Yob: Our Raw Heart

I have a diagnosis of PTSD.

I don’t agree with the diagnosis, but I have had two highly skilled therapists confirm it.  The thing is, I’ve treated members of the armed services and first responders who had true, no kidding PTSD.  I feel that my diagnosis somehow belittles theirs, and for that reason and that reason only I’m not very public about the diagnosis. If anything, my trauma is a small ‘t’, not a large ‘T.’

The other thing I disagree with is the origin of the disorder.  My therapists believe, strongly, that it’s the result of the abusive marriage I was in.  I have to admit, no one “triggers” me as much is my ex-wife, and quite frankly she scares the shit out of me.  Regardless, I think the origin of my symptoms is the fact I used to use heavy amounts of methamphetamine, which was one gargantuan jolt to my nervous system after another.

All of that aside, one thing I can’t deny is the effectiveness of Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT.  CPT is a painful, but helpful, process in which a person makes use of specific journal and writing techniques to identify triggers, openly explore them, and ultimately learn to differentiate between what is actually happening now versus reliving past occurrences over and over.  For me it was a hard-core process, but after many weeks of many realized assignments, I came through it much better than I was before I began.

And that pretty much sums up every album by YOB.

It would be exhausting to try to list every metal band, within every sub-genre, that deals with pain, loss, and well… Doom.  For the most part, these human emotions are dealt with in a sensationalistic, gratuitous, and at times grotesque manner.  There is no shortage of misanthropy or nihilism in metal, and no lack of bands trying to make a quick buck with a cheap shock (which, if I’m honest, I kinda enjoy every now and then.  I mean, Uncle Acid and the Dead Beats are awesome, even if I need to take a shower after listening to them).

That’s the thing about YOB: this is no cheap thrill. YOB doesn’t shock for the sake of shocking, and never relies on cheap theatrics in the never-ending race to be more satanic, more disturbing, or more controversial. YOB is trying to communicate something, share spiritual experiences, and shine some light on the abysmal darkness that tends to lie in the human psyche. Again, there are other bands that do this.  OM, and even Elder, tend to explore some dark recesses. For that matter, Wino has made a career of doing this, from St. Vitus to Shrinebuilder and various (incredible) bands in-between. The difference is that most of these bands focus on the Wound and the cause of the Wound.

I find the same thing in recovery literature and film: most of the material focuses on the drug use, with maybe a smattering of recovery. Very little focuses on what happens after treatment, what things are like months or years into the recovery process. It’s a staggering gap in research literature as well. That’s just how it goes.

Overall, Our Raw Heart is an attempt to document how it goes. “Ablaze” opens the album with a definition of being human, “Shining in stars and stone, unknown by time, this ache of beyond, in stars and stone.” “Ablaze” is one heck of an opener, epic enough in scope to be the closer on any other album. It’s a great way to set the tone and has everything there is to love about YOB. Essentially: we are stardust. Deal with it.

I have yet to read or watch a review that loves “The Screen.”  What can be written about this song that can even come close to the experience of listening to it?  Nada. “The Screen” is literally the Wound. Unlike most references to the Wound, YOB presents it as a moment of transcendence, an opportunity to become. The Wound is the opportunity to give life meaning, but it ain’t pretty. Mike and company explicitly refer to it as an “Ancient gifted wound.” The arrangement is jarring, and a bit difficult to listen to. Regardless, without this song, the rest of the album might not make much sense. Thank-you God, may I have another…

Which brings us to “In Reverie/Lungs Reach.”  Now, YOB allude to the actual Wound.  In case you don’t know the story, Our Raw Heart was conceived after Mike Scheidt’s near-death experience with diverticulitis. His recovery from surgery is the genesis of the album, and according to ‘legend’, he began writing in his hospital bed.  In a sense, the rest of the album is allegory for what it’s like to face mortality and come out the other side. “No matter the suffering, you find yourself, the sun rises still.”  Or as Sabbath once put it “…the world will still be turning when you’re gone.”

In the 12-Step program of AA, steps 6 and 7 often get referred to as the “boom-boom” steps, as in just do them quickly and move on.  Not that the tandem of “Reverie/Lungs Reach” do anything quickly, but I suspect these will be the two songs skipped more than any other, both in reviews and in listening rooms.  I hope I’m wrong, because rarely has YOB showcased their near-genius more than on these two songs, and they highlight the reality that YOB is far more than a Mike Scheidt solo project.

