If there’s another word for The Unreal Never Lived beyond ‘masterpiece,’ I don’t know what it is. From its opening rumble and softly-spoken delivery of the title in “Quantum Mystic” through the final ultra-plodding drums and throat-singing of the 21-minute “The Mental Tyrant,” YOB‘s fourth album is nothing short of a treasure, and it stands among records like Neurosis‘ genre-defining A Sun that Never Sets and Earth‘s Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method as one of the most pivotal heavy releases of the 2000s. Issued in ’05, it comprised four tracks — “Quantum Mystic,” “Grasping Air,” “Kosmos” and “The Mental Tyrant” — and within the context of YOB‘s prior output across 2002’s Elaborations of Carbon, 2003’s mega-essential Catharsis and 2004’s The Illusion of Motion, it was the realization that the band had been pushing toward all along: A sound both spacious and crushing, looking inward thematically as it sought wisdom from outside, unremittingly heavy and still somehow psychedelic in its overall affect. If Catharsis was the moment when YOB came into their own sonically — and I’ll gladly argue it was, despite the potential their debut showed before it — then The Unreal Never Lived was when they showed just how expansive that definition of “their own” could be.
It’s worth noting that, for several years, it was also their swansong. The last YOB record. The Eugene, Oregon, trio of guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Isamu Sato and drummer Travis Foster toured sparingly to support The Unreal Never Lived. I recall they came east once to play Manhattan at a basement club called The Pyramid. It got to be 2AM and they still hadn’t gone on, and The Patient Mrs. had to be to work in five hours so we left. Then the band broke up. It was — and I say this without irony or exaggeration — a significant source of resentment in my relationship with my wife. Because I was never going to get to see YOB! They’d just put out their best record, hit the East Coast once and disbanded (it didn’t happen in that quick succession, but still). I saw Scheidt‘s post-YOB project, Middian, in Brooklyn, and that was cool, but that band too was short-lived. Of course, YOB was reactivated with Scheidt, Foster and bassist Aaron Rieseberg, and would go on to release 2009’s The Great Cessation (review here), 2011’s Atma (review here) and 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here) — each outdoing the one before it, expanding on the blueprint that The Illusion of Motion and The Unreal Never Lived set forth, and each one my pick for album of the year in its year of release — and I’d get to see them multiple times over, including playing The Unreal Never Lived in full at Roadburn 2012 (review here), so all was forgiven. But those years I spent thinking I’d never get to witness the space-doom mastery of “Kosmos” live? Not easy. I’m not even joking.
For all that time, the disc never left my trusty CD wallet. It’s still there, though these days I’m probably more inclined to play it off my phone, where the digital version has also taken up permanent residence. As with the best of albums, it has not dulled with age but only grown more worthy of reverence in light of the developments in sound it’s led to and the influence it’s had on other acts, which is broad in scope and far-reaching in number. As YOB have progressed, they’ve kept playing with and expanding some of the forms that were presented as solidified for the first time throughout The Unreal Never Lived — the quiet opening of “The Mental Tyrant,” its shift into chaotic noise and the furious gallop of its apex, the unmitigated thrust of “Quantum Mystic,” the roll and crash of “Grasping Air,” etc. — so it seems fair to me to think of the album as a landmark even in a catalog of landmarks. If they had stayed broken up, if they’d never done anything else, it would’ve still be enough to forge a legacy. Fortunately, that legacy has only continued to grow over their subsequent three albums.
Well, tomorrow’s the day. The first-ever The Obelisk All-Dayer at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn (there is actually zero excuse if you haven’t bought a ticket yet), with Mars Red Sky, Death Alley, Snail, Kings Destroy, EYE, Funeral Horse, King Buffalo and Heavy Temple, plus Walter Roadburn and DJ Adzo for the aftershow. I don’t mind telling you I’m nervous as hell.
Advance ticket sales have been good — thank you if you’ve been a part of that — but still. It’s such a massive lineup, with so many variables. I hope everyone shows up. I hope the crowd has a good time, everybody’s chill, everybody gets into the spirit of the day, and so on. I just want it to be fun. Real, actual fun.
