)
Worshipping at the altar of Quicksand, Hum, and The Smashing Pumpkins, early 2010s band Superheaven (fka Daylight) sounded like a love letter to '90s rock, and they were able to sound new and exciting even when they were wearing their influences on their sleeves. Their 2014 debut Jar was total grunge revivalism but their second and possibly final album Ours Is Chrome (they've been mostly on hiatus since then) upped the shoegaze elements and ended up sounding like an alternate history of the '90s, one where "Rocket" was a more definitive song than "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It's a great album, and its finest moment is opening track "I've Been Bored," a heavy, -gazey, hook-filled song that would've dominated alt-rock radio if it came out 20 years earlier.
Holy Fawn - "Dark Stone" (2018)
Just when it seemed like the whole shoegaze revival thing was getting a little tired, along came a little-known Phoenix band called Holy Fawn with a genuinely unique take on it. They fuse shoegaze, noise, punk, metal, post-rock, and more into a sound that's tough to pin down but scratches the same heavy/hazy itch as most of the other bands on this list. Holy Fawn were too good to be ignored for long, and after releasing their 2018 debut album Death Spells on their friend's small label Whelmed Records, they won over members of Thrice, Lamb of God, God Is An Astronaut, and others, and ended up inking a deal with Triple Crown who re-released the album the following year. The album was followed with this year's The Black Moon EP which is even more startlingly original than Death Spells, and it makes me very excited to hear where they go next. But for heavy shoegaze at its finest and most direct, you can't go wrong with "Dark Stone."
Torche - "Admission" (2019)
Between Torche and his other band Floor, Steve Brooks has led the charge for combining sludge metal and poppy alternative rock for decades, but with the latest Torche album, 2019's Admission, he injected a much-welcome dose of shoegaze into their already-great, already-established sound. Nowhere was this done better or more explicitly than on the title track, which is an outlier for Torche and one of the best heavy shoegaze songs in recent memory. It's heavy, airy, addictively catchy, and you'd never mistake it for any band other than Torche.
Alcest - "Sapphire" (2019)
Alcest have been exploring the shared musical DNA between shoegaze and black metal since their 2005 debut EP Le Secret, and if I was picking their most seminal contributions to heavy shoegaze for this list, I'd probably go with the title track of 2007's Souvenirs d'un autre monde or "Solar Song" from 2010's Écailles de Lune, but Alcest have continued to push forward over the years and I think they actually released their best song yet on last year's Spiritual Instinct. "Sapphire" is sort of part shoegaze, part post-punk, but still informed by the weight of Alcest's metal roots, and it's the most direct and infectious song this band ever released. Alcest are imitated in the metal world as often as Hum are imitated in the punk/hardcore world, and just when you thought you'd heard everything "blackgaze" had to offer, Alcest themselves pushed the genre into uncharted territory.
Greet Death - "You're Gonna Hate What You've Done" (2019)
Holy Fawn aren't the only newer band finding ways to switch up the punkgaze formula; Michigan's Greet Death also toy with it in new, exciting ways. They also kind of have a similar come-up story to Holy Fawn -- little-known band stirs up buzz out of nowhere, inks a notable record label deal (Deathwish), and wins the approval of a handful of notable bands (Converge, Envy, Deafheaven). Their great sophomore album New Hell came out on Deathwish in 2019, and one of its highlights is the nine-minute "You're Gonna Hate What You've Done." Like Cloakroom, this song leans in the slowcore direction, but Greet Death put their own twist on it, thanks in part to a dual-vocal approach that doesn't really sound like any of their peers. This song requires a little patience, but when the crushing, sludgy coda kicks in, it's all worth it.
Hum - "Cloud City" (2020)
Hum's fingerprints are all over this style of music more than anyone else's, and their new album was a big inspiration for this list, so one one more Hum song -- this time from the new album -- before we go. I recently highlighted "Step Into You" as the album's most immediate highlight, and it is, but to take this opportunity to shed a light on another song, "Cloud City" is Inlet's "sleeper hit." "Step Into You" is upbeat, driving, and radio-friendly in a '90s way, but "Cloud City" favors a slower, more traditionally shoegaze approach, before exploding into a hook that's a little more subtle than "Step Into You" and "Stars" but no less infectious.
You can also listen and/or subscribe to our playlist of all 28 songs (with "Feed Me With Your Kiss" replacing "You Made Me Realise" because the latter isn't on Spotify):