There’s so much going for YOB’s latest full-length, “Atma,” that it really feels a disservice to simply subjugate it as just another Stoner/Doom Metal album. For as grimy and blue and downtrodden as much of the album sounds, there’s a sentience to the music that tears away from Eugene, Oregon’s innate beauty, dragging itself in all ghastly directions before finally taking wind and lifting high above the requisites of standard, knuckle-dragging Metal. It’s theme of awakening is spot-on, and for many, it may be too much, but for those eager for an unlikely and occasionally uncomfortable trip, “Atma” does not steer wrongly.
Clocking in at just under an hour in duration, the five songs that comprise “Atma” do so in a clenched fist; a quintet of strained digits coiled for the sheer purpose of causing a great and immobilizing impact. YOB never burden the listener with flying shards of wild riffing; there’s a steady and occasionally sloth-like progression to the songs that can amaze and inspire as easily as they can drain and fatigue.
The first two songs, “Prepare the Ground” and “Atma,” dole up the most turbulent of the album’s tracks, though I hesitate to say they ever advance beyond a foot-stomping jog. “Prepare the Ground” gets things rolling with its pounding bass and drums and a swirling guitar that speaks in tongues before going all-out sinister with Mike Scheidt’s imploring vocals. Although a bit of a stretch, the whimsicality of Larry LaLonde can be faintly heard in Scheidt’s expressive guitar playing.
“Atma” is the album’s juggernaut; nine minutes of dirty, chugging impetus catapulted by rumbling guitar riffs and the soul-searing screeches and abysmal growls of Scheidt, a man whose cries of “to the dawn” come across as insane and wholly awesome and frantic. This reviewer could find no fault in another claiming “Atma” as one of the best Metal songs of the year.
The other (and final) three songs of the album slow the pace considerably, in particular the most debilitating and gargantuan track, the 16-minute “Before We Dreamed of Two.” An omnipresence from start to finish, Aaron Reiseberg’s bass grooves along like a logging river, incomparably heavy and fluid, his weight is felt at all times, yet no more than when YOB opt to churn through the tar pits. Midway through “Before,” the sound fades into patient strums and over a tide that’s no closer to being high or low. The decision to wait it out and let things refill works scarily until it all billows back to the forefront with another set of huge crashes and Scheidt’s mournfully distressed lyrics, a prolonged segment of whirring feedback and stunning immensity.
The advent of “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore” brings about yet another of Scheidt’s excellent vocal creations. Unafraid to vary pitch or emotion, Scheidt delivers one of the more well-rounded Metal performances in recent memory; tackling highs and lows with equal angst and skill. The song itself, the shortest on the album, is no doubt very similar to its much longer predecessor, and for this reason alone, it may become lost amid the shuffle, especially with the awesome “Adrift in the Ocean” still to come, but it remains an unapologetically furious Doom excavation that continues to set the album’s static tone.
The aforementioned closer, “Adrift,” may be the most quintessential YOB track on an already killer album. Replete with a furious Doom vibe and Stoner wanderings, the band’s final existential call to the sea is highlighted by a beautiful, lost-in-time intro, the surreal drumming of Travis Foster, and an array of psychedelic sound structures that give the track a wide and otherworldly aura. As it does throughout, Scheidt’s thinking-man guitar work affably measures up to the creativity of Adam Jones, and the sheer scope of the entire album is very reminiscent to TOOL in part to its deliberate pace, grand scope, and inescapable desperation.
When all is said and done, there is little about “Atma” that won’t completely captivate fans of Doom and Stoner Metal. Arguably progressive, a certain degree of tolerance and endurance may be needed to fully appreciate what YOB have achieved, but for any and all interested in listening to music that’ll make you concurrently head-bang and daydream, this is sure to be one of the best and most comprehensive Metal albums of the year.
Me(n)tal Note: NEUROSIS' Scott Kelly has guest vocals on "Before We Dreamed of Two" and "Adrift in the Ocean."
(Online October 21, 2011)