If you've been paying attention to underground metal at all for the past couple of years, I'm sure you will have noticed that the doom subgenre has become more popular then ever, with great bands frequently finding their way into mainstream publications and non-metalheads falling in love with the genre. I reached out to some of the doom metal community to see what they had to say and was impressed with the depth and variety of the comments. After all – what better way to understand a movement then to ask the people who live and love it?
One theme that came up repeatedly was the idea that doom metal's time has come. Rob Wrong of Witch Mountain and The Skull said, “It's like I've been telling Nathan [Witch Mountains drummer] for years, you can't ignore us forever!” or as the always eloquent Mike Scheidt (Yob, Vohl) put it, “When artists have been busting their asses in some cases 10-20 years as a labor of love with little to no recognition, it's not too big a leap to find there's authentic substance to be found there.” In other words it seems like after years of lurking in the shadows the hour is ripe for doom bands to claw their way out of the basement.
But why now? Devin Holt of Pallbearer told me, “It has been made perfectly clear to my generation that the world is sick and in need of saving. Though we are not fully responsible for the problems at hand, we are told that if we do not change certain key aspects of our existence, things even our parents and grandparents refused to give up, our reality will soon mirror whatever cynical, opportunistic blockbuster Hollywood has thrown at us on any given weekend.” In other words – we live in a society that has given a place for doom metal to thrive because of our own impending end. Jon Paul Davis, frontman of quasi legendary English doomsters Conan offered up a slightly different idea in his reply citing the defining aspects of the sound, saying, “I think it is a style of music that is easy to like, it offers a sense of realism (in spite of the sometimes outlandish subject matter) and in the main the bands are pretty down to earth and unpretentious.” In this regard music journalist Cat Jones agreed, writing, "since it’s all relatively slow and melodic compared to black, death, most and all other types of metal, it translates well to an audience who might not like blast beats and lightning-speed arpeggios." Though this might not be the music we deserve, it is certainly the music that we need.
Others though suggested that it is largely because of the quality of the music coming from the genre in recent years. Rebecca Vernon of Subrosa, wrote, “I think doom metal is thriving right now because there are a lot of musical pioneers in doom metal currently pushing the genre past known boundaries. There is a lot of room for creativity and a lot of exciting things are being done – to me, right now a musical Renaissance is taking place in the genre.” This was the sentiment that publicist Curtis Dewar of Dewar PR echoed in his response, “I personally just think [The reason doom is rising] is due to the fact that there are a ton of high quality bands right now. The past few years have seen excellent releases from bands such as Pallbearer, Un, Conan, Hawkeyes and others.”
Building on this, a number of respondents talked about how they enjoy the breadth of the genre in its modern context. Rich Lewis of Conan said, “I like the fact that there are so many places it can be taken. Especially with the vocals, it's much more of a blank canvas than some other kinds of metal. It's renowned for being repetitive obviously, but with the right riff it just makes it get heavier and heavier somehow, like a joke that just keeps getting funnier every time you hear it.” Reflecting on this expansion of the sound on a more emotional level Mike Scheidt shared, “ Maybe it's the wide range of subject matter and emotional content that can be fuel, from despair and depression, smoldering rage, transcendence and revelation, blood and horror, love and redemption, all within it's scope.” Perhaps more than any other genre doom metal has the capacity to help us to better understand ourselves.
However – there isn't a wholly united front on the issue. Some longtime members of the scene look at things a little more objectively or even with bewilderment. For example Chris Fielding of Conan, when asked why doom is dominating was very up front, replying, “ To be honest, I'm not entirely sure!” whereas Andy Patterson of SubRosa and Boar's Nest Studios said “There are some great bands making great records but dominating? I think that's kind of a stretch.” To some degree we are living in a bubble. After all – many of these bands and labels are highly incestuous, so there certainly is the possibility of us getting caught in something of a circle jerk.
At the end of the day though, I think that the massive reaction we have seen to doom, even outside of the metal community suggests that we are turned on to something greater. Jon Davis believes that unlike other metal genres doom has mainstream appeal because, “it is MUSICALLY heavy, and doesn't rely on gore or horror to try and shock, which other forms of heavy tends to do.” Beyond that it seems like there really is a way forward, even in a crowded scene. As Nate Carson of Witch Mountain reminded us "it's up to younger bands to find a way to build on the tradition instead of wallowing in it with diminishing returns. No band is going to be the next Sleep (just as Sleep are not Sabbath). Take the cues, and make something new with it." Perhaps Devin Holt put it best though when he said, “We are existentially starving, seeking something that is emotionally authentic, and at its best, timeless. At its root, this is what Doom metal is, and further, why I think more and more people are beginning to empathize with it as an art form.”