Today, nonetheless, is the calm before the storm. Yesterday evening, The Patient Mrs. picked up Walter Roadburn at the airport. I know Mars Red Sky made it over, and Death Alley as well. Snail are on the East Coast and Funeral Horse flew out yesterday from Texas. Everything’s coming together, and I’ve taken the day off from work to go to the beach in Connecticut, might do some record shopping, hit the farmers’ market and relax ahead of making the trip to Brooklyn tomorrow morning in time for a noon load-in. Like I say, I’m nervous, but also stoked.
I hope you can make it to the show, but even if not, I hope you have a great and safe weekend whatever you’re up to. I’ll be posting pics on the social medias over the weekend I’m sure, so keep an eye out, but will check back in on Monday with an update on how it all went down. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and please check out the forum and radio stream.
I don’t recall hearing too many complaints when Oregon visionaries YOB and San Francisco demolition specialists Black Cobra hit the road together last fall in the US, and I don’t imagine they’ll come up against much resistance when they bring the show to Europe this September and October. YOB are still out supporting 2015’s album of the year, Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), while Black Cobra head out under the banner of earlier-2016’s Imperium Simulacra (review here), for which they’ve already toured in the States alongside Bongzilla, Lo-Pan and Kings Destroy and which offers a broader take on their trademark tumult.
The tour will hit an impressive number of festivals, from Incubate to Smoke the Fuzz to Asymmetry to Up in Smoke to Desertfest Belgium, each one basically providing an anchor with club shows in between. Looks like it’ll be a great time.
YOB announced the tour thusly:
EU FALL TOUR ANNOUNCEMENT: All current festival and show dates for our European tour this fall with black cobra are below.
Check back for more dates and ticket info, as we’ll be updating again soon!
11/09/2016 – Tilburg NL – Incubate Festival – September 2016 12/09/2016 – Dortmund DE – FZW 13/09/2016 – Aarhus DK – Radar 14/09/2016 – Gothenburg SE – Sticky Fingers // Göteborg 15/09/2016 – Oslo NO – BLÅ 16/09/2016 – Copenhagen DK – Pumpehuset 17/09/2016 – Athens GR – Smoke The Fuzz gigs Fest 19/09/2016 – Wiesbaden DE – Schlachthof Wiesbaden 20/09/2016 – Munich DE – Feierwerk 21/09/2016 – Berlin DE – Musik & Frieden 22/09/2016 – Wroclaw PL – Asymmetry Festival 23/09/2016 – Leipzig DE – UT Connewitz 24/09/2016 – Nurnberg DE – Z-Bau 25/09/2016 – Vienna AT – Chelsea 26/09/2016 – Ljubljana SL – Club Gromka 28/09/2016 – Zagreb HR – VintageIndustrial Bar 29/09/2016 – Linz AT – Stadtwerkstatt 30/09/2016 – Milan IT – Lo Fi Milano 01/10/2016 – Pratteln CH – UP in SMOKE indoor festival in Z7 02/10/2016 – Orleans FR – L’Astrolabe – Orléans 04/10/2016 – Belfort FR – La Poudrière – Belfort 05/10/2016 – Paris FR – GLAZART 06/10/2016 – Tourcoing FR – Le Grand Mix 07/10/2016 – Bristol UK – The Fleece Bristol 08/10/2016 – Glasgow UK – The Garage 09/10/2016 – Birmingham UK – The Rainbow Venues 10/10/2016 – Manchester UK – The Ruby Lounge 11/10/2016 – Dublin IRE – Whelan’s 13/10/2016 – London UK – Scala 14/10/2016 – Antwerp BE – DESERTFEST ANTWERP 2016 15/10/2016 – Hannover DE – CAFE GLOCKSEE
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 11th, 2015 by JJ Koczan
What, like I’m gonna say something that could possibly make this news any better? It’s fucking YOB and Black Cobra touring together. That should and probably will be enough to reaffirm your belief in a universe composed of something more than bummers. Thanks, Nanotear Booking. YOB of course are out supporting last year’s stellar Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), and this will be their second full-month of US touring behind their seventh album and Neurot Recordings debut, while if Black Cobra have ever stopped touring since about seven or eight years ago, well, I haven’t seen news about it.
According to reputable sources (read: the comments, though this particular commenter would know), Black Cobra have finished recording with Torche bassist Jon Nunez for the follow-up to 2011’s blistering Invernal (review here), so maybe this is the tour by which they’ll begin to bludgeon audiences with new material live. Only way to find out is to show up. In the meantime, YOB are also heading to Australia next week for a run presented by Life is Noise, and they play North West Hesh Fest (info here) at the end of the month — so what it all works out to is everybody’s very busy one way or another.
