Monday, February 23, 2015

...exposing the heart: YOB - 'Clearing the Path to Ascend'

I have to admit, my initial impressions of Yob’s seventh full-length, Clearing the Path to Ascend, were wrought with both disappointment and a degree of nostalgia for the trippy, cosmic atmospherics that seemed to define the band’s first four albums. Since Yob’s reincarnation following the demise of Middian—Mike Scheidt’s angrier, more aggressive creative outlet after Yob was initially laid to rest—the band has been on a tear beginning with the peerless masterpiece The Great Cessation, a bleak and dissonant sonic assault that was almost completely devoid of themes of hope, transcendence, or redemption. It didn’t take long for my knee-jerk reaction to quickly dissipate as Clearing the Path to Ascend has an expansive, unsurpassed depth that is revealed to the listener in layers. The album is tonally characterized by a seemingly insatiable wrath, save the atmospheric lulls found on “Unmask the Spectre” and the duration of the sublime closing track, “Marrow”—an element that was in decline on both The Great Cessation and its follow-up, Atma.

The opening track, “In Our Blood,” opens with a brief sound bite that simply states, “Time to wake up.” Yob have always had a spiritual or mystical bent that would suggest higher planes of existence, a tangible yet elusive arcane knowledge or sacredness, and transcendence through sheer will. Given the context of the opening sound bite, it is difficult to ascertain whether it is a call aimed at a spiritual, transcendent awakening, or the unveiling of ignorance to truly see the world at its most base and corrupt. Perhaps the two ideas are not even mutually exclusive. The track is aberrantly heavy, even by Yob’s standards, and finds Scheidt howling at his most tortured and damaged.

Yob have become synonymous with heavy, psychedelic doom, but have, since their inception, transcended conventional expectations. It is no accident that the band have become forerunners in a scene that seems to be experiencing a sort of renaissance over the past several years. Three-quarters of Clearing the Path to Ascend is defined by an anger that is as much a reaction to suffering as it is helplessness. It isn’t until the epic closing track, “Marrow,” that the darkened skies start to clear, the clouds begin to scatter, and a glimmer of hope, or, at the very least, a brief moment of reprieve is experienced. “Marrow” is, for much of it eighteen-minute duration, a relatively delicate tune that is equal parts beauty and melancholia.

Despite my initial reaction, Yob’s Clearing the Path to Ascend has quickly become a favorite and rightly deserves its place as one of the year’s finest releases. The band is still covering new ground and have, if anything, become both more vital and heavier over time—a feat few bands can match. And while I may have initially mourned the transcendent qualities that permeated much of Yob’s earlier releases, they are still present, but lurking further beneath the surface. With tracks like “Unmask the Spectre,” “In Our Blood,” and “Marrow,” there is still the suggestion that much of what we know and experience is illusory or fleeting, and while this is both frustrating and, at times, discouraging, the truth can be discerned by looking inward—a reassuring sentiment for anyone facing adversity.

(Originally published at Heathen Harvest Periodical, edited by Sage Weatherford)



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