YOB, Oregon’s modern purveyors of epic, cathartic doom, have crafted a unique and powerful body of work across a long career, solidifying their status as one of the genre’s great artistic forces. Long form doom songs with gradual builds and subtle shifts is generally not my cup of tea when seeking my doom fix, but there’s something profoundly special and intriguing about YOB’s crushingly intense yet beautiful music. It almost seems mastermind Mike Scheidt (Vhöl) and co are intrinsically plugged into the purest spiritual essence of doom, deeply connecting the listener with the band’s art. The eighth album, Our Raw Heart, follow-up to 2014’s exceptional Clearing the Path to Ascend, drops with extra significance. The deeply personal and emotionally resonant charge that fuels YOB’s music took on an even more harrowing and raw context than usual due to Scheidt’s grim battle to overcome a serious intestinal disease that threatened to take his life. Thankfully he was able to overcome the hardship and channel his raw experiences and heartfelt reflections into YOB’s latest doom journey.
Our Raw Heart pulls together an immense, patience-testing 73 minutes of dense and meaty doom, decorated with gorgeous moments of serenity, psychedelic touches, unsettling atmospheres, and crushing heaviness. The whole intense affair is held together by carefully arranged and orchestrated compositions, stellar musicianship, and Scheidt’s wildly unique and emotive vocals. Scheidt’s voice exudes energy and a myriad of conflicting emotions, executed through his wide range of howls, shrieks, growls, and croons. The dude’s voice may be an acquired taste, but it’s unlike anything else out there and is chock full of passion and feeling. Whether he’s exorcising his demons with YOB, rocking out with Vhöl, or exploring mellow folk desires on his underrated 2012 solo album, Stay Awake, Scheidt is a unique talent and again delivers a superb performance throughout Our Raw Heart.
Our Raw Heart lumbers at its own relaxed pace across colossal compositions, as YOB often take a more slow-burning and languid approach to their destinations, scaling back the mightier riffage and heaving grooves that have long been their trademark. Not suggesting the band has come close to mellowing out entirely, as the massive, Sabbathian, by way of sludge and LSD coated riffs, loom large on the energetically heavy bluster and old school YOB feel of “Original Face,” and menacing, grinding riffs of “The Screen.” Despite my minor qualms regarding length and editing issues, funnily enough, Our Raw Heart’s longest song is the album’s spectacular highlight. The towering 16-minute epic “Beauty in Falling Leaves” is an often mellow, progressive and always interesting journey, pulling the heartstrings through Scheidt’s emotive, varied delivery, while the wonderful dynamic shifts and intensely affecting melodies paint the darkly shaded melancholic canvas with brighter strokes of hope and optimism. It’s a surefire Song o’ the Year contender. The closing title track sounds connected spiritually and is a more melodically bright and perfectly respectable sequel.
YOB’s music has never been for the impatient listener. As the band has aged, they have shifted towards more reflective and introspective territory, mixing mellower elements into their all-encompassing doom stew. Our Raw Heart is no exception. There’re no bones about it, Our Raw Heart is at times an exhausting listen and lulls a bit around its mid-section. The droning, glacially paced “In Reverie,” intermittently grips but hasn’t quite got enough legs to justify its nearly 10-minute duration. Shorter follow-up track “Lungs Reach” spends most of its time drenched in minimalist atmosphere and ambient drone. The back-to-back positioning of the songs slightly detrimental to the album’s organic flow. But it’s a relatively minor setback in the grand scheme of things. The surrounding material is uniformly strong, richly textured, and often excellent, with the shared chemistry between the long-standing trio always evident.
The riffy, transcendent glory of 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived remains a personal favorite amidst YOB’s impressive repertoire. Yet Our Raw Heart is perhaps the band’s most harrowing and triumphant musical chapter so far, maintaining their impeccable consistency and high-quality standards. It’s by no means a perfect album, lumbering forth warts and all through challenging terrain, featuring weighty themes and its share of self-editing issues. But YOB continue to fucking rule and mature gracefully in the midst of personal pain, setbacks, and uncertainty. Our Raw Heart remains a must listen for YOB fans old and new and should appeal to anyone seeking a truly powerful, hypnotic and heartfelt doom experience that tears at nerves, looks deeply inward, and rattles emotions.