The Saint Vitus Bar stage is as tall as my leg just a little bit above the knee. This is a thing I know because when I returned to the by-now-infamous Brooklyn venue for the second of YOB‘s two nights this past Saturday and was once again pressed up against the stage by the packed-in crowd, I could feel the bruises from when the same thing happened the evening prior. Apart from a standard-operating-procedure stiff neck and maybe lingering road fatigue, I was unailing. I’d taken better care during the day to drink water, brought ibuprofen, ate some food of substance. Friday night’s amateur-hour shit was out the window. Like I’ve never done this before. Embarrassing.
Support acts were switched, Kings Destroy and Tombs tagging out and Occultation and Ecstatic Vision tagging in, the latter making their way up from Philadelphia to open with added intrigue because of their recent signing to Relapse Records, through which they’ll issue their debut full-length next year. I’d hit protest traffic on my way across Manhattan, a sign-carrying sea of humanity flanked and backed by police escort, but couldn’t even hold it against them. I’ve protested before and have found it ultimately a hollow reminder of how little voice a public can actually have, but I get the impulse to get in public and shout your cause into that unlistening, unconcerned abyss. When I got to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, I saw a police staging area with cops decked out in riot gear, the shields, the plastic masks, the batons out and at the ready. It was not hard to identify one side’s position on the other.
Got to the venue early anyway. Ecstatic Vision went on a little before nine amid murmurings of the Vitus Bar‘s midnight karaoke start time and kicked smoothly into a heavy psych groove that, while formative, only became more engaging as their set went on. The trio recently-down-from-a-four-piece have been announced as openers for YOB‘s upcoming March 2015 major-market tour with Enslaved, so the two acts will feature on the same bill again soon enough, but their space-rock push propelled by rope-lit drummer Jordan Crouse meshed well with their flashing lightshow, colors bouncing off the black walls and curtains of the Vitus Bar stage, guitarist/vocalist Doug Sabolik (who, like Crouse, is a veteran of metal outliers A Life Once Lost) periodically running the headstock of his guitar through the chimes hanging off his mic stand, eventually hard enough to knock one or two off them off.
Sabolik‘s effects and pile of amps were impressive enough, but as with most heavy psych, it’s the low end holding it all together, and bassist Michael Connor did so fluidly, his lines providing the foundation of Ecstatic Vision‘s Hawkwindian-style jams while still finding room for righteous fills. It was my first time seeing the band. It won’t be my last. They played a somewhat abbreviated opening set, but it was a prime sampling of an emergent sound and stage presence that seems likely to continue to grow in all the right directions as their instrumental dynamic takes shape. No doubt by the time they get off that March tour, they’ll be even more on their way. Occultation, who followed, would boast a significantly less colorful aesthetic.
Native to Brooklyn, Occultation released their second album, Silence in the Ancestral House, this year on Profound Lore. A cult-rocking studio trio, live they play as a four-piece with Viveca Butler (ex-Aquila) on vocals and keys, Annu Lilja on bass, Edward “Nameless Void” Miller on guitar, and M.D.V. on drums, and much of what they hit into seemed to come from the new record. Fair enough. They’re a name that has been tossed about more and more as the year has started to wind down, and they brought a significant sense of atmosphere to their live presentation, their sound somewhere between Ghost‘s clean riffing and more extreme metallic forms. It was a leap in aesthetic from where Ecstatic Vision had started things off, but clearly that was the intent, and no stretch to hear why they’ve gotten the critical response they have.
They played longer than had the openers, and the Vitus Bar crowd knew them and welcomed them, and what they had in common with Ecstatic Vision was a current of potential. I was on the fence for most of the set, but eventually their hoods-up cultistry and hooks won me over, as well as the variety they brought to their songs. Whatever it was they closed with, they picked the right tune. Their style is in a tough spot and it can be hard for a group with similar influences to really distinguish itself from the pack, I saw nothing to make me think Occultation couldn’t get to that point. The room was packed by the time they finished, and they gave a solid local lead-in to YOB, who took the stage greeted as returning heroes.
I don’t know how many people in the crowd had also been there on Friday night, but I imagine it was a decent portion. Last time YOB were in Brooklyn, early in 2013, they did a similar two-show stint (review here), and I know from that they got a lot of return business. Provided one doesn’t have any pressing real-life obligation, who wouldn’t want to see YOB two nights in a row? Or 15? They changed the setlist some from the evening prior, pulling back from playing this year’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here) in full by switching out “Unmask the Spectre” for churning The Great Cessation opener “Burning the Altar,” which, following “Marrow,” felt like the beginning of a second set more than the continuation of one already in progress. “Prepare the Ground,” which opened 2011’s Atma, led the way into the newer cuts — “In Our Blood,” “Nothing to Win” and the aforementioned “Marrow” — and “Burning the Altar” was itself backed by Atma‘s “Adrift in the Ocean” and set-closer “Quantum Mystic,” from 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived.
If nothing else, the set emphasized YOB‘s propensity for badass opening tracks. Between “Prepare the Ground,” “In Our Blood” (which is more stylistically ranging than some of their bigger-riff-focused hooks of the past, but still fits the bill), “Burning the Altar” and “Quantum Mystic,” four out of the seven songs guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster played were album leadoffs. That material has always been some of the band’s most immediate and, in their way, accessible, so it’s exceedingly satisfying live. I’d argue “Nothing to Win” works in a similar vein, albeit more angrily and with Foster‘s drums and Scheidt‘s misconception-shattering screams as its primary modes of impact.
Positioned with the contrast of “Marrow” and “Adrift in the Ocean” — two longer pieces marked out by sections of quiet, finger-plucked guitar exploration and a sense of linear build — it was as dynamic a YOB set as I’ve seen, showcasing both their sonic individuality and their presence on stage as one of the foremost American heavy acts of their generation, relentlessly forward moving with aural heft and passion to match, whether it’s Scheidt throwing two fists in the air to share in the audience’s excitement, Rieseberg sharing a between-song chuckle with the front row before his face once again disappeared into his hair or Foster raising his arms high over his head for the next crash. Whatever else they may be — and on the heels of Clearing the Path to Ascend, they’ve been met with a swell of critical and fan acclaim, with more to come I’m sure — YOB are a special band. You could hear it in how quiet the Saint Vitus Bar crowd got after cheering each song, waiting to hear the first note of what was coming next.
This time, I managed to stay up front the whole set, and I’m glad I did. They made the trip down to Brooklyn and back to Massachusetts easily worthwhile, and since there’s a good chance the Saturday show was the last gig I’ll see in 2014, I couldn’t think of a better way for the year to go out, so thoroughly consumed by YOB as it has been.
More pics after the jump. Thank you (again) for reading.