YOB- ”Our Raw Heart” (Relapse records)
Few bands have written such immense doom psalms as Yob in recent years. Their last album left many plenty of us having to reassemble fractured jaws after they collectively fell shattering on the foundations of its crushingly crucifying songs. It seemed at that time that nothing could stop the trio’s upward trajectory to the pinnacle of the doom tree. That was until the world collapsed like a stack of cards when the band’s singer songwriter Mike Scheidt fell ill and was subsequently diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening intestinal disease.
At such times music, even that of the imperious Yob, inevitably seems secondary and yet you sense Scheidt’s life-affirming will to live was in no small part shaped by Yob, his bandmates Aaron Rieseberg (bass) and Travis Foster(drums), and the outpouring of good will from fans across the world that arrowed towards his bedside.
Having recovered slowly from such a debilitating condition anyone would be forgiven if they opted to spend the subsequent weeks and months curled up in a foetal position. Fortunately Scheidt is not made that way and as the strength slowly returned to his body – and no less significantly his mind – he directed it towards new material for Yob, the result of which is Our Raw Heart, the band’s eighth album and almost certainly their best. That in itself is a bold statement as the previous album Clearing The Path To Ascend (2014) was, as stated earlier, in itself a work of outstanding beauty and brilliance.
One thing that hasn’t altered here is Yob’s penchant for expansive doom-filled compositions. Three of the seven tracks stretch beyond 10 minutes while two others fall just short. ‘Ablaze’ is a tumultuous beginning, very reminiscent in style of the last album, mournful melodies and percussive lilts quivering with fragility and emotion.
‘The Screen’ opens with some very un-Yob-like drumming, almost militaristic in tone, menacingly sustained throughout as Scheidt delivers clean prog like vocals alongside more aggressive snarling bites as the guitars adopt a jabbing motion. ‘In Reverie’ is far more recognisable as a Yob track. It opens in jolting stop-start fashion but the overarching tone and texture remains imperceptibly that of Yob with Scheidt’s familiar strains echoing the sentiment. The momentum develops as Yob slowly peel back the covers to reveal a stoner sonic stomp.
After the five menacing minutes of ‘Lungs Reach’, as angry as anything to be found here, Yob move onto the 16-minute colossus ‘Beauty in Falling Leaves’. This sees the trio in eclectic mood with a song that is very much Pallbearer-like, although Yob themselves have of course been down this solemn emotion-filled path numerous times before, as with ‘Umask The Sceptre’ and the magnificent ‘Marrow’ on the previous album. After a gentle opening phase that could send a newborn to sleep, the tranquility is shattered by a clatter that brings you out of the trance as Yob begin to ratchet up the tension, delivering ever-increasing despairing grooves that drain your emotions to the bone. The tempo is unnervingly simplistic, a soft strum enough to leave you spellbound with Scheidt finding ample space in which to pour out his raw feelings.
Having written this album while the sheets had scarcely been removed from what came so perilously close to being his deathbed, it’s hardly surprising to hear the vulnerability and emotion so close to the surface on this album. And yet the record is not purely a lesson in sorrow and ‘Original Face’ sees the triumvirate from Eugene, Oregon, unleash a more charged attack, with Scheidt’s unshackled vocals carried along by crashing layers of masterful riffage, chunky bass lines and percussive slams.
The title track is the last of the seven and is another vast 15 minute composition, sprawling out towards the aural abyss that ensures this album ends with some of Yob’s finest ever doleful doom cuts. While rougher than sandpaper, the riffs carry an earnest honesty through which Scheidt’s survival fight is somehow reflected back through the eyes of Yob. Plucking at your heartstrings to the extent that you fear they’re going to snap is something Yob have always had in their armoury. But even by their own exulted standards ‘Our Raw Heart’ is at times an almost painful lesson, such are the sinking depths of despair that Yob, and clearly Scheidt in particular, have plunged to in recent times.
It is to our eternal good fortune that the Oregon trio remain intact, for while this album is stark, sorrowful and somnambulant, it’s also as moving and melancholic as anything that you’ll encounter this year.