YOB, "Atma"

Sunday, 28 August 2011 20:44 Stephen Bush Reviews - Albums and Singles
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cover imageRainfall, thunder, crickets, and the toll of a distant church-bell introduce the title track of YOB's sixth album. It sounds nearly identical to when Black Sabbath used the same handful of effects to open their debut 40 years ago. If a lesser band was doing this, I'd cry foul—but this is one of the year's most accomplished metal albums.

Profound Lore

Atma - YOB

After four solid albums, culminating in 2005's monumental The Unreal Never Lived, doom metal torch-bearers YOB called it a day. Fast-forward a couple years, and YOB reunited for a few live shows and an excellent "comeback" album, The Great Cessation, also released on Profound Lore. Atma, the band's second full-length since their reunion, is altogether more varied and vibrant—all the way down to its colorful cover painting, a stark contrast to the tar-black artwork of The Great Cessation. Also, compared to their last effort, there is a gritty, distorted tone to Mike Scheidt's guitar that cuts sharply through the production like a warm knife into butter.

Following in the wake of doom heavyweights like Saint Vitus, Cathedral and Electric Wizard, YOB are the decade's best candidate to carry the torch of Sleep. Atma follows in the tradition of such indisputable classics as Jerusalem and Holy Mountain, with higher aspirations than grinding out heavy-as-concrete riffs all day. Instead, there is an intense focus on mantra-like repetition and spirituality that aids the seeking of higher planes of consciousness—even for folks like me, who don't partake in any type of "sweet leaf" unless to brew a fragrant cup of green tea. Most of Scheidt's lyrics are unintelligible, but I managed to catch a few lines early on: "One hundred thousand / repetitions / recite the mantra / flowers unfold." (I'm guessing that's a representative sample, unless proven otherwise.)

The 16-minute centerpiece, "Before We Dreamed of Two," is a highlight, beginning with Scheidt's guitar wailing over the steady, forceful rhythm section. Shortly thereafter, Scheidt falls into lockstep playing with the others, firing off his words in rhythmic, meditative fashion, like a possessed shaman. Minutes pass, the tempo slows to a crawl, and the rhythm section drops out, leaving a low rumbling sound and the gentle ebb of waves, alongside Aaron Reiseberg's rubbery bass lines and Scheidt's ruminations on self—until the band comes crashing back for the finale. Perhaps this is what Om would sound like if Al Cisneros popped a Vicodin or two after an intense yoga session, cranked the low-end distortion up to 11, and let completely loose with his latest band.

By the time the final song, "Adrift in the Ocean," comes around, YOB have built up a sky-high framework of tension through repetition. The song starts to move through interweaving bass and guitar lines—sinewy and complex, sounding like an instrumental outtake from Tool's Lateralus. (I liked Lateralus.) Once the doom strikes in full force, Scott Kelly of Neurosis makes his second guest appearance on the album, trading spiritually prescient lines with Scheidt: "To the universe / we send a reflection." Meanwhile, the rhythm section encircles the monster riff at the song's center like a pack of bloodthirsty wolves. By the time Scheidt strikes with a searing solo at the song's end, I cannot help but declare that Atma is YOB's strongest work to date.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 30 October 2011 11:52