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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.