Clearing the Path to Ascend

Through tremendous work ethics, perseverance and a non-stop willingness to break down and twist the conventions of the doom genre, Eugene, Oregon’s YOB are deservedly regarded as one of the most innovative and revered bands in the modern doom landscape. The formidable trio, led by mastermind Mike Scheidt (vocals, guitar), disbanded following 2005’s excellent The Unreal Never Lived opus and many had feared the world had lost one of the true trailblazers of the doom genre. Thankfully the split proved to be only a temporary punctuation in the YOB’s career, as they returned with gusto in the shape of the dark and punishing, The Great Cessation, in 2009. Fast forward a couple of years and 2011’s Atma marked another fine addition to YOB’s career, although its stripped back production and more contemplative, experimental tendencies garnered mixed opinions from the band’s fanbase. Nevertheless it was yet another compelling journey that incorporated middle eastern-tinged elements into YOB’s psychedelic doom foundations.

Clearing the Path to Ascend has all the hallmarks of trademark YOB heaviness and songwriting flair, further illustrating the band’s desire to stretch out and expand their sound, even this far into their illustrious career. Consisting of four mammoth compositions across a run time that just breaks the hour barrier, Clearing the Path to Ascend is steeped in predictable YOB quality but also trumps its predecessor in nearly every aspect, resulting in an intensely emotional and dense listening experience that packs a powerful punch. Whatever Scheidt has been through in the three years since Atma dropped, his performance drips with raw heartfelt emotion, captured so brilliantly through his fiercely unique and versatile array of growls, shrieks and strange melodic croons. Scheidt’s expressive, bending guitar work is another highlight, whether he’s delving out huge waves of sound, dishing up weighty doom riffs or exploring a wider palette of moods and textures. Backed by the inventiveness of the muscular rhythm section of Travis Foster (drums) and Aaron Rieseberg (bass), Scheidt and co are at their typically accomplished and exploratory best.

The soft gentle chords of “In Our Blood” opens the album with deceptive restraint before those colossal, enveloping doom riffs and trademark YOB heft unfolds. It’s the kind of deeply moving, sluggish sprawl that traditionally closes out a YOB album, yet despite the ensuing endurance test, the expert songcraft on display results in a captivating song that’s a triumph from start to finish, further showcasing YOB’s masterful handle of subtlety and songwriting dynamics. Slow deliberate riffs leave crushing imprints as they rise and fall around Scheidt’s impassioned vocal performance before fading into a gentle atmospheric interlude featuring some spoken word samples. Eventually the song explodes again into a mammoth soul crushing riff that’s a powerful and satisfying climax.

Wisely the band follows-up this monstrous opener with the livelier pacing and hooky swagger of “Nothing to Win”. Both these songs represent prime examples of the different facets of YOB’s trademark sound, resonating deeply and setting the scene for the two boundary busting closers. “Unmask the Spectre” and “Marrow” both clock in over 15 minutes and explore exciting dimensions in YOB’s songwriting repertoire. The 18:49 minute “Marrow” is a particular marvel. YOB sound equal parts commanding and fragile throughout the mesmerizing track; expertly weaving haunting melancholic doom and heart-wrenching melody into a delicate shape shifting composition, underpinned by prog-like movements and spacey atmospherics. Once more, “Marrow” features some of the most emotionally affecting and addictive vocal melodies of Scheidt’s career, while the sheer length of the song never becomes a burden.

Following the divisive sonic change-ups on Atma, YOB has returned to a production style more in tune with the rest of their catalog. The extra dose of dirt and grit gave Atma a unique sound in comparison to the rest of the band’s albums, but I must admit it’s nice to hear YOB sonically returning to the heft and power of their roots, albeit in slightly muddier form.

Clearing the Path to Ascend is a deeply emotional, brilliantly conceived amalgam of beauty and heft, with YOB clearly refusing to rest on their laurels with their well-established formula. The innovative songwriting twists on the second half of the album in particular finds the band evolving into exciting new pastures, yielding fruitful dividends. It may not quite surpass career defining albums such as Catharsis or The Unreal Never Lived, but Clearing the Path to Ascend marks another brave and compelling new chapter in YOB’s already brilliant career.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
September 11th, 2014


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