Catharsis is often a companion to the creative process. In many cases it's emotional, societal, or historical upheaval that results in a heightened sense of awareness and even revelation. Occasionally, it's a brush with mortality that becomes the impetus to create in order to communicate the experience. Yob's monolithic eighth album is a case of the latter. The Oregon doom trio's guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Mike Scheidt suffered from intestinal issues for years before an extremely painful episode of acute diverticulitis caused him to collapse in a supermarket in early 2017, end up on an operating table for six hours, and narrowly escape death.
Our Raw Heart was written while he was recuperating in hospital; he had no idea if he would survive and wanted to get down as much as possible. These seven songs -- totaling some 73 minutes -- are some of the most trying and beautiful material to emerge from extreme music in some time. This is doom metal possessed of hope, but it's still write large with damaging guitar riffs, pummeling bass throb, and thundering drums that stretch the metal subgenre to the breaking point. Throughout, elements of sludge, stoner, and even neo-psychedelic post-metal are presented alongside crushing doom. But Scheidt -- whose vocals range from growls to anguished screams to something that approaches a croon -- does not work in a vacuum; his rhythm section (bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster) add not only force but nuance throughout. While there isn't a weak or even middling moment here, the set's longest track, "Beauty in Falling Leaves" (nearly 17 minutes) is the most startling moment here. Commencing as it does with an introspective, fingerpicked, speculative intro, it begins to shift with the entrance of the rhythm section a minute later. It winds and climbs, building and relaxing tension constantly as Scheidt's singing reflects the musical changes with lyrics about time's passage, mortality, shifting emotional states, and gratitude. Other traces of the Yob sound arrive in the thudding crunch and burn of "The Screen," that recalls vintage Neurosis if they were covering early Swans. "In Reverie" is a nearly ten-minute plod through the underbelly of Black Sabbath's slowly unwinding bass and cymbal attack with Scheidt's power chord riffs and primal howl up front. The relatively brief (seven minutes) "Original Face" delivers a wail of awareness in the face of physical and emotional adversity encountered in the bardo state between life, death, and being reborn; its guitars sound like a chorus of buzz saws as they duel for dominance with Scheidt's screaming. The 14-minute title-track closer opens with tenderly fingerpicked strings, but the rhythm section enters with power and majesty, prompting Scheidt to up the ante of sonic power. He sings (cleanly) about letting go, embracing acceptance, equanimity, and sacred reciprocity in the most poetic lyrics he's ever written. The epic length of Our Raw Heart requires patience. While it unfolds slowly, the reward is big. It's shot through with musical invention and a clarity that makes it the new high-water mark in this trio's oeuvre.