This just happens to be a particularly awesome way to keep busy:
YOB headlining North American tour w/ Black Cobra
Pacific Northwestern psychedelic doom bringers, YOB, will bring their sonic enormity to stages this Fall on a lengthy North American headlining trek. Slated to commence on October 22nd in Boise, Idaho and conclude on November 21st in Oakland, California, the trio will quake the stages of over two dozen venues including a special performance at this year’s edition of Philip H. Anselmo’s Housecore Horror Fest in San Antonio, Texas. Support will come from San Francisco volume dealers, Black Cobra. Tickets go on sale this Friday, August 14th.
10/22 – Boise, ID – Neurolux 10/23 – Salt Lake City, UT – Area 51 10/24 – Denver, CO – Hi-Dive 10/25 – Lincoln, NE – Bourbon Theater 10/26 – off 10/27 – St Paul, MN – Turf Club 10/28 – Madison, WI – High Noon w/Jex Thoth 10/29 – Chicago, IL – Reggies w/Acid King 10/30 – Newport, KY – Southgate House w/Ethicist 10/31 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom 11/01 – Toronto, ON – Mod Club 11/02 – Montreal, QC – Foufounes w/Dopethrone 11/03 – Boston, MA – Brighton 11/04 – off 11/05 – Brooklyn, NY – Bell House 11/06 – Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts 11/07 – New York, NY – Webster Hall (Marlin Room) 11/08 – Baltimore, MD – Metro Gallery 11/09 – Richmond, VA – Strange Matter 11/10 – off 11/11 – Asheville, NC – Tiger Mountain 11/13 – New Orleans, LA – Siberia w/Author & Punisher, Muscle & Marrow 11/14 – Houston, TX – Rudyard’s 11/15 – San Antonio, TX – Housecore Horror Film Festival* 11/16 – off 11/17 – Albuquerque, NM – Sister w/Deafheaven, Tribulation* 11/18 – Tucson, AZ – Club Congress 11/19 – San Diego, CA – Brick by Brick 11/20 – Los Angeles, CA – Echo 11/21 – Oakland, CA – Metro * = no Black Cobra
YOB undertaking the considerable voyage to Australia has been a while in the making. About two and a half years ago, there was word they were heading out that way with Elder and teaming, on arrival, with Beastwars, from New Zealand, for a round of shows. Seems fitting that they go, now, in support of their best album to date, last year’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), and have that much more anticipation ahead of them. The Eugene, Oregon, trio will also be at Maryland Deathfest later this month, alongside their Neurot Recordings labelmates in Ufomammut and Neurosis, among the requisite ton of others.
The Australian tour is presented by Life is Noise, who sent the following announcement down the PR wire:
YOB (USA) Australian Tour August 2015
life is noise is proud to present the Australian debut of one of the finest doom metal bands in the world: Yob.
In 2014, Yob released the best doom metal album of the year. Universally praised, Clearing the Path to Ascend topped Rolling Stone’s list of the best metal albums and was critically lauded by everyone from Pitchfork to The New York Times. Never has doom metal been at the forefront of the public consciousness like this, and it’s easy to see why: though it’s come almost two decades into their existence, Yob have made not just the best album of their career – they’ve made what will come to be regarded as one of the defining records in the pantheon of doom metal.
Which is not to say any of this came easy. Few bands hit their creative stride after seven records and almost twenty years, and Yob’s recording career has led them to stints with Metal Blade and Profound Lore before settling at their current home with spiritual siblings Neurosis at their label Neurot Recordings. The Neurosis comparison is obvious, but for every moment of earth-shaking post-metal, there are flourishes of old-school, soul-crushing sorrow that hark back to Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus; for every Earth-like meditation, there’s a measured catharsis of energy that recalls the explosive sludge of Melvins.
What makes Clearing the Path to Ascend such a landmark record is its stellar two-track second half. While the album’s opening act bathes in layers of funereal dirge and existential dread, its penultimate and closing tracks mark one of the genre’s finest half-hours as the trio push through to the other side of hell. With every repetition, Mike Scheidt’s riffs grow all the more hypnotic, his pious incantations ever-more compelling. Yob have succeeded where many of their contemporaries fail, imbuing the oft-tired tropes of a monolithic genre with untold emotion and transcendent zeal. This is doom metal reborn.
