Metal remained brutal and technically rigorous in 2011, but there was a significant change in how it was perceived. This shift had a lot to do with traditionally tame music websites like NPR writing about and streaming more metal albums. No longer a genre in which Satanic, axe-wielding deviants were banished, 2011 saw metal slowly starting to be appreciated for the extremely diverse, intelligent and compositionally complex music it has always been. Bands like Yob, a Portland, Ore., trio that opens for Tool this Sunday at Susquehanna Bank Center, contributed to metal’s sea change.
Their 2011 Profound Lore release, Atma, debuted on NPR Music in April 2011, and placed on year-end lists compiled by Spin and The New York Times. Similar to bands like Sleep, Bongripper and Dark Castle, a Florida duo that opened for them at Kung Fu Necktie last year, Yob’s music tends to fall within the stoner/doom metal tradition. Drenched in molasses, the grimy riffs hypnotically evolve, expand and destroy.
Soaring above the ferocious sludge aren’t odes to the Dark Lord, or predictions about the inevitable Zombie Holocaust, but guitarist-vocalist Mike Scheidt’s spiritual and philosophical lyrics. Due to its penchant for punishing sounds, metal lyrics are oft overlooked, and outsiders frequently fall back on the popular misconception that the words must be as hell-bound as the music. Yob murks this notion.
“It’s a break in conceptualized thinking,” Scheidt says about the Buddhist concept that inspired the title of Yob’s 2009 LP, The Great Cessation. “It’s about letting go of how our minds arrange thoughts, thus allowing us the freedom to float around and not be defined by all the stuff we’ve been taught. It’s about abandoning patterns of thinking that have historically led to pain.”
Similarly, Atma borrows its name from an Eastern religious concept. “Atma’s the totality of everything known and unknown, all the things that exist regardless of our concepts of them,” says Scheidt. “Despite the instruments and methods we use to attempt to perceive this thing, it defies our understanding—it’s much too complex.”
He refers to The Great Cessation and Atma as “two sides of the same coin.” While the latter expresses the ungraspable totality of things, the former shows that, despite our inability to know it all, humans can still create ways of living in the world such that pain and suffering are decreased.
“At its core, I think Buddhism is very much meant to destroy concepts rather than dogmatize them,” says Scheidt, who doesn’t consider himself a Buddhist. “I can get behind that, but I gravitate away from organized ways of thinking.”
“People tend to pay attention to the extremes,” Scheidt says about metal’s bad reputation. “There’s certainly a lot of nihilism and brutality in metal music, but it’s an incredibly diverse artform. More people are finally realizing that.”
Speaking of diversity, keep an eye out for Scheidt’s solo acoustic album, Stay Awake, which drops later this year on Thrill Jockey.
Yob perform Sun., Jan. 29, 8pm. With Tool + Intronaut. Susquehanna Bank Center, 1 Habor Blvd., Camden, N.J. 856.365.1300. livenation.com
PW's Music Issue 2014