Album Review: Yob’s Our Raw Heart
In the four years since Nick Green’s introductory piece on the confluence of yoga and extreme metal (“Downward Facing,” in Decibel issue #113), reports of heavy music infiltrating the world of spiritual/physical exercise seem to surface with impressive/irritating regularity. I say “irritating” only because, every couple months, one of my perfectly wonderful non-metal-loving friends will send me an article they found online remarking about Black Yoga or Darkest Yoga or whatever, because in their minds yoga is about peaceful inner communion and metal is about mindless aggression and violent substance abuse and never bathing. (I think; I haven’t really understood the worldview of non-metal listeners for probably a decade.) Their dismissal of heavy music as a path toward self-reflection is about 25 years past its expiration date, and it would be nice to get past those hang-ups at some point.
Whatever. The point?
More than anything, Yob’s eighth album feels like extreme meditation metal. It’s not all misty soundscapes or sweeping post-metal tear-jerkers, of course. That’s not how Yob roll. It’s their commitment to time-bending repetition that turns this record into a compelling soundtrack for rumination and zen voyages through the inner void toward whatever lurks beneath. Once a riff finds its groove, the trio’s dedication to extending and expanding that vibe becomes a thing of contemplative beauty. Even on blunt force crunchers like “The Screen” and “In Reverie,” songs that strike a bleak march through some of the album’s most desolate terrain, the sheer obstinacy of their pulse and throb can draw a listener out of themselves, beyond thought and awareness of the clock’s incessant chatter. Opener “Ablaze” is a nominally warmer, more dynamically complex animal, but its monstrously opaque chord constructions play to all the same strengths, layering its ten minutes with psychic stimulation that still echoes hours later.
After the half-hour whir of the triptych, mid-album nugget “Lungs Reach” is a bit an oddball. At less than six minutes, its first half hums and ricochets off dank cavern walls, until one chord crumbles that subterranean façade and opens the most hellish portal on the record. The evil is so all-consuming that it burns itself out quickly, and the song’s final chord peeks forward into the album’s emotional zenith.
I’ll admit it: “Beauty in Falling Leaves” was my real entry point into Our Raw Heart. I had listened to all that came before, but I’ve loved Yob for a while, and on first listen, it all felt a little bit business as usual. “Beauty in Falling Leaves” reset my ears, my jaw and my mind. It sent me spinning. It hit me the same way Pallbearer’s “A Plea for Understanding” did eighteen months ago. The song’s emotional content is overwhelming, soul-wringing and triumphant. I could wish that Mike Scheidt’s voice was a little less Beastly (or that I had never watched Care Bears episodes with my kids), but as the author of such gorgeous music, he gets a pass. The closing title track mines similar sonic ore, smelting and purifying it into subtly different materials. The exploration of the songs’ spaces, that sense of ambitious endurance that imbued those earlier, gnarlier tracks, lingers still in these vast glowing passages. “Our Raw Heart” could build and cycle and grow and repeat for another fifteen minutes and nobody but the band would complain. It fades into perpetuity even as the guitar solo scrawls itself ever more vividly over the undulating rhythms, and it all begs to be heard again.
“Original Face” has the impossible task of bridging these two luminous leviathans without allowing the entire endeavor to become maudlin, and it somehow sticks the landing without breaking a sweat. It’s a robust stomper, a lush rhythmic core tenderized by leg-breaking percussion and nail-studded chord punctuation. It’s a potent blend of everything YOB have tried to be throughout the album, and instead of being the overlookable mess it most certainly deserves to be, it turns into another standout victory. The Great Cessation, YOB’s 2009 return from the dark days of Middian, will remain a personal favorite for its ever-spiraling darkness, but Our Raw Heart is that coarse greatness evolved toward perfection.
Mike Scheidt’s terrifying medical emergency in January of 2017 – as well as the way he coped with recovery – certainly provides a compelling backstory for the music on Our Raw Heart, and Decibel deep-thinker Sean Frasier isn’t wrong when he writes that “separating YOB’s music from its frontman is like subtracting volume from their stage show;” it would be, as Vizzini might exclaim, inconceivable. Yes, context can be illuminating for any musical experience, and while in this case it is certainly moving and poignant, Our Raw Heart succeeds in part because knowledge of its context is unnecessary. This is powerful music. Full stop.