Yob’s live show is everything you’d want from a power trio. From frenetic riffs and furious drumming to slow, crushing doom, a Yob gig is less a performance and more a communal brain-fuck. They hold their audience transfixed with brief moments of brooding, atmospheric, almost ambient respite, before pulverising them with a massive, brutal crush of noise.
Witness Yob on their first ever Australian tour on the following dates:
Perth – August 19 – Rosemount Hotel Melbourne – August 21 – Max Watt’s Sydney – August 22 – Manning Bar Brisbane – August 23 – Crowbar
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by JJ Koczan
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend — YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe — I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.
Posted in Features on December 8th, 2014 by JJ Koczan
Before any music had surfaced from YOB‘s 2014 outing, Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), the band posted an update about the songwriting that referred to “the most beautiful arrangement” they had ever done. When the 18:48 closing track “Marrow” surfaced on their seventh album and Neurot Recordings debut, there was little doubt concerning which was the arrangement in question.
The first time I heard “Marrow” was sitting in the basement of V39, which is the building across from the 013 venue in Tilburg, the Netherlands, where Roadburn is held. Upstairs, the merch market was setting up for the day, but in the basement, in a dark room with a tiny stage, rows of chairs, a small P.A. and a bar in back, was a listening session for the album, the title of which was printed on a small promotional postcard placed on each chair. “Coming this fall.” Fair enough.
“Marrow” is led into by “Unmask the Spectre,” a 15-minute exploration that hits its apex late. There is, however, about 40-seconds of ambient guitar and spacious effects swirling after the chaos has subsided, and the fadeout of that gives flowing movement into the silence from which the opening guitar line of “Marrow” emerges. It’s less than a minute before bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster join in, which leaves guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt to set the initial atmosphere for what will become YOB‘s boldest and most melodic construction to date. Already by then, Clearing the Path to Ascend has taken listeners up, down and through an emotional torrent, songs like the raging “Nothing to Win” and the perpetually-searching “In Our Blood” establishing the dynamic course beyond YOB‘s beginnings — which, make no mistake, are essential to the makeup of what we think of today as cosmic doom — and further into something wholly their own; a sound as distinct and identifiable as Sleep‘s is to Sleep, as Neurosis‘ is to Neurosis.
It’s just before two and half minutes have passed that “Marrow” kicks in a fuller-toned roll, more low end and harder-hit drums, but the pace is still fluid, more serene than tense. Scheidt‘s vocals follow a pattern of shorter lines feeding into longer ones, his voice clean, ethereal and echoing over the distortion and a shift into the bridge that leads to the first of the song’s choruses:
Fall and see When there’s no ground To feel, To endure Rise, rise in your heart Time will crawl to the sea Time will fall inside the dream
The cycle stops to begin again with the verse, but already the layering in Scheidt‘s voice distinguishes the song as something special and expanding YOB‘s breadth from what they’ve done before. In both his guitar work — a later solo has a wistful blues to it that speaks to classic rock — and his vocals, Scheidt‘s expressiveness throughout “Marrow” is raw. He sounds sincere no matter how many layers of his voice appear, and there are only more as the next chorus arrives. Just past 10:30, after a soulful harmonization of the word “time,” the bass and drums drop out and it’s the guitar left alone again. Producer Billy Barnett contributes Hammond as Rieseberg and Foster rejoin the progression, and Clearing the Path to Ascend‘s final movement is underway.
I didn’t know the lyrics sitting in that small theater room downstairs at V39, but even without, tears welled up in my eyes. It is, as advertised, the most beautiful arrangement YOB have ever done, and “beautiful” is precisely the right word for it. “Marrow” never has its roaring moment as so many YOB songs do, but it builds in that final movement to an apex that’s as satisfying if not more so than any growl could be. Rieseberg‘s bass swells in the mix gorgeously shortly after the 14-minute mark, and Scheidt repeats the last verse over the build in progress. At 17:49, after its complete, swirling crescendo, “Marrow” cuts back to the quiet guitar line that started it. What needed to be said has been said, and the final sustained note hums its finish.
