The American stoner/doom/sludge scene has already been well documented – from the excellent Such Hawks, Such Hounds to the more hit and miss Slow Southern Steel and the underrated Noisey: Life, Death and Heavy Blues from the Bayou series, almost every base has been covered. In comparison, fans on our side of the Atlantic have had very little about the dingy world of the UK doom scene put on film. Filmmaker Connor Matheson decided he was the man to take up the challenge, and through a crowdfunding push earlier this year The Doom Doc was born. Currently screening at documentary film festivals and private viewings, the film will be released to the general public in summer 2018 through both online and DVD formats.
Focusing primarily on Sheffield and its small but tight-knit DIY gig community, The Doom Doc offers a fascinating insight into a small pocket of the nation’s scene, and the trials and tribulations of keeping the flame alive. The story that runs through The Doom Doc sees local promotion company Holy Spider attempt to organise an all-dayer to run alongside the city’s large commercial festival Tramlines. Their scaled-down festival, Doomlines, runs into trouble when the venue pulls out last minute. On paper it would seem a trivial plot to those outside the city, perhaps even an inaccurate representation of the country as a whole, but it represents the enthusiasm those within the scene show across the nation, especially outside the London bubble, and lends the film a cohesive narrative to give it a much-needed structure.
This narrative is the glue that binds the whole piece together, branching off to discuss varying aspects of the scene, such as brief forays outside of Sheffield to talk to two of the UK’s best-known exponents of the scene, Slabdragger and Conan. Interestingly, and perhaps most notably, original Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward is interviewed, although it does seem an opportunity missed that he was never asked about how aware he is of the current underground doom revival, especially seeing as most bands, as stated a number of times, worship his old band.
The film is at its best when acting as an expose on the integrated local scene, though. The importance of the DIY ambition and the communal spirit shine through even when they’re not the current conversational topic. In the age of the internet, where bands from across the world can share music digitally, it’s a rare sight to see a piece of media that focuses on the importance of metal’s local scene, a novelty that this film can only benefit from.
It feels somewhat less apposite when interviews with US acts like Primitive Man and Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein come into play. The filmmakers clearly didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to speak to such notable members of the international scene, but a shoestring budget means these brief encounters are the film’s only direct interaction with the scene’s American counterparts, seeming somewhat irrelevant as a result despite some interesting insights from the interviewees.
The documentary does contain a few somewhat clumsy and unnecessary explanations of the various subgenres in the ”doom umbrella”, occasionally losing sense of whether it is intended as an introduction to the scene for the uninitiated or as a deeper expose for the die-hards who live and breathe doom on a daily basis. Considering that the audience are more likely to be the latter than the former, this can feel unnecessary at best, and patronising at worst.
Small grievances are a small price to pay to finally have the murky depths of the UK’s sludgy underworld put to film, though, and with a meagre £800 crowdfunder, The Doom Doc is an interesting watch for fans that not only captures the scene’s DIY aesthetic, but was born from it. Made for fans by fans, the fact that this documentary exists is testament to the strength of the genre and its fan base.
Words: David Brand