Starting out with the ominous, subterranean bass of Aaron Rieseberg, what strikes me is the unrelenting discipline and focus of the entire band. “Reverie” is a plodding showcase of why Aaron is one of the best bassists in metal: period. Matching him, note-per-plodding note, is drummer Travis Foster. Travis is THE greatest drummer in all of Doom, in my opinion. The reason for that bold statement is all over the YOB albums, as well as the videos of the band available on Youtube. Playing this glacially slow, as reviewer Sarah Kitteringham puts it, is difficult to the point of being impossible. The pace of “Reverie” takes away any safety net, leaving the band exposed to falling apart.  It’s important to note that playing this slowly is not intuitive, but the result of thousands of hours of practice and rehearsal. It’s a skill that must me learned and honed, and these guys are the absolute masters of their craft. The point I’m making is this: don’t skip these songs, paying as much attention to Aaron and Travis as you to Mike’s vocals and guitar work.

Still, knowing that the next song, “Beauty in Falling Leaves” is next on deck, the desire to skip ahead is completely understandable.  The second half of the album moves away from the Wound and starts to address the painful realities of recovery.  By that, I mean any form of recovery, not just drugs. It’s one thing to get hurt and write about it, it’s another thing altogether to address the healing. Healing is almost never about ‘rainbows and unicorns. It’s usually raw and painful.   ‘Beauty’ explicitly describes a person, close to death, observing the simplest things in nature and experiencing a profound sense of existence. It’s a song of recovery, but not only Mike’s recovery.  He tends to take personal experiences and make universal observations, which I believe he’s done here.  Also, it should be obvious that as beautiful as they are, falling leaves are essentially the dead or dying plumage of a tree. They are a reminder of the cycle of life: and there is a certain beauty in death that one can appreciate from this perspective.  One other thing: this is also a love song, and the title may be a bit misleading. Mike is singing to someone while addressing all of us.  It’s a rather impressive technique, common to a lot of YOB’s lyrical content.

“Original Face” is how YOB rages against the dying of the light. Rather than succumbing to the beauty of falling leaves (death), YOB sees that beauty as a reason to fight against it with all their might. For me, it’s the angriest song on the record, and if YOB were pointing towards passive acceptance of the inevitable, it’s due to a misinterpretation of the intent. What’s interesting is the reference to Rigpa, the Buddhist concept of transcendence to the innermost nature of consciousness and universal truth. I can only guess that what YOB is saying is that tapping in to Rigpa through a near-death experience is an opportunity for true awareness and compassion. It might be Doom, but it’s not gloom.

Which brings is to the closing song, Our Raw Heart. I have to admit that the first 5 or 6 times listening to this album I felt oddly cold and disconnected from it.   After the frenetic opening of the album, and the emotional release of the second half, this song felt anti-climactic.  As I’d hoped, that reaction has changed completely, and even the opening chords are enough to bring a tear to my eye. Because this slow, melodic song is the perfect ending to the brutally transcendent material in the rest of the album. In fact, I think it’s the whole point of the journey. Mike is at his most personal, with the line “From holes in my gut, to love from miracles,” resonating in an intimate level with the listener. At the same time, he references Ayni, a concept from Inka culture referencing reciprocity and the obligation to give once you receive.  He could easily have referenced Karma, in keeping with his Buddhist tendencies. Instead, a deliberate choice is made to explore concepts in multiple cultures, which in my mind is a broader argument for universal truth within humanity. Not your typical “Doom Metal” reference, to be sure. Also, by expanding the spiritual context of their thoughts, YOB has somehow brought to my mind one of the pinnacle precepts of Christian thought:

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another.” John 13:34

Ayni indeed. YOB is love!

It is a stunning conclusion to an extraordinary album.  There is so much to this recording, from lyrical content to musicianship, that I find it difficult to write a final version of this entry.  My perception changes with every listen, and I find my personal abilities somewhat lacking in the attempt. Considering the anticipation I had, along with many others in the ‘Stoner/Doom’ community, that’s saying something.

Our Raw Heart is one of the best examples of Metal/Doom being a protective factor, a positive factor in my recover, and probably hundreds of others’ as well. It is a hard-core excursion into some excruciating territory that at the same time remains hopeful and inspiring. I think the greatest praise possible to heap on Our Raw Heart is that it fits so perfectly and seamlessly with their body of work. YOB is like an endless moral inventory, followed by the promise of a spiritual awakening. For me, it’s the aural equivalent of CPT.

 

 

 

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