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Wah bass and alien voices - 82%

gasmask_colostomy, October 25th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Profound Lore Records (Digipak, Remastered)

Considering that Yob’s fade-in takes more than a minute to properly commence their second album, and that Mike Scheidt’s guitar only makes itself known after twice as long, we can tell that the Oregonians are in no hurry. However, when vocals enter the fray shortly before the five minute mark of ‘Aeons’, they offer nothing as relaxing as the gradual introduction may suggest. The steady tick of drums and mild throb of bass puts me in mind of early Om at first, yet the alien reverberations of Scheidt’s distorted nasal whine instantly clear the canvas for something else. The animalistic roar of caveman fury that breaks the restraint only confirms that Yob do not subscribe to the relaxed ideals of some stoner doom. Were it not for the weird vocal distortion and the snazzy wah bass pedal, Catharsis would be much more of an extreme sludge album than a stoner one.

Genre questions aside, one feature of the album that seems worth pondering for me is how the cover art changed from the original release in 2003 to the Profound Lore reissue a decade later. At first, the band opted for a photograph of factory cooling towers pumping out smoke juxtaposed with a shot of the Moon’s surface (or a desert, I’m not that sure), seemingly inside a black hole or the radiated light of a large celestial body; later, it was a statue of Buddha placed inside a slightly trippy decorative gold niche. Did Yob’s view of themselves change over that period? Certainly, if we remember that the first album (pretty much Scheidt’s personal project) was named Elaborations of Carbon, a philosophical but very physical notion of existence, while the reissue I’m looking at shortly preceded Clearing the Path to Ascend, a very spiritual title emphasized by the cover art of painted moons and mountains.

What of course didn’t change (except for a remastering) was the music on Catharsis, which sits somewhat awkwardly in a space between that angry, conscious feel of the original artwork and the more spiritual direction that Yob later chose. I’ve never been moved to call bass solos revelatory before, and the rather ungainly twanging tone that Isamu Sato wrings from his instrument doesn’t induce me to do so now either. He gets ample time to craft his own movements during the middle of ‘Ether’ and in the introductions to both long songs, though never approaches the delicate flickers or the meditative stream of consciousness that Elder or Om use in their music. Even though the long songs tend to stick to their paths, the rare guitar leads have rather a trippy vibe as well. The instrumental tones instead are set for havoc-wreaking heaviness (the main riff of ‘Ether’) or for drug-induced vistas (the spacey period around seven minutes into ‘Catharsis’), pulling the three-piece into the orbit of Ufomammut and Conan, although Travis Foster smacks his drums a little gentler than either band at times, leaving the cavernous low notes of the guitar to produce a different kind of scale.

All this talk of style should make it clear that I can tell Yob apart from their contemporaries quite easily, yet I get the feeling that something was unfinished in the master plan at this stage. The two longer songs here certainly wander between hard-hitting riff sections featuring Scheidt’s eccentric vocals and some more reflective moods that spread the boom of guitar into scattered colours; however, I’m not always convinced of the mood and direction. Consider this line from the title track: “In this world we’re living in / I can’t get no release”. What should the mood be here? That could well be anguished or solemn, but it turns out sort of defeated and, due to the alien distortion on the vocals, oddly difficult to relate to, as with the other distorted yells later on. Similarly, the riffing and musical ideas offer some strange disconnects from the themes of the album, the crushing riffs of ‘Ether’ matching the utter loss of identity that Scheidt narrates, though of course the musical aspiration of Sato’s solo rather confuses that objective. The relaxed break in ‘Aeons’ has me scratching my head in the same manner, as Yob jam around the friendly main riff of Sleep’s ‘Dragonaut’.

On the other hand, there are some great moments that the band craft in pretty unique style. When Foster increases the pace or strikes out as he does in the rampaging opening of ‘Ether’, it barely matters what notes the others are playing, since the power of the instruments carries a meaningful recurring vocal line that returns after the elongated jam. The monolithic crush of ‘Catharsis’ as it nears its close suddenly veers off from frustrating single note pounding to a faster and more chaotic riffset, the vocal styles contrasting more frequently to finally imbue the piece with some emotion. The furious conclusion is without doubt the highlight of the album. However, this is one of those releases (as with many where only three songs occupy the entire running time) that makes more sense as a whole, since the gradual opening leading up to the hair-raising denouement performs a kind of catharsis as promised. Curiously, it works in the reverse order of what one might expect from the title, yet after a provoking time with Yob, silence may well be the balm that the listener needs.