The long-running Oregon doom metal trio opens its third act with a sensuous, aggressive, and jubilant album inspired by singer-guitarist Mike Scheidt’s recent brush with death.
Mike Scheidt, the vocalist and guitar player for Oregon doom metal trio YOB, was hospitalized with diverticulitis early last year. In a recent Decibel cover story, he made the ailment sound pretty metal, likening it to a Chestburster wallowing inside him. But the experience—which nearly killed him—left Scheidt so changed that he wasn’t sure, at first, if the band would continue.
YOB’s eighth record, Our Raw Heart, was born out of Scheidt’s health scare—and, given the circumstances, the fact that it even sounds like a YOB record is a triumph. While 2011’s Atma was all aggression and 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend delved into their psychedelic side, Heart unites those two sounds in service of a new theme. The band has spun joy out of its frontman’s gnarliest experience, making metal that sounds sensuous, bellicose, and jubilant at once.
Despite everything Scheidt has been through, YOB never come off as angry on Heart; the rage in these songs is actually an affirmation of life and emotion. “The Screen” takes the mystic pummel of death-doom act Cathedral’s Forest of Equilibrium—one of Scheidt’s biggest influences—and translates that downward crush into something more uplifting. YOB are still adept at playing slowly to bend time: Scheidt’s guitar chug fragments into an arsenal of time bombs, each one cycling from countdown to detonation. “In Reverie” constantly builds momentum and knocks it down again, but this isn’t an abusive back-and-forth so much as the sonic version of proper pit etiquette. Intimidating as it can sound, YOB’s music is some of the most inviting in contemporary metal. Scheidt can make the most grinding riff feel soothing, like a vision quest that comforts and imbues purpose even as it tests the listener.
Clocking in at over 16 minutes, “Beauty in Falling Leaves” is Heart’s centerpiece, melding all the heft and tenderness that define YOB into one sermon. The track places Scheidt on a path of elevation and love, spilling ferocious goodwill with flangers and Sabbath on max. It makes sense that the album is called Our Raw Heart: The band is bringing the audience into their world, laying its soul bare, and refusing to let metal purity get in the way of total communion. Recounting his experience with diverticulitis, Scheidt described himself as both “a sensitive, effeminate man” and “an old-world macho moron, especially when it comes to outwardly showing physical pain.” Self-deprecation aside, that’s an apt description of this song: YOB wield unbridled metal muscle and disarming openness as if they were an obvious combination.
Bliss overflows into the following track, “Original Face,” a doom song spiked with crossover verve. This fusion isn’t unusual for Scheidt, who started out in punk bands and has revisited those roots singing in the punk-influenced metal supergroup VHÖL, yet those styles have never sounded so integrated before. Situated between “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and the title track, which closes out the album on a serene, psychedelic journey to nowhere, “Original Face” doesn’t feel abrupt amid their epic slowness. Metal is endlessly segmented, but YOB understand it as an ever-mutating, cross-pollinating form. With Scheidt back on his feet, they’re free to go wherever.
Scheidt had to reconsider his approach to vocals following his diverticulitis surgery: “I couldn’t bear down on my diaphragm too hard or else I could herniate my incisions, so I started sending air to these different places in my body,” he told Decibel. Like the music of Heart, his voice is familiar, yet fundamentally changed. The Super-Ozzy wail that carried him through Atma is still intact on “Ablaze,” but his vocal is noticeably quieter and rawer on “Beauty in Falling Leaves.” This is not the sound of a man weakened—it’s the sound of a man who wrestled with his mortality and now feels more alive than ever.
This is not the first time upheaval has led to renewal for YOB; Heart is, in fact, the beginning of their third act. Scheidt dissolved the band in 2006, then reformed it following the collapse of another band, Middian, due to legal issues two years later. That period yielded some of YOB’s best work, starting with 2009’s The Great Cessation and continuing with Atma and Ascend. At the darkest point of this latest cataclysm, Scheidt did not almost die for metal; he’d surely reject a narrative that cartoonishly macho. Instead, metal helped him preserve and, later, process life. Our Raw Heart is about how much more he has to give—to YOB, to the world, and to himself.
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