I find it both funny and fitting that the day after the world’s doom metal pioneers Black Sabbath were heavily rumored to be reuniting in their original form to record a new record that we have for discussion the latest album from who arguably are today’s finest representatives of the genre.
But while Sabbath’s reunion is bound to be underwhelming and disappointing – let’s face it, how can it not be? – the latest effort from the mighty YOB is anything but that. Ever since the Oregon-based band reunited and delivered the earth-battering 2009 effort “The Great Cessation” (my personal favorite album of that year and from the band in general), they’ve been on fire. Their live shows have leveled audiences, they seem to have achieved a spiritual elevation, and their creative output have them on a path to be remembered as one of this era’s best metal bands, period. Regardless of genre.
“Atma” is YOB’s latest, their sixth overall effort and second for Profound Lore. Their gargantuan, relentlessly heavy doom also pays some homage to death metal, drone and post-metal, and unlike most of the other bands that comprise their genre, their lyrical content is not flooded with blood, guts, cemeteries, ghouls, and skulls. Instead, the band’s visionary Mike Scheidt chooses to look inward and explore his mind and soul. As it is, the term atma is one used by Hindus and Buddhists, among others, meaning the summation of and highest sense of self. Very basically, each period of your life, you’re a completely different person, even though you lived as the same physical being. As you grow, your experiences change you, and you’re certainly not the same you were four years ago, for example. I’d argue I’m nowhere near the same person as I was in February. But all of those periods of your life make up your overall being, how you came to be who you are, your ultimate self. It’s an incredibly heady, inspiring concept that certainly could leave you talking to others or yourself all night about what it all means. YOB explore that and more on “Atma,” and chances are you could put 10 listeners in a room with the record and 24 hours, and each would come away feeling and absorbing differently. That’s the mark of something special, a piece of work that’ll change in your heart as you grow. It’s timeless.
As for the music, “Atma” is like the summation of all of YOB’s parts. It’s certainly not “The Great Cessation 2,” and it really bears no strong resemblance to any of the band’s earlier records. But taking it as a whole, you can hear little pieces of their history, tricks they picked up over the years that became a great part of the overall YOB machine and helped make this record what it is. Another thing that’s different is Scheidt barely registers a growl on this thing, as he mainly reaches for that high-nasal, early Ozzy Osbourne style of delivery. Sometimes he’s as grounded as he’s ever been, such as his whispery, gravelly clean vocals near the end of closer “Adrift in the Ocean,” a song that kicks off with Katatonia-like gothic doom beauty, gets muddied up, and then turns into a fiery, expressive piece of guitar poetry.
“Before We Dreamed of Two” gets off to a bit of a trippy start, and eventually it finds its way into deep, suffocating pockets of drone and noise. It’s my favorite track on the record and the one that sounds the blackest, almost like Sunn 0))) could have been a slight influence. The title cut is calculated and plodding, with sequences that are just total demolition, with Scheidt’s most savage vocal work on the record, and during the song’s middle point, a narration gives you a clear, concise description of the atma concept. “Prepare the Ground” is as close as we get to grasping death and destruction (though in no way is it explicitly just about that), as Scheidt directs the preparation of “the burial mound,” but at times the lyrics get a little clunky. “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore” is the only piece on here I’m having trouble embracing. Musically, it’s just fine, as Scheidt, bassist Aaron Reiseberg, and drummer Travis Foster (as well as guest Scott Kelly of Nuerosis) are in perfect alignment, but something about the vocal delivery rubs me wrong. They sound a little strained and don’t feel terribly natural to me, which is an odd thing for a band that normally is so organically creative. But those are small bumps in the road, really, is doesn’t detract from the overall quality of this album.
I’m sure this will be argued, but to me, YOB are doom’s best hope for being this era’s band that transcends generations. I easily could see their records being passed down 10, 20, 30 years into the future as our time’s finest example of what makes this style of music so great. YOB are a sign of hope in a gigantic sea of mediocre metal, a declaration that maybe you can do things differently, say things other artists aren’t and refuse to put a lid on your sound while maintaining every ounce of your credibility and power. “Atma” is yet another document proving all of these theories true. Personally, I like “The Great Cessation” more, but that’s neither here nor there. They’ve grown from that record and aren’t the same band or individuals they were at that time. “Atma” is what YOB are now, in this moment, and it will pave the way for what they do next. It’s a part of their overall DNA, and it’s pretty damn good at that.
One final note: The amazing cover art was painted by Stevie Floyd of Dark Castle. Those two bands just wrapped a North American tour together, and they’ll be hitting Europe in September. Those dates are below.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/yobdoom
For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/
YOB/Dark Castle Euro tour dates:
09/16, Tilburg, NL (Incubate Festival)
09/17, Bielefeld, DE @ AJZ
09/18, Copenhagen, DK @ Loppen
09/19, Stockholm, SE @ Kagelbanan
09/20, Oslo, NO @ Betong
09/21, Gothenburg, SE @ Sticky Fingers
09/22, Arhus, DK @ Musikcafeen
09/23, Hamburg, DE @ Hafenklang
09/24, Berlin, DE @ Lovelite
09/25, Prague, CZ @ Klub 007
09/26, Stuttgart, DE @ Club Schocken
09/27, Vienna, AT @ Arena
09/28, Munich, DE @ Feierwerk
09/29, Milan, IT @ Lo-Fi
10/01, Dornbirn, AT @ Transmitter Festival
10/02, Lausanne, CH @Le Romandie
10/04, Barcelona, ES @ Be Cool
10/05, Madrid, ES @ Ritmo & Compas
10/06, Porto, PT @ Hard Club
10/07, San Sebastian, ES @ Mogambo
10/09, Paris, FR @ Les Combustibles
10/10, London, UK @ Purple Turtle
10/11, Leeds, UK @ The Well
10/12, Edinburgh, SCO @ Bannermans
10/13, Manchester, UK @ Star & Garter
10/14, Bristol, UK @ The Croft
10/15, Hasselt, BE @ Muziekodroom