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Live Report: Yob & Bell Witch

YOB Our Raw Heart

The aesthetics of death are well-worn territory in heavy metal. Few other genres, except maybe the most extreme varieties of rap or noise, have detailed the destruction of the human body as comprehensively. This is all well and good, but lately I’ve been more interested in the aesthetics of survival and endurance. What happens when life throws the book at you but doesn’t finish you off? Yob‘s newest album Our Raw Heart is the most recent addition to a modern canon of metal albums that have looked death in the face without blinking, joining Baroness’s Purple and Pain of Salvation’s In the Passing Light of Day.

When I wrote about Yob’s set at Northwest Terror Fest in 2017, it was impossible to shake the specter of vocalist Mike Scheidt’s close call with death. I expected Yob’s performance at New York City’s Le Poisson Rouge last Thursday to be an even more haunted affair, given that the band was promoting an album that explicitly deals with Scheidt’s survival. Adding to the dour expectations was supporting act Bell Witch who set the stage for Yob by playing their latest album Mirror Reaper which was recorded following the death of drummer Adrian Guerra. I mean, Christ, can you imagine the conversations backstage on this run?

Bell Witch, for their part, matched these expectations in tone, but not in quality. It might simply been a result of playing to a sold-out, soused-up New York City crowd, but Bell Witch’s meditative pace did not translate well into live format. After the initial thrill of seeing a band use only a six-string bass and a drumset to summon the full dynamic range of heavy metal wore off, Bell Witch were unable to hold the room’s attention spans. This is a shame, because Mirror Reaper is a terrific recorded experience — but simply replicating it in person was not enough to capture the spirit of the material. Perhaps a better use of their live projections, which featured a generic assortment of sepia-tone oddities, would have helped set the mood.

Yob, on the other hand, didn’t need any multimedia assistance. Garnering cheers from the minute they hit the stage, the trio immediately shut down any distractions. Instead of the somber and reflective performance that I had anticipated, Yob showed their resilience by going about their business. Nothing can slow down this band except their own slow pace. In addition to three standouts from Our Raw Heart, the psychedelic title track and the opening pair of “Ablaze” and “The Screen,” Yob drew from their deep back catalog to stun the crowd into submission. They finished off with a rousing performance of “Quantum Mystic,” a song that demonstrates their unique talent for writing that contains both doom metal’s shuffling origins and its more recent cosmic ambitions.

The set was Yob doing Yob, which is in itself a blessing. The idea that such a powerful and singular band could have been snatched away from us is one that I dare not consider, and their continued existence is a display of grit and a triumph for the heavy metal world as a whole.

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