YOB have a tradition of grand closers. It goes all the way back: 2011’s Atma had “Adrift in the Ocean,” 2009’s The Great Cessation had its title-track, 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived had “The Mental Tyrant,” 2004’s The Illusion of Motion had its title-track, 2003’s Catharsis likewise, and 2002’s Elaborations of Carbon, formative as it was, had “Asleep in Samsara.” “Marrow” is not only the most forward-thinking of them, it is a singular achievement in songwriting and execution. For Scheidt, Rieseberg and Foster, it is a triumph along a creative pursuit that seems to be relentless in its tenure and its honesty, and for me, it’s the song by which 2014 will be defined.
Honorable mention to Witch Mountain‘s “Can’t Settle,” Mars Red Sky‘s “Join the Race,” Wo Fat‘s “The Conjuring” and Sleep‘s “The Clarity.”
Posted in Reviews on September 3rd, 2014 by JJ Koczan
Clearing the Path to Ascendis the point at which YOB abandons the formula they’ve been building over the course of the last five years. In its construction and in the execution of the songs themselves, it is still very much their own, but stands apart immediately from past outings, particularly the two released since the Eugene, Oregon, trio got back together after their 2005 breakup, 2009’s The Great Cessation(review here) and 2011’s Atma(review here). Clearing the Path to Ascend— also the band’s Neurot Recordings label debut — strips away a lot of what united those two records, elements like catchy openers “Burning the Altar” and “Prepare the Ground,” and a near-standard foray in guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt‘s signature triplet gallop, which is something that YOB has used to send chills up doomers’ spines since 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived. Songs like “Breathing from the Shallows,” these massive washes of abrasive, unyielding noise, seem as well to be a thing of the past. That’s not to say YOB can’t or won’t ever incorporate any of these things again, but even if they do, Clearing the Path to Ascendwill have been the record that proved that wasn’t what the band needed to be. In the meantime, what we’re left with on their seventh full-length and pivotal third since reuniting with Scheidt, drummer Travis Foster and bassist Aaron Rieseberg, is a scathingly honest, human creativity unlike anything else in doom, cosmic or otherwise. An hour-plus four-track release with no individual piece under 11 minutes, it is YOB at their most melodically progressive and an album that dares to let its emotional resonance meet and, especially in closer “Marrow,” surpass an at times barbarous tonal heft. YOB haven’t put a studio LP out in a decade that I didn’t pick as my Album of the Year, and given the sincere nature of the material on display here it seems all the more foolish to feign impartiality. I am a fan of the band, and Clearing the Path to Ascendis their most accomplished outing yet.
Opener “In Our Blood” (16:56) begins with a sample that says simply, “It’s time to wake up.” While this would seem to promise an explosion, but instead, Scheidt‘s guitar quietly introduces the undulating rhythm line that will comprise the core of the song, a roll that, when Foster and Rieseberg kick in after the first minute, sets a lumbering course pace-wise that the bulk of the record will stick to. Vocals, which in years past have typically come either in an ethereal wail or destructive growl, are clearer, cleaner and more confident than they’ve ever been — Scheidt‘s debut solo work, Stay Awake(review here), and subsequent touring could easily be read as a factor in that — but when “In Our Blood”‘s first growls arrive shortly before the five-minute mark, they’re no less vicious than they’ve ever been. Already, YOB have changed course from their last several albums, the way Clearing the Path to Ascendlurches gradually to life rather than slamming listeners with an initial immediacy only to expand from there. It comes across as dispensing with a formality — getting right to the heart of the matter in a different way that’s more immersive for the listening experience of the entirety rather than giving an initial standout and then letting the rest of the album make its statement. Another clean, rolling verse ensues and trades back to growls — it’s not a chorus, but a repeated and expanded part, anyway — before “In Our Blood” shifts into its next movement near its halfway point, a bridge leading to an ambient break, Rieseberg and Foster dropping out to leave the guitar as a bed for an expanded version of the sample that began the song, British philosopher Alan Watts asking, “What is reality? Obviously, no one can say because it isn’t words. It isn’t material, that’s just an idea. It isn’t spiritual — that’s also an idea,” before the “Time to wake up” is repeated and the song bursts back to life, Scheidt loosing a roar that’s primal but which serves more of an ambient purpose than an aggressive one. The riff that will serve as the foundation for the remaining time takes hold, a guitar solo is layered in, deep in the mix, and cycles meet a culmination after 15 minutes in as guitars continue to build and growling lines surface from the plod, the last of them sustained to the point of Scheidt‘s voice breaking as the instruments behind end with a barrage of feedback giving way directly to the punch of drums that start “Nothing to Win.”
