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In the world of music, three years can be an eternity. YOB broke up in 2005 after releasing the masterful Unreal Never Lived album and then went their separate ways. Fortunately, the band came back together with new bassist Aaron Riesberg. The band was faced with a challenge in how they could possibly make a comeback big enough to make a splash. In 2009, that end result saw the light of day. The Great Cessation was released and announced the return of the mighty YOB. People were not expecting a YOB album of this magnitude and depth. Mike Scheidt and the gang truly put their hearts and souls in this masterful piece of art.
The album begins with one the greatest YOB songs ever recorded in Burning the Altar. The riffs bleed out of Mike's guitar and they invoke a very Middle Eastern feel. As for the the rest of the song, Riesberg and drummer Travis Foster anchor this beast with ferocious intensity. The vocals are still Mike's signature psychedelic highs and guttural lows. But unlike other YOB albums before, it feels like Mike has put much more emotion into his vocal approach on this album.
The guitars are absolutely mind melting and keep you craving for riff after riff after riff. Mike is one of doom's most underrated guitarists. He may not be superbly skilled in technicality, but what he lacks in technicality, he makes up for in the lumbering and emotional category. He is a true doom innovator and legend of the genre. His truly unique vocal approach is also one of his trademark qualities in this band. At some points, he can sound like an angel calling out to you from the heavens, and at times a demon beckoning you to Hell.
Aaron Riesberg is a tremendous bass player on his debut with YOB and he pulls it off with a masterful performance. Just like Isamu Sato, his bass is clearly heard on tracks like Breathing Through the Shallows and Silence of Heaven. Travis Foster returns to dominate the skins in this trifecta of doom titans. Like Scheidt, he is not all over the place with his playing but he can really bring out emotions you never thought possible.
Every track on this record is a masterpiece in its own right and outshines most doom bands entire discographies. Tracks like Silence of Heaven are unbelievably heavy with Mike's guttural vocals really breaking through and transporting you to the darkest corner of your mind. But if one track is the one to truly define this album, it's the title track. The New York Times quoted YOB as one America's best underground bands and this track is a perfect representation of why they are. The track begins with a very somber and powerful clean guitar intro and slowly builds into a monolith of self reflection. This track, in my opinion, is not only one the greatest American metal songs, but one of the the greatest American songs ever written. That is quite a bold statement, but if you don't believe me listen to the track and decide for yourself.
The Great Cessation is YOB's return to the world in a dramatic and powerful form. This is easily their magnum opus and is easily one of the greatest American albums ever created. Not just metal, but American albums ever. I could easily rank this with classics like The Doors first album, Pet Sounds or even Electric Ladyland. This album is absolutely timeless.
YOB return from the depths of doom (i.e. Middian) to bring us their first new material in four years. As seems to be the trend in metal band reunions lately, this new material is both a return to form and a leap forward in progression. Before you get your doom panties in a bunch, relax and let me explain: YOB have not forsaken their love of ten minute epic songs (or 20 minute album closers, for that matter). While some changes are more than subtle, absolutely everything is perfectly welcome into the fold.
The first thing you'll notice is the vocal performance. Mike Scheidt has always drawn comparison to Geddy Lee, and for good reason. His soaring clean vocals are definitely present on this album but they're a little lower than his upper-register workouts of old. More obvious, though, is his incorporation of a good deal of harsh vocals. He moves between drawn-out, throat lacerating black metal screams to stone-grinding growls without losing a beat. There are more than a few extreme metal vocalists I can name who are capable of this kind of range, but coupling it with a melodic clean voice is pretty amazing. There's a lot of good use of vocal effects, such as the massive reverb all over both the clean and screamed vocals on "The Lie That Is Sin."
Drummer Travis Foster sets the trudging pace through the album's lengthy doom workouts just as ably as he ever has. Too many doom drummers omit fills from their playing, possibly because they'd sound out of place in a context this slow. Foster, however, has mastered the craft of the slow drum fill, using them not as a showcase for technical ability but rather as a vehicle to emphasize the weight of the riff. It's more than restraint; it's the drumming equivalent of doom guitarists figuring out how to make a slow riff sound just as heavy (or, in many cases, YOB included, heavier than) the most brutal of death metal songs.
New bassist Aaron Reiseberg's performance is perhaps the album's only letdown. He's not bad, and there's always the chance that this is just a case of ...And Justice For All-itis where the bass has simply been mixed out, but either way the bass simply isn't really audible on The Great Cessation very often. The only really standout bass moment is the intro to "Breathing from the Shallows" but eventually the bassline kind of gets lost in the mix on this song, as well. It's a shame, too, because previous bassist Isamu Sato was always audible and was more often than not playing something interesting enough that it could be the main focus of your listening experience if you so chose.
The guitar work on this album is simply superb. There are multiple guitar tracks on every song (sometimes I can clearly hear four or more). The doom riffs are simply monolithic downtuned monsters soaked in distortion but less fuzzy than standard stoner/doom guitar tone. Despite the long song lengths, riffs never approach drone-like tempos and instead stick to the slow to mid-paced range rather than something that could be described as "glacial," although there are a few tectonic plates slowly grinding over one another sort of moments (album centerpiece "Silence of Heaven" being the best example). Riffs also never really repeat to the point where they outstay their welcome. Scheidt is a master of meshing riffs together with quality transitions and is fully capable of writing interesting guitar lines for the quieter sections. Solos are never overt "here's the mandatory guitar solo" affairs; instead solos seem to come naturally as evolutions of melodic lines already established in the context of the song. This approach fits YOB's writing style like a glove.
A good way to describe this band (and this album in particular) to YOB newbies would be as "the Enslaved of stoner/doom." They're rooted in the stoner/doom sound but take enough cues from the Pink Floyd brand of progressive rock, especially in their approach to songwriting, to really be a completely different animal from the rest of the pack. This album would be a good starting point in YOB's career for many metalheads, as the increased use of harsh vocals might be a nice gateway to the band's sound. This album would also make a good point of entry into stoner/doom for fans of the more "extreme" subgenres of funeral and death/doom. The only misstep on the album is the drone-ish "Silence of Heaven" which simply doesn't evolve enough over its almost ten minute run time to be a really standout track, but it's far from terrible and the extremely high quality of the other four songs helps repair any damage the track might have caused.