Sucker For Punishment: Full Ascent

There are certain bands I’ve only seen in specific settings, and in some cases it’s something where I’d like it to stay that way. I’m sure some readers might relate. For instance, I’ve seen Sodom four times, all on a cruise ship, and it’s gotten to the point now where the notion of seeing the almighty Sodom somewhere other than such a surreal setting on the Caribbean just doesn’t seem right. YOB is another. I live in a city where an underground doom band like YOB can’t afford to tour through, so the only times I’ve seen the Oregon trio play is at the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands, which is as perfect a setting as you can get. It’d be admittedly awesome to see the band play in a small room in North America, but Roadburn is the one place where Mike Scheidt and YOB are superstars, and the four times I’ve seen them perform have been in front of 2,000 people. And I always experience YOB from the same spot, on stage left, right underneath the gigantic tower of PA stacked beside the stage. The sound there is so immense it becomes tactile, like you can reach out and grab those colossal sound waves. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and likely ever will.
Just how YOB can create such a massive sound from just the barest minimum of equipment has long fascinated me, and I posed the question to Scheidt a few weeks ago for a feature that will appear in the next issue of Decibel. His response was a fascinating one, one which you’ll have to wait a bit for to see, but that reputation of being one of the most gloriously heavy bands in the world right now is on full display on the band’s brilliant seventh album, the aptly titled Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot).

Arriving on the heels of 2011’s Atma, a record intentionally given a much grittier sound than usual, which divided a few opinions, Clearing the Path to Ascend takes a much more straightforward approach, focusing more on that classic doom sound, bringing out as much of that live force as possible. As usual, the tracks are long and very drawn out, requiring patience from those not used to sitting through doom tracks that plod along for more than 15 minutes. However, true to this band’s form, these four tracks, ranging from 11 minutes to nearly 19, are as riveting as you could ever hope for them to be. They might take their time, but they always reach a spellbinding resolution. Better yet, though, the album follows a distinct arc, making for YOB’s most dynamic album in a long time.

“In Our Blood” kicks things off in classic YOB fashion, an exercise in the mighty, towering doom that audiences expect from Scheidt. “Nothing to Win” follows immediately with a throttling arrangement led by drummer Travis Foster, whose thundering beats will remind many of the primal intensity of Neurosis at its best. “Unmask the Spectre” kicks off an enthralling second half, taking the listener deep into some of the darkest themes and tones the band has created to date, and that is countered immediately by the gorgeous closing track “Marrow”, whose melody and use of layered vocals is unlike anything YOB has done, reaching a level of unabashed beauty they’ve never quite pulled off before.

YOB has never put out a bad record, but this new one is a marked step up from Atma, and very much on par with 2009’s triumphant The Great Cessation. Scheidt and YOB are masters of the form, and they’re sounding particularly inspired here. I hope I get to see this album performed live at Roadburn someday, but whatever the venue, you know these tunes would be glorious in a live setting.

There’s no shortage of other good new music to investigate this week, which is nice to see:

Blood Of Kingu, Dark Star On The Right Horn of the Crescent Moon (Season Of Mist): In direct contrast to Krieg’s new album, which is reviewed below and which you should totally get, this latest by the Drudkh side project is one-dimensional to the point of boring. Unrelenting speed but little to no dynamics, clanging sound effects to try to create atmosphere (been there, done that), and absolutely no trace of character to be found. Cosidering this band’s pedigree, such laziness is inexcusable. I’m not buying this, and neither should you.

Code Orange, I Am King (Deathwish): Kids no longer, I take it? Indeed, the new album by the young Pittsburgh band shows so much growth that it’s easy to see why they dropped the word “Kids” from their name. Anything to get folks to take them more seriously. Already ferocious performers who captured that energy in brilliant fashion on 2012’s Kurt Ballou-produced Love is Love/Return to Dust, Code Orange raises the bar on this follow-up, bringing more of a metal sound into their music, the arrangements darker, moodier, and best of all, bigger. And typically, these tracks veer all over the place yet never lose focus, rampaging along for 32 exhilarating minutes, leaving you wondering what the hell just happened when the last track ends.

Dark Fortress, Venereal Dawn (Century Media): Guitarist V. Santura is a busy fella. He features prominently on Triptykon’s Melana Chasmata and Noneuclid’s Metatheosis, two of 2014’s better metal albums, and now his talents are featured on another Dark Fortress album. The German band has never set the metal landscape ablaze, but the music is always a good, workmanlike example of no-frills melodic black metal, and this album is no different. Huge, sometimes towering, not above a little progressive detour, and blasphemously silly, it’s also sneakily catchy, and the guitar melodies by Santura and Asvargr waste no time roping listeners in. The 11-minute title track, which audaciously kicks off the album, is an immediate standout.

Hammerfall, (r)Evolution (Nuclear Blast): Likeable as they are, the guys in HammerFall have been coasting along complacently for nearly a decade now, so it was very hard to get excited about the prospect of another new album. Instead of carrying along sounding anything but inspired, this ninth album is a spirited affair that fans will thoroughly enjoy. Nothing new is offered, it’s more of the simple, rousing power metal they helped perfect, and most importantly, loaded with anthemic hooks. A power metal album is a waste of time without glorious, bombastic hooks, and thankfully this record is overflowing in catchy sing-along melodies. From “Hector’s Hymn” to “Origins”, this