That punch, which becomes the core of “Nothing to Win” over its 11:22 run, is not to be understated. Foster‘s tom progression is indebted, almost singularly, to Neurosis‘ “Through Silver in Blood,” but the space those fills occupy, the way they’re used in the track and the sheer stamina required to pull them off make them all the more staggering. The second of Clearing the Path to Ascend‘s four pieces is the most intense, playing off building verse tension via those drums and the guitar and bass that follow them and opening to a chorus that arrives at the title line in a manner fitting the conclusion itself — there’s nothing to win. Listening to it, I’m reminded of a conversation about ambition back in 2011 that was part of an interview with Scheidt for Atma, but without a lyric sheet I wouldn’t speculate in concrete terms what’s being won, or not, and either way, the ferocity remains striking, Scheidt moving into a semi-spoken, seething delivery for the verse and layering shouts and growls for the chorus. Foster again takes the lead after halfway through, switching from the chorus progression to an even more intense run of fills that builds for a minute or so until finally the song seems to collapse under its own frustrations, Scheidt growling out a line that turns to a kind of agonized plead before its end, Rieseberg and Foster coming back in over feedback before the guitar rejoins them on the transition into the song’s last movement, a churning riff, deceptively intricate in its timing, taking hold and carrying YOB through the finish, Scheidt reminding along the way that, indeed, there’s nothing to win, channeling the abrasiveness that once fueled “Breathing from the Shallows” or “Kosmos” from The Unreal Never Livedinto a concise declaration that leaves an impression even after the album has finished. Its message gets through, in other words, before a relatively quick fadeout rounds the song out and “Unmask the Spectre” (15:25) begins with a soft guitar line somewhat reminiscent of the opening track and “Marrow” still to come.
Given its heavy/atmospheric tradeoffs — in softer parts, Scheidt‘s guitar seems to have been recorded in some terrifyingly vast expanse, at night — set out along a linear path and the melodic instrumental complexity at which it arrives in its apex guitar solo, it seems fair to think of “Unmask the Spectre” as a lead-in for “Marrow,” but at more than 15 minutes, it’s also a substantial portion of the album, and the fact that it’s paired well with the closer shouldn’t necessarily detract from its individual appeal or the work it does in furthering the atmosphere of Clearing the Path to Ascendoverall, cutting back as it does the furious push of “Nothing to Win” and moving YOB back into a more gradual space, patient, encompassing, and resoundingly slow. A high-viscosity chug takes hold as the main riff cycles through early, having lumbered forth from the quieter start, and “Unmask the Spectre” seems to take a different path toward similar venting to “Nothing to Win,” growls and screams topping steady thud from Foster and starts and stops in the bass and guitar. By this point in the album, it’s easy to be lost in Clearing the Path to Ascend, particularly on the first couple listens, and “Unmask the Spectre” sets an especially turbulent course on which the listener is carried, moving between this thunderous stomp and the airy quieter movement, underscored by various rumbling threats, vague noise, and low-mixed shouts and effects-distorted pleas. A rising shout before five minutes in reintroduces the heavy progression, Scheidt losing his fucking mind in the process, and the momentum is carried into the song’s next stage. If there’s a spectre being unmasked, it starts to happen at about the sixth minute, at which the tense, crushing heft spreads itself out to some kind of resolution, Scheidt taking a cleaner approach vocally over his riff, Rieseberg‘s smoothed out bassline and Foster‘s more forward-directed drums. A wavering guitar solo follows a verse past halfway through, but there’s another dropout. As low and minimal as YOB get on Clearing the Path to Ascend, heaviness is never completely absent, Scheidt whispering over windy backing swirl and his own barely-there guitar before Foster thumps the lurch back into place, a crawling return to YOB at their most feedback-drenched and excruciating. It seems like that’s going to be the end — both preceding cuts have had clearly announced final movements — but there’s a switch to cleaner vocals again and the guitar teases melodic leads. It’s a sudden cut to the backing “wind,” but the subdued guitar accompanies, seeming like it’s searching for a way to lead directly into “Marrow,” and not quite making the switch seamless, but coming as close to tying the two pieces together as one could reasonably ask.
