Heavy is a word banded around a hell of a lot when it comes to describing heavy metal, and within its subtext, particularly anything falling under the banner of doom. With everything about the genre arguably influenced by trailblazers in heavy such as Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath, its easy to fall into superlatives about such bands being ‘crushing’, ‘massive’, ‘destroying’ etc. as though it’s a given, and will have the most frenzied fan or critic reaching for the thesaurus. The truth is, most bands aren’t deserving of the tag when compared with Eugene, Oregon’s YOB.
That said, YOB are more than just any old doom band, and while they’re no strangers to the dirge, their music are packed with a range of influences and spellbinding magic, designed for that elevatory aspect of their sonic brew. Having used Sanford Parker to produce previous album ‘The Great Cessation’, vocalist/guitarist Mike Scheidt opted to produce ‘Atma’ himself and the result is something sounding dirtier in tone, and it compliments YOB’s sound fantastically.Any seasoned Yob fan will no doubt be prepared for the huge song lengths, but newcomers shouldn’t be worried about endurance here – at 55 minutes long, its perfectly digestible and the quality of this album is such that it doesn’t truly feel like a marathon, even during ‘Before We Dreamed of Two’s colossal moment, which we’ll get to later. ‘Atma’ has only five tracks, but when you consider the shortest track clocks in at eight minutes, fifty nine seconds, that you’re in for a lengthy journey. At the same time, it never drags, despite YOB’s ability to drag out a build-up like a volcano on the verge of erupting.
This is evident from the get-go, as it takes over two and a half minutes for ‘Prepare the Ground’ to finally lower the boom. And when it does, damn, does it lower the boom. Turn up the volume and bang your head in appreciation for the riff here, ‘cos its quality. The title-track follows next, bells tolling not unlike those from Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’. Any such similarities end as soon as the bell rings out a final time into a triple-chug groove that lumbers and bellows compared to the melodicism of the opening track, leading into a slightly off-kilter section behind which a sampled speech explaining what atma is – that is, basically, the self in the truest form, if you’re intrigued.
Eventually, we reach the 16-minute ‘Before We Dreamed of Two’, gargantuan in size and diverse in its style. The first few minutes provide some Eastern-tinged wizardry from Scheidt on guitar over a tasty Aaron Reiseberg bass line, while Scott Kelly of Neurosis turns up to provide guest vocals. This is pretty much dreamland right here, pummelling riffage at first, building to a heavier-than-thou slowdown before Kelly’s vocals slow wash in over the quiet hum that follows. A few minutes of this, and it heavies back up, as Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster re-enter the fray. The outro is literally to die for, as Scheidt provides the layers for Kelly to finally close the track. The refrain ‘distant silver shore/bring my body’ is the cherry on the cake here. It’s delicious and moist and you’ll be coming back for more.
With little time for respite, ‘Upon Sight of the Other Shore’ brings the album back out to more structured fare, i.e. a chugging, hammering riff that pounds away at the senses in much the same way ‘Prepare The Ground’ did. It’s another great track although the effect of the preceding song is such that in some ways this track is a disappointment – not that it’s not any good, ‘cos it actually excels in what is very well – but it can’t possible match up in scale. It’s sandwiched right between ‘Before We Dream of Two’ and the album’s closer, another fifteen minute plus epic, ‘Adrift in the Ocean’.
‘Upon Sight of the Other Shore’ does set up for the closer well, as it finishes with a crescendo of Scheidt growls and crashing cymbals. It fades out gradually before ‘Adrift In The Ocean’ starts, literally crawling into its eventual stride with some psychedelic guitar at first, eventually leading to another crushing instrumental section. It continues to build and build in weight – Scott Kelly makes a second, more subtle appearance over some tom beats from Foster – and finally, around the seven minute mark, Scheidt’s vocals come in. YOB stretch out into another riff and scintillating lead, before plunging deep into the album’s final doom riff.. It’s a lengthy approach but one that pays dividends yet again and you might even find yourself air riffing to that closing riff. Hell, it deserves a metal claw at the very least. The very, very least.
YOB’s discography screams quality throughout but this could very well be the best album of their career. The interplay between Scheidt on guitar, bassist Reiseberg and drummer Foster is pitch perfect – they know exactly how to draw out a riff, insert the pressure, increasing its mass, before bringing down the hammer. It’s a time-tested process and time and again, they seem to do it better than anyone else. Put simply, ‘Atma’ is, for the most part, awesome, and for the remainder, simply breathtaking.
Please note the sheer length of this review goes for the fact I had a lot of positive things to say about this particular album. Critics far and wide are set to hail this as their album of the year and while I won’t ever offer such guarantees, due to the large palette of bands and styles I take in, YOB have created one of the best, the heaviest and the most damn interesting albums of the year in ‘Atma’, and I implore to you that it makes for essential listening. Prepare the ground.