YOB, The Unreal Never Lived (2005)
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.
This and The Illusion of Motion were recently reissued on vinyl through Holy Mountain Printing. As always, I hope you enjoy.
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.