With a heightened awareness of mortality Oregon doom purveyors put forth an album based in presence and gratitude
By Ben Hutcherson
Special contributor to The Marquee
Oregon doom metallers YOB have spent more than two decades crafting transcendental, heavier-than-lead heavy metal. With tracks that regularly approach the 20-minute mark, time is a critical component of the trio’s dense, emotive music — time to listen, time to contemplate, time to connect with these songs.
Our Raw Heart, the band’s newest album and first on Relapse Records, is no less demanding in this respect than its predecessors — its seven tracks offer a 73-minute long search for meaning and inner peace. For vocalist and guitarist Mike Scheidt however, the importance of time in his own life changed rapidly when he was diagnosed with a serious case of diverticulitis and underwent a pair of emergency surgeries last year. His doctors later explained how close he’d come to the precipice, which lead him to reflect on his past and to seriously consider what his future might hold — if, indeed, he had one.
“On the one hand, you realize there are things you want to experience in your lifetime, in this particular vehicle, in this particular incarnation. On the other hand, there is also kind of this realization that getting to have your life and be [here], that in itself feels like a miracle,” said Scheidt during a recent interview with The Marquee. “I feel like I’m in a better place to really look at things and measure how I want to use my time and energy, not just for myself but for my family and my friends.”
With this heightened awareness of his mortality, Scheidt found his creative processes informed by both a newfound urgency as well as an internal imperative to find satisfaction in his everyday experiences.
“When I was working on the music [for Our Raw Heart], I was simultaneously inspired to write while I also [knew]there was also no guarantee that it was gonna get finished and be able to be recorded. Each writing session had to be an arrival. I couldn’t have the normal mindset that I get into: ‘Ok, once we have an album it’s a matter of booking studio time and practicing and recording and releasing.’ You know, all of that stuff may or may not have taken place and I [had to]enjoy playing guitar. Enjoy working on music. Enjoy feeling inspired. That may have been as good as it was gonna get.”
Scheidt went on to say that this awareness, this desire to be present and grateful in the moment, continues to guide his life. “I’m not 100 percent out of the woods — this could come back at any time. So, from moment to moment, day to day, I try to stay in touch with some measure of genuine living and gratitude and… and be kind of ruthless with my own [issues]. Be ruthless with [the little stuff]so that I can get to the bottom of it, so that I’m not sitting there on my deathbed wishing I’d dug a little deeper.”
The impact of these experiences is tangible and propels the songs on Our Raw Heart along a weighty emotional trajectory. Somber, introspective passages give way to crushing bombast as all three members – Scheidt, bassist Aaron Riesberg, and drummer Travis Foster – deftly lead the listener through a world of pain, love, and acceptance. He explained that the clarity with which he now sees his place in the world also intensified how music affects him and reaffirmed his belief in its power to heal and unify, a sentiment that he quickly admitted might sound “a bit Hallmark-y.”
“I’m clearer about what really moves me when I listen to music or take in a performance, about the things that get me excited, the things that inspire me. Now when I see a performer or a group of performers onstage, it’s almost like they have a scalpel and a flashlight and they’re opening a wound of some variety and shining a flashlight in on it.”
After a pause, he continued, “But they’re doing it in a way that isn’t necessarily [trying]to magnify that feeling. So if it’s anger or rage, it’s not just about magnifying that; if it’s depression, it’s not just about magnifying that; or if it’s some kind of ascended love, maybe it’s not even to magnify that. It’s more about how they’re creating something personal but they shine their light on it in such a way that somehow it becomes universal. Because I may not know what that person’s rage is about, I may not know what it is that makes that person feel that love, but their authenticity in what they’re bringing forward touches the same place in me when it’s that real and true.”
Despite the heartfelt sentiment, though YOB’s new album is a master class in the power of heavy metal. The band draws on the histories of doom, sludge, and classic heavy metal and creates something unique and resonant without sacrificing an ounce of musical heaviness. From the relentless, hypnotic triplet riff of “The Screen” to the psychedelic jam that concludes the title track, the record’s sonic heft compliments the intense, visceral source material. And as anyone who has ever witnessed the band onstage will verify, that heaviness expands and consumes the crowd in a live experience that is as spiritual and communal as it is beer-soaked and headbangable.
YOB will tour across America this summer with Seattle-based funeral doom two-piece Bell Witch, whose latest album Mirror Reaper has also received critical acclaim from the underground as well as from outlets like Pitchfork. Scheidt had high praise for the duo and was audibly excited about the upcoming trek. “We are massive fans of Bell Witch and we’ve played with them many times; we have a deep respect for their 100 percent unique trip. There’s no band like them. I mean, Dylan’s [Desmond, vocals/bass] playing is just… unreal. So to be able to go out on the road and share the stage with them and travel the country, I just can’t wait. It’s so exciting. It’s going to bring two totally different bands and make for interesting dynamics every night. It’s perfect, you know.”
For the Denver date, the pair will be joined by Primitive Man, whom Scheidt also praised. “They have a fire in there; their kind of mountain of crush is really alive, you know? It’s not static. It’s something that is a living, breathing thing; they hit you with a lot of fucking honesty. A lot of heaviness.”
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