Friday Full-Length: YOB, The Great Cessation

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 11th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

YOB, The Great Cessation (2009)

From their 2002 12th Records debut, Elaborations of Carbon, onward, each YOB album has established its own personality, but I don’t think there’s any question 2009’s The Great Cessation (review here) is the angriest of the seven offered to-date. Released as the first of two outings for Profound Lore Records — the other, Atma (review here), followed in 2011 — it marked the return of the groundbreaking Eugene, Oregon, cosmic doomers, who had split after the release of what was then their pinnacle achievement, The Unreal Never Lived (discussed here), was released in 2005.

The story behind that stretch of time has been told and retold, but the tumult plays directly into The Great Cessation‘s atmosphere and five tracks. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt continued to work with Metal Blade Records, who had put out The Unreal Never Lived and the preceding 2004 full-length, The Illusion of Motion, as he formed the new project Middian and released a debut album therefrom in 2007 titled Age EternalMiddian, who went so far as to tour to support that record — something that YOB was really only starting to do when they called it quits in ’06 — wound up getting sued by an unsigned Wisconsin-based outfit called Midian who had trademarked the name and apparently decided the world wasn’t big enough for more than one band to use it despite the different spelling, and that basically brought the project to an end. Age Eternal, which invariably had some commonalities with YOB‘s work, languished, and though there was a brief time where Middian had changed their name to Age Eternal and it looked like they might press forward, by 2008, Scheidt had reformed YOB with drummer Travis Foster and new bassist Aaron Rieseberg, and work had begun on The Great Cessation, which somewhat ironically given its title, was nothing if not a new beginning for them as a group.

It was also, apparently, the receiving vessel for all the frustration that was born of this troubled time. While Catharsis had cut its teeth in a formative, slow-motion psychedelic doom, The Illusion of Motion made its mark with the perennially satisfying roll of “Ball of Molten Lead,” and The Unreal Never Lived found a place to dwell between sonic spiritualism and crushing heft, The Great Cessation was fueled by a rawer impulse. Produced by Sanford Parker, its sound was crisp and full, but the impact was near-immediate with opening track “Burning the Altar,” and what unfolded from then on would only become more scathing until arriving at its final resolution in the closing 20-minute title cut. To wit, the lurch forward that begins “Burning the Altar,” as YOB seem to reel back and attempt to smother the listener with the weight of the opening riff, or the explosive and caustic turns of the subsequent “The Lie that is Sin,” which crashes and rumbles and seethes even in its quietest stretches, finding Scheidt switching between cleaner vocals and harsh screams amid a final linear build that doesn’t so much offer payoff as it tightens until it can go no further and collapses on itself. “Burning the Altar,” which even eight years later commands nothing less than maximum volume at all times, had something of an instrumental hook, but YOB would pull the rug out from under it with “The Lie that is Sin,” and “Silence of Heaven” and “Breathing from the Shallows” only continued the descent into the darkest territory YOB had pursued up to that time, and maybe the darkest they’ve ever pursued, period.

Among those, particularly “Silence of Heaven.” Don’t get me wrong, “The Lie that is Sin” has just as much crunch as soar, and “Breathing from the Shallows” is second to none in terms of both growl and the critique of lines like “Where are you going with your greed” and “Ambition like cancer,” but if there’s a single representation on The Great Cessation of the raw anger running through the band at the time, it’s the centerpiece. It barely has lyrics, and seems to dedicate the energy that would otherwise go into crafting them into tearing its own flesh off. Furious and, for that, a little sad when taken in relation to the spiritualism or at least metaphysical searching Scheidt and YOB have put at the center of the band’s aesthetic all along, it feels right to call it a moment of pure catharsis despite having nothing to do with that album of the same name. Even when one goes back and listens to “Burning the Altar” or “The Lie that is Sin” before it, the rage of “Silence of Heaven” seems to radiate in all directions, affecting the songs before it as well as those after.

And yet, when The Great Cessation arrives at the quiet opening guitar line of its 20-minute closing title-track, isn’t there some sense of resolution? Isn’t that YOB willing itself — themselves — to press forward from that very anger and get back to the things that truly matter, court costs, legalese and other concerns be damned? In the tradition of “Catharsis,” “The Illusion of Motion” and “The Unreal Never Lived” — each an extended closing title-cut for the record on which it appeared — “The Great Cessation” provided YOB a landing point for the expression of The Great Cessation as a whole, but in its more melodic and serene atmosphere, that landing point also serves to answer “Silence of Heaven”‘s clenched fist with a release of tension. An exhale. Sure, the second half moves into some growling and lumbering riffs, and Rieseberg‘s bass is a thickening presence as always amid Foster‘s popping snare that does so much across the album’s 62 minutes to hold it all together, and the song devolves into noise as it makes its way out, but in comparison, even that seems reassuring compared to the blisters raised earlier. After such chaos, even the final howls of Scheidt‘s guitar — almost like a siren as the bass and drums fade out — are a sign of YOB leaving that anger behind. Purged.

