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Debut: YOB – “Aeons” (remaster)

Watching TV series used to be an incremental activity by definition. Shows would air every week, and you either sat down and watched them when they aired, or you didn’t watch them at all. Now that Netflix and whole-series DVD box sets are commonplace, a lot of people prefer to wait for TV shows to end their run before they watch. It’s easier to make sense of a piece of narrative art, and to know what you’re getting into, when it has come to a conclusion and its audience has passed judgment on it. (Fans of the Song of Ice and Fire novels, who have been waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish the series for 22 years, surely know the pain of waiting for a conclusion that lies somewhere in the indefinite future.)

The same is often true for music. It’s easier to figure out what to make of an album when it’s been out for a while, and it’s easier to evaluate a band when they’ve got a finished track record. Hindsight brings clarity.

YOB are still an active band, fortunately, but their track record is clear. If they broke up tomorrow, they’d be remembered as one of the best doom bands of the new millennium. Of their six albums, four are essential: The Illusion of Motion, The Unreal Never Lived, The Great Cessation, and Catharsis. Frontman Mike Scheidt, who is among the most gifted musicians in the metal world, is currently preoccupied with side projects (Vhol and Lumbar). The band has taken advantage of this break in the album-release cycle to repackage, remaster, and reissue the out-of-print Catharsis for its tenth anniversary. Tad Doyle’s remastering job sounds great, and it gives us an opportunity to reflect on what makes this album, and this band, so good.

Catharsis was YOB’s breakout moment, to the extent that non-commercial metal bands have such moments. It established the pacing that they would apply so successfully over the ensuing three albums. While their debut Elaborations of Carbon clocked in at 70 minutes and six tunes, Catharsis reaches 50 minutes with just three songs. This formula — sprawling compositions on comparatively concise albums — amplifies the impact of the material. Brevity is the soul of wit, even if your average song is roughly 17 minutes long.

YOB’s Catharsis-era rhythm section, which featured Isamu Sato on bass along with drummer Gabe Morley, was as good at slow-motion Sabbath swing as any. That swing served as a solid platform for Scheidt, who really began making his case for best-metal-frontman here. Doom is a conservative genre by nature, but Scheidt has a remarkable gift for honoring its past while pushing it forwards; he strings together traditional ideas with dissonant modulations and distorted growls. You can hear the tension between the two on Catharsis‘s 18-minute opener “Aeons”. About halfway through the song, YOB drops into a restrained, almost genial blues section. The riff feels a little weird at first, surrounded as it is by psychic carnage, but YOB carry it off effortlessly — that kind of riff is in their blood, no matter how rarely they deploy it.

Another kind of tension exists in Scheidt’s lyrics. Scheidt has a distinctly hippie-ish vibe, but it is clear from his lyrics that his disposition is not entirely peaceable:

“There’s no peace / Why can’t I leave it all behind / The other shore / Why can’t I reach it tonight / It’s all so useless, hopeless demons that curse and deny / And I know there’s more truth to this life / There’s more than this.”

Doom is often the music of despair, and despair plays a role in YOB’s work. But so too does hope. Contentment and surrender are easy; ambition and perseverance are hard. YOB fought the good fight on Catharsis. I hope they never stop.

The Catharsis reissue will come out on November 12 on Profound Lore.

— Doug Moore

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