Doom To the World: Yob, Bell Witch, and Former Worlds @ the Turf Club Tuesday, July 10th
Death is a familiar theme in heavy music. Whether the artist is grinding an organ slower than a glacier like Anna von Hausswolff, or dragging strings through gothic swamps of distortion like a dead horse like Windhand, death is usually a 60 bpm blip on the “heavy” radar.
Sometimes death manifests in the real and forces you to own your life or lose it, like Dracula at the end of Castlevania. Mike Scheidt of Yob was fortunate enough to beat that game. Diagnosed with severe diverticulitis in 2016, Scheidt spent most of 2017 in and out of operating rooms trying to stabilize his condition, touching base in equal measure with the real world and the void. Once both feet were firmly planted on the ground, and both hands firmly planted on his guitar, he put all of his catharsis into composing Our Raw Heart (Relapse), his Oregon doom trio’s latest and great release.
For all its subtle shifts in dynamics and innovations in composition, Our Raw Heart is first and foremost a Yob album, and Yob have sounded like Yob from the very first downbeat and guttural exaltation.
“Ablaze” opens the album with the classic bombast we know a love, setting a precedent of ethereal heaviness that “The Screen” and “In Reverie” maintain in spades. Here’s where even Scheidt concededs the Yob sound starts to stretch and change. The middle passages of Our Raw Heart weigh a ton and hit hard even without mountains of distortion, with the tracks “Beauty In Falling Leaves” and “Lungs Reach” achieving moments of mighty serenity. The album closes with the title track, which introduces a loping melody of acoustic guitars and synthesizers the band eventually locks into with thunderous accord to drive the last five minutes of Our Raw Heart all the way up the rainbow road to Valhalla.
So what can a band do when death makes good? Well, if you’re Seattle-based funerary doom duo Bell Witch, you push through and see what’s on the other side, evidenced by the 2017 release of their aptly titled Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore), a single 83 minute meditation on the hereafter. During initial preparatory stages for recording, original drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra unexpectedly passed away. Obviously stricken, singer/bassist Dylan Desmond was not about to let his most famous subject get the better hand.
“The title ‘Mirror Reaper’ is indicative of the Hermetic axiom ‘As Above, So Below,’ written with two sides to form one whole,” Desmond explains. “The song is both its own and its reflection, as an opposite is whole only with its contrary.”
With the help of his housemate and often-times collaborator Jesse Shreibman, Desmond was determined to realize this dycotamatic vision to its utmost.
“‘Mirror Reaper was the first collaborative writing project with the new line up, and Adrian’s death during it brought extra emotional weight. We sought to match the complexity and weight of these events within the composition of the piece.”
And boy does this music weigh a ton. Sure, Desmond’s bass six roars throughout with real teeth, and Shreibman’s drums boom and crash with purpose, but it is the more melancholy, almost serene moments of respite that make Mirror Reaper the living death certificate we never knew we needed. The piece ebbs and flows with gradual precision, creating seemingly infinite paths inside the emptiness each decaying note leaves in its wake. But it all leads somewhere, namely the middle passage, where the ethereal is rendered whole for a literal dialogue between the living and the dead.
“In love and respect to his memory, we reserved an important yet brief section in the song for him that features unused vocal tracks from our last album. This specific movement serves as a conceptual turn in the piece, or point of reflection.”
We hear ghosts on the radio all the time, from Elvis Presley to Jim Morrison; but to actually experience a lucid message from the beyond, not a death-rattle but a goddamn commencement address from someone who knows they’re dead, moves beyond evocation to outright seance territory. Funeral doom doesn’t get any better than Mirror Reaper; and I couldn’t agree more with Desmond’s assertion of his friend’s legacy: “We believe he would be proud of it as well.”
Joined by local heavy hitter Former Worlds, Yob and Bell Witch will bring their neighborly lustration to the Turf Club Tuesday, July 10th. Although the show is technically sold out, obsessively checking the Facebook event page over the next 24 hours for availabilities wouldn’t be the worst way to spend the beginning of your week. If each band plays more than three songs a piece, I will eat my hat.
Adam Johnson lives in Minneapolis with his wife, cats, and guitars.