At around 11AM, I started to get antsy. By the time I left Massachusetts, it was 12:30PM, and it would be five and a half hours later that I rolled down Manhattan Ave. in Brooklyn to the Saint Vitus Bar for the first of YOB‘s two-night residency with support from Tombs and Kings Destroy. It would be the first time I’d see the Eugene, Oregon, trio since the release of their much-lauded 2014 Neurot Recordings debut, Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), and I wasn’t going to miss it. I did not stop for food or drink on my way south.
YOB were soundchecking when I got in, and there’d be some time yet before the show actually started. I watched them bust through a couple fuses on the Sunn bass head on loan from Kings Destroy and get their sound dialed in through the Vitus Bar P.A., noticing that the shape of the venue’s stage had changed since last I was there. It’s been added to in the front, what used to be a jut-out in the middle is not even all the way across. Since the show was sold out, there were no seats on the side either. It looked like a pro shop, which of course it is whether the booths are there or not, and there were few people milling around, getting drinks and whatnot. It was a boon to me at that point not to be in the car anymore.
By my count this was the 20th time I watched Kings Destroy play a set in 2014. That is not an exaggeration. Possibly the only thing I can say about them at this point — and I mean it as a high compliment — is that if they were playing tonight somewhere near me, I’d go. They also had a soundcheck and got started shortly after 9PM, soon thereafter announcing from the stage that their third, self-titled album will be out on War Crime Recordings in April as they ran through a couple of its highlights, “Smokey Robinson,” “Mr. O.,” “Embers” and “Green Diamonds,” opening with “The Whittler” and rounding out with “Blood of Recompense” and “Turul,” a one-two punch culled from last year’s A Time of Hunting.
The latter was particularly charged and since it’s not one they play all the time, I was glad to see them break it out as a finale. Of all their material, it’s probably the oddest song they have, but the weirdness suits them and underscores the impressive amount of sonic ground they cover and the efficiency with which they cover it. They played mostly in the dark, with a projector screen behind, but after seeing them on the West Coast, the East Coast and in between, the home turf was a fun way to round out the year. I should be so lucky to go another 20 in 2015.
Somehow — and I’m not 100 percent sure this is true now that I’m saying it — I’ve never seen Tombs. At least not that I can remember. The Brooklynite outfit, led by guitarist/vocalist Mike Hill, released their third album, Savage Gold, this year on Relapse, and were duly in command of their genre-blending style, a potent, metallic-vibed stew of blackened squibblies, doomly atmospherics and thrashing intensity. His foot on the monitor or his guitar held out in front of him, Hill was every bit the frontman, but the whole band was air-tight, bassist Ben Brand and drummer Andrew Hernandez II, and recently-added guitarist Evan Void (also of Sadgiqacea) crisp in the delivery of cuts like “Edge of Darkness” and “Seance” from the new album en route to the closeout, “Path of Totality,” the title-track from Tombs‘ 2011 sophomore breakout full-length. They were a band I always figured I’d run into sooner or later. I wish it had been sooner.
I came into the show thinking of it as the first of two nights, so it was hard to consider Friday a standalone, but even if you take into account Saturday’s lineup, with Occultation and Ecstatic Vision opening, there was a varied but still cohesive spirit to both bills. It gave Friday a carefully curated vibe, and that carried over to Saturday too. These weren’t just bands who would draw, they were bands someone wanted you to see. It made a difference in the mood of the show, and by the time Tombs were wrapping up after Kings Destroy and before YOB, the Vitus Bar was so packed in that clearly the plan had worked.
Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to watch YOB play three-fourths of Clearing the Path to Ascend at Roadburn in The Netherlands, and doubly fortunate to have heard the record beforehand. But I didn’t know the songs at that point, hadn’t spent any significant amount of time listening to them, and absent from that set was the album-closer “Marrow,” which, if you’ve heard it, you know is a big difference. It’s my pick for song of the year, for whatever that’s worth, but there was no guarantee it would make an appearance either night. Still, was worth a shot. As it turned out, after opening with the unearthly rolling groove of “Ball of Molten Lead,” which continues to sound as weighted as its title, guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster played Clearing the Path to Ascend front to back, in its entirety, closing out with the scorchingly noisy “The Lie that is Sin” from 2009’s return, The Great Cessation, and the title cut from 2011’s Atma.
Whatever they played, I’m sure I’d have been into it, but having watched them play full-album sets previously for The Great Cessation, 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived and 2003’s Catharsis, I’m glad to be able to put Clearing the Path to Ascend in that category as well. The four songs, “In Our Blood,” the drum-led tempest “Nothing to Win” — which Foster made look easy, in defiance of both logic and physics — “Unmask the Spectre” and “Marrow” itself, were a worthy focal point, and the flow of the material was no less palpable live than it is listening to the album. Being faster and more aggressive, “Nothing to Win” got a particularly fervent response (myself included), but I don’t think I was the only one appreciating what it meant to be watching “Marrow” and seeing YOB‘s most progressive moment to date come to life right there on the stage. To call it powerful would be understatement.
I was, by then, a wreck. That whole not-eating-or-drinking-anything-all-day thing? Yeah, it caught up with me right around the time they hit into “Unmask the Spectre.” I couldn’t keep my head up without getting dizzy and pressed up against the stage up front, I was fiercely nauseous and feeling like I was going to pass out. I leaned over on the stage during “Marrow” and headed to the back of the venue thereafter, getting two rounds of two waters from the bar and putting my head down on my arm to recover. I heard a good-spirited “Man down!” from someone. I wasn’t even drunk, just dehydrated. It made me glad I was sticking around the area for the second show, since watching “The Lie that is Sin” and “Atma” from way in the back wasn’t how I was hoping it would go down, but even so, I can’t and won’t complain. I was lucky to be there at all.
And I’d be lucky to go back for more the next night. More on that tomorrow. For now, more pics after the jump and thanks for reading.