Before the album was recorded, the band posted an update to Facebook referring to “the most beautiful arrangement we’ve ever written.” No question “Marrow” (18:49) was the arrangement being described, and accurately. It is lush, and gorgeous, and where it wants to, it launches into a soothing wash of tone more cathartic than “Catharsis” and arguably YOB‘s most singularly ambitious song. Like “Unmask the Spectre,” it starts quiet, but instead of bursting out, Foster and Rieseberg join the quiet guitar line early, making for a more gradual beginning, less jarring in its shift. At 2:25, a fuller rumble emerges, but the soft guitar line is still repeated over it, a peaceful, almost resigned mood emanating from the heavy rollout. There are no growls or screams on “Marrow,” the vocals entirely clean-sung for the duration, but it is Clearing the Path to Ascend‘s most righteous moment, conveying more of an emotional turbulence than a musical one in its initial verse and the movement to the first chorus, which arrives subtly just after five minutes and surprises with Scheidt layering his voice for a kind of harmonized choir effect, resulting in his most soulful performance to date, in YOB or out of it. A quick second to catch breath — one needs it — and the verse is renewed. I’m not sure I can properly convey the sense of arrival that chorus brings with it, or how gently it comes on, led into by a first stage already departed from the verse but not yet giving away the full breadth to come. The effect is only enhanced the second time through, the chorus expanded as “Marrow” moves toward its 10th minute, building to a thudding head, the word “time” repeated and drawn melodically into a hymnal. At 10:33, with more than eight minutes to go, the bass and drums drop out to let the guitar set the foundation of the album’s finale. As with the intro, the guitar, bass and drums all explore this part so that it’s not so much a minimalist interlude as an essential piece of the whole, a background layer of organ — or guitar effects made to sound like organ — hinting of the epiphany and climax still to come. Scheidt sings low and quiet after 12 minutes in, a verse that leads to the most gripping and resonant guitar solo I’ve heard since Ancestors‘ “First Light,” very classic rock in its style, but speaking more to the central melody of “Marrow” than a YOB lead ever has to its respective song. It swirls louder in the mix and carries into a heavier movement — Rieseberg‘s bassline no less astounding than any of the guitar layers — and the vocals return after a few measures to drive “Marrow” further toward into apex, which arrives in multiple stages as a wash of immersive realization. It ends, without a second wasted, by cutting back to the quiet guitar line that introduced the song and noodling out the last note for a final echo giving way to silence.
I know I said this when I saw them play at Roadburn earlier this year, but it’s worth repeating: YOB are a once-in-a-generation band. It is rare enough to find an act willing to push itself at all creatively seven albums in, but to deliberately cast off any sense of playing to expectation in favor of such raw expression — it’s the kind of thing that one or two groups in a decade might actually manage to pull off. More importantly, in doing so, Clearing the Path to Ascendmakes YOB‘s a more sustainable evolution by breaking down the increasingly rigid boundaries of “what YOB sounds like” and commandingly taking their songwriting to somewhere new both for them and for the genre as a whole. Nearly 15 years on from their first demo, they sound like they’re just getting started. If this album is true to its title, and YOB are clearing their path by tossing away these preconceived notions of what they are and what “doom” is, and if perhaps what comes next is ascension, then so be it. They’re obviously ready.
YOB, “Marrow” from Clearing the Path to Ascend (2014)
In the second video teaser to herald the album’s September release below, YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt discusses the motivations at work in the songwriting for the forthcoming Neurot Recordings debut, Clearing the Path to Ascend, citing an emotional basis in the material that’s brought out more than ever before, and talking about the band as part of a general quest for the defining of self and the making of who they are. There’s a music clip in it too, but hearing Scheidt speak candidly about what hedoes is always fascinating (I’ve been fortunate more than once; see here and here and also here) for the thoughtfulness of his perspective, and that manages to come through in the clip, brief though it is.
Clearing the Path to Ascendis out in September on Neurot, and in addition to their European tour with Pallbearer, a handful of YOB dates for the West Coast have been announced, including the previously noted Hoverfest on Aug. 23. The PR wire has details under the video.
YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend Teaser 2
YOB: Oregon Doomsmiths Post Second Clearing The Path To Ascend Video Teaser; US Tour Dates Announced
Oregon doomsmiths, YOB, will released their long-awaited full-length, the aptly titled Clearing The Path To Ascend, via Neurot Recordings this Fall. Recorded at Gung Ho Studio in Eugene, notorious for its reserve of vintage equipment, alongside longtime collaborator/iconic sound-sage Billy Barnett, and mastered by Brad Boatright (Sleep, Beastmilk, Nails) at Audiosiege Engineering, Clearing The Path To Ascend is undoubtedly the crowning achievement for a band whose journey now nears two decades of creating music as commanding as it is cathartic. As is the YOB way, the tracks here don’t simply offer a vacuous glimpse into the already riff-soaked doom genre. These songs demand the tandem attention of mind, body, and soul – etching a mark across a sound that finds YOB as formidable and unequaled as they’ve ever been. The path to ascend is clearly an arduous one, fraught with the peril of mediocrity. Thankfully, YOB pummels that path, climbing upward into a realm that sets the band in a heavy metal place that has been and will always remain wholly their own.
As a precursor to the release, YOB is offering up a second Clearing The Path To Ascend video teaser. Produced by William F. Haldane of Solder House, the near four-minute video details the writing process, concept and emotional journey that embodies the record as a whole.
In related news, YOB will bring their otherworldly riff rituals to the stage later this month on a handful of West Coast live excursions that will include performances in Sacramento, Oakland and Seattle as well as a headlining performance at Portland’s Hoverfest alongside Witch Mountain, Lord Dying, Eight Bells and more!
The tour comes in advance of the band’s previously announced overseas trek this Fall. Slated to commence on September 3rd, 2014 in Utrecht, the Netherlands, the band will level twenty-eight cities, the tour coming to a close on October 11th, 2014 at Desertfest in Antwerp, Belgium. YOB will be joined by Little Rock doom bringers, Pallbearer.
YOB: 7/25/2014 Starlite Lounge – Sacramento, CA w/ Giant Squid, Will Haven 7/26/2014 Oakland Metro – Oakland, CA w/ Black Cobra, Augurs 8/01/2014 Space Eugene – Eugene, OR w/ Hell, Diseased Reason, Broken Dead 8/09/2014 El Corazon – Seattle, WA w/ Wounded Giant, Transient 8/23/2014 Hoverfest – Portland, OR w/ Witch Mountain, Lord Dying, many more…
UK/EU Tour 2014 w/ Pallbearer: 9/03/2014 Tivoli de helling – Utrecht, NL 9/04/2014 The Fleece – Bristol, UK 9/05/2014 Roadhouse – Manchester, UK 9/06/2014 Audio- Glasgow, UK 9/07/2014 Brudenell Social Club – Leeds, UK 9/08/2014 The Underworld – London, UK 9/10/2014 FZW – Dortmund, DE 9/11/2014 Vera – Groningen, NL 9/12/2014 Atlas – Aarhus, DK 9/13/2014 Truckstop Alaska – Gothenburg, SE 9/14/2014 Hostsabbat @ Betong – Oslo, NO 9/16/2014 Tavastia – Helsinki, FI 9/17/2014 Slakthuset – Stockholm, SE 9/18/2014 Loppen – Copenhagen, DK 9/19/2014 Connewitz – Leipzig, DE 9/20/2014 Firlej – Wroclaw, PL 9/21/2014 Bi Nuu – Berlin, DE 9/23/2014 Klub 007 – Prague, CZ 9/24/2014 Arena – Vienna, AT 9/25/2014 PMK – Unnsbruck, AT 9/26/2014 Gaswerk – Winterthur, CH 9/29/2014 Le Romandie – Lausanne, CH 10/02/2014 Razzmatazz3 – Barcelona, ES 10/03/2014 Villamanuela – Madrid, ES 10/04/2014 Amplifest – Porto, PT 10/05/2014 ES ESonora – Erandio, ES 10/10/2014 Kyttaro Club – Athens, GR 10/11/2014 Desertfest – Antwerp, BE
Clearing The Path To Ascend will be released on September 1st, 2014 in the UK and Europe and in the US on September 2nd, 2014 via Neurot Recordings.