For those of who pay attention the slew of doom bands inundating the internet with releases on a daily basis, you have probably seen the handiwork of Pol Abran, a Barcelona-based graphic designer who creates promotional posters for festival lineups and touring bands. Working independently through his very own Branca Studios, Abran's silkscreen prints are carefully crafted works of art, making them seem more like collectors' items or bedroom centerpieces than mere concert ephemera. His distinguished style—which depicts striking retro horror imagery in a collage format—has garnered him an international audience and the opportunity to work with the likes of Windhand, Pentagram, Angel Witch, Yob, High on Fire, Trouble, Kadavar, Swans, Unsane and many more.
An inveterate music junkie and self-proclaimed metalhead, Abran's musical journey began in 1996 at the age of 12, when he bought his first record, Metallica’s Load. “This album is very important to me because it was the first one I bought with my own money,” he says. “I know it’s not the best Metallica album, but it means a lot to me. Tomorrow, I’m getting the cover tattooed on my leg to celebrate its 20 year anniversary.”
As Abran's sonic palette evolved, he eventually discovered doom metal, the genre he claims has stuck with him the longest. “I love doom,” he says. “I listen to all kinds of music and I’ve focused on different kinds of metal for specific periods of my life. I had a deep obsession with power metal when I was a teen, then I got into rap metal, then thrash and Swedish death metal, prog. But doom is the subgenre that has captivated me for the longest time. I think it’s because it’s the root of everything, you know? Black Sabbath. It began with Black Sabbath.”
He raises a valid point, neatly summing up one of doom's most crucial tenets: adherence to tradition. Although many musicians and bands from a diverse range of genres claim Black Sabbath as a major influence, the hard rock veterans’ hazy hallmarks are arguably most apparent in doom metal, a subgenre that's recently enjoyed an upswing in popularity in the heavy music comminity.
“I think multiple inputs made doom popular,” Abran says. “I think that Mastodon and Down are the main bands that drug the underground to it with their success. When Mastodon got famous with Leviathan, they started talking about High on Fire, the Melvins, and Neurosis in popular magazines, and people started getting into this kind of slow music that’s been around forever, but the media ignored it for decades. In 2006, Down began talking about Witchcraft and Eyehategod, and [the documentary] Last Days Here brought Pentagram to the hipsters.”
The rise of popular acts like Windhand and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have certainly helped pique interest in the genre, but equally important to doom’s ascension are the artists around the globe who have dedicated their abilities towards furthering the genre. Even now, renowned illustrators like David Paul Seymour and Skinner (check out the Kickstarter campaign for their upcoming film, The Planet of Doom), independent artisans like Holy Mountainism, Doom Cycles, and Rigs of Doom, and major gear companies like Orange Amplifiers—who frequently endorse doom bands—have contributed to this new wave of doom .In 2009, Abran got involved in the conversation by founding Branca Studios.
In its nascent stage, Branca Studios focused solely on promoting Barcelona’s heavy underground. “I worked 5 or 6 years for free,” Abran says. “Then me and a friend started a small booking crew called Twin Souls in 2012. We booked bands like Sourvein, Eagle Twin, Acid King, Acid Witch, Windhand, and Pilgrim. If you'd told me that these bands would [ever] play in my hometown, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Abran's doubt stemmed from his opinion that Barcelona’s heavy music scene has been in decline since about 2010, when most of the great bands comprising its underground disbanded. “In 2008, there were a lot of local bands playing doom,” he explains. “People like Tas Danazoglou and Jondix lived around here; they were in a band called Great Coven that started to record in 2005. Between 2005 and 2010, there was a big Spanish scene. Very underground, but very solid. But they all split up at the same time around 2009 and 2010. You don’t see the old dudes at the gigs today.”
According to Abran, the decline of Barcelona’s scene coincided with doom metal’s ascent, which prompted him to contact bigger bands. He used Instagram as a means to talk to band members directly, guaranteeing him exposure on their end. After years of networking, he received his first paid offer from Sweden’s Hypnos in 2015. As Branca Studios gained notoriety, Abran's vision for his studio expanded; he wanted to start designing his own merchandise.
“I always loved heavy metal T-shirts,” he says. "I started to study silkscreen printing in 2009 so I could make my own.” Abran was still considered "the new guy" by members of now-defunct local doom bands like Moho, Warchetype, and Lords of Bukakke, so his desire to design T-shirts for these die-hard local groups earned him the nickname “The Armani of Doom,” a soubriquet he doesn’t seem to mind. With the help of his wife Martha—who is also an illustrator—and a firm DIY ethic, the two began designing T-shirts, patches, pins, and canvas tote bags, which quickly spread on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.
Among Branca Studios’ most popular products are the “Sabbath Trust” T-shirts, which bear the famed Henry Rollins quote, “You can only trust yourself and the first six Black Sabbath albums.” If one peruses the Branca Studios Instagram page, you will notice that customers from all over the globe have tagged themselves posing in it; even singer-songwriter Ryan Adams purchased one and uploaded a photo. Equally in-demand are the “Sabbath Church” T-shirt, the “Chvrch Bvrner” tote bag, the jagged, jet-black “Doom” pin, and the “Doom Life” T-shirt, which depicts a sloth encircled by a pair of upside down crosses and the slogan “Live Slow, Die Old,” in bold gothic font.
What has given Branca Studios its mass appeal is a combination of targeted marketing and Abran's strong rapport with his niche community. His understanding of the aesthetic goes hand-in-hand with his knowledge of the music itself. “I don’t expect a new band to take doom to another level, and I love that it's gotten more popular, he says. “Obviously it’s helped me grow as a studio; I’m working on more than 10 projects at the same time right now, but the one I’m most excited about is the design for the first Wretch LP—the new band from Karl Simons of the Gates of Slumber. It’s a fucking doom album. Nothing more to say.”
Zach Painter is doomed on Twitter.