They would indeed keep moving forward. The Great Cessation was my album of the year in 2009 (also the first year this site was up), and Atma followed suit in 2011, but YOB would hit their to-date transcendental peak with 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here). Also their debut on Neurot Recordings, it was a record — yes, the top one released that year — that looked inward as much as outward, to the self and the universe surrounding, and in addition to being YOB‘s most sonically progressive songwriting, it seems in hindsight to have taken the will to put its emotions brazenly at the forefront from The Great Cessation, and thereby wind up in a much different place in terms of representing YOB as people and as a group.

I’ve said on multiple occasions that YOB are the best band of their generation, and I stand by that assessment completely. They’re said to have a follow-up to Clearing the Path to Ascend in the works, which I imagine was delayed somewhat owing to recent health issues on Scheidt‘s part (he had surgery multiple times over but seems to be doing well, which is fortunate; all the best to him of course), and seems a likely candidate for most anticipated LP of 2018. Whenever it arrives, rest assured, it will be welcome. In the interim and despite its representing such a dark period of renewal for the band, I hope you enjoy revisiting The Great Cessation.

Thanks for reading and listening.

Kind of a weird week around here, I guess. I had company in town into Tuesday morning, so Monday was kind of a blur, yet in terms of response, it was easily the biggest day for posts. The rest of the week was pretty quiet, relatively speaking, including some stuff that I was hoping would catch more eyes. I recognize not everything is going to reach as many people as Uncle Acid reissuing their first record, but still. A few killer premieres — Blaak Heat, Old Man Wizard, The Quill — and reviews — Paradise Lost, Mindkult — that are well worth a look if you get there. If not, thanks at least for reading this sentence.

In Connecticut today, New Jersey tomorrow and back to Massachusetts on Sunday, so it’s going to be a busy weekend, but I have already and will continue to see family as a part of that process, so I’m looking forward to it. Some pretty cool stuff in store for next week though. Might do a surprise poll if I can bother Slevin to help me put it together over the next day or two, so keep an eye out for that, but there’s plenty besides even if that doesn’t shake out.

Here are the notes, subject to change as always:

Mon.: Blues Funeral track premiere/album review; news on End Hip End It, Attalla and more.
Tue.: Steak video premiere/overdue album review; maybe that poll.
Wed.: Red Mountains track premiere/review; Six Dumb Questions with Cortez.
Thu.: Sundrifter track premiere.
Fri.: Stinkeye review.

These posts have gotten longer and longer lately — writing about YOB is a sure way for me to not at all cure that — but here’s a nice moment to leave you with before I sign off for the weekend:

While waiting to go to a haircut appointment late yesterday afternoon, The Patient Mrs. and I sat outside at a cafe here in CT which we frequent when we’re here. The place was getting ready to close up but there were a couple people sitting at the outside tables and they weren’t chasing anyone away or anything. They just kind of leave them there. The sun was shining and we sat there looking at a clothing rack outside the little for-middle-aged-ladies boutique next door at a black and white shirt with a rose on it and a bird or something and I started cracking wise about buying it and being goth with its wide neck and wearing it when I get hangry and sad before meals. “Aww, what’s the matter, pookie? Did your eating disorder make you goth? Did you have to put on your sad goth shirt because of it?”

My wife, about two months away from giving birth to what will be our first and only child, laughing loud enough so that the people at other tables looked over to see what was going on. My favorite sound in the world. Her amazing laugh. Her wonderful face. I had to stop for a minute to realize how lucky I am to be where I am in my life. I’m 35 years old, unemployed, just waiting to take up the stay-at-home-dad mantle, but it was such an incredible feeling of warmth and beauty in her laugh that I damn near wept behind my sunglasses. How lucky I am. How stupidly, stupidly unworthy I am of the last 19-plus years with her. How much I’m looking forward to the terrific and terrifying adventures ahead and to facing them together. It was such a simple thing, and that moment didn’t last — had to go get that haircut, after all — but if I lived for a thousand years, I’d hope to never forget it.

Thanks again for reading, and have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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