Despite the visibility a certain strain of doom has received in the last decade – owing largely to the high profile of Southern Lord releases, and a few very prominent bands in particular (no knock on them) – the sub-genre is still a fairly misunderstood one. Many folks will associate it with either the druggy riff-obsession of the Cathedral/Orange Goblin/Electric Wizard tradition or the heavy drones of the Earth/Esoteric/Sunn 0))) tradition. Not only is it simplifying to classify bands in those ways, even if we acknowledge the accuracy of those placeholders, there’s a shit-ton of doom left hanging that confounds these impressions. And this is where Oregon’s YOB has always lived, as the trio has carved out its own heavily melancholic, melodic, and emotionally heavy music over the course of four full-lengths (and one by Middian, singer/guitarist Mike Scheidt’s brief sojourn away from YOB).
While the band has always had a fanatical following, until recently they’ve been sadly overlooked. This makes little sense, given an undeniably broad appetite for heaviness and trance-inducing music in the last decade. But then again, every listener has a shortlist of bands they deem more worthy of greater acclaim, and since moving to Profound Lore with 2009’s The Great Cessation, YOB has started a push toward the front rank that fifth album Atma should only continue.
With the first passages of “Prepare the Ground,” we’re reminded that YOB’s universe is defined by a certain kind of harmonic motion as much as by the power of the riff. Mike S’s particular melancholies – heard in his phaser-heaving guitar tone, his nasal keening cum bellow, and the tug of the chord progressions he favors – are immediately recognizable. And, at the usually glacial pace (nowhere more than on the lengthy epics that he includes on each album, here with the closing “Adrift in the Ocean”), it’s very hard to resist falling into this world. And indeed, the opener has the same kind of downward pull and angst heard on The Great Cessation. But lest you think it’s just another YOB album (no bad thing), the title track is a positively slashing, mid-tempo fury of repetition and punctuations. This level of aggression and rhythmic urgency is new for the band, and is pretty great live, too.
With “Before We Dreamed of Two” the band heads in the opposite direction, into territory that’s very spare even for this group. After an opening dirge riff, the piece dives into a section for clean guitar, the sound of waves, and a killer guest vocal from Neurosis’ Scott Kelly (who also croaks a couple passages on the closing tune). It’s a fitting preface to the catharsis of “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore,” with a nice contrast between the melodic filigree of the guitar and the misanthropic vocals. Hard to deny, though, that the most powerful piece is the closing “Adrift on the Ocean,” with a spacey reflectiveness that treads heavily in Scheidt’s recurring concerns. As a vocalist he’s long been preoccupied with vaguely Buddhist themes like the annihilation of the self and the sink into nothingness, notions that fit YOB’s musical obsessions in space, weight and the refrain. With Atma, the trio has perfected its blend of dynamics, space and texture, all of which serve to make one of the heaviest bands around more than merely heavy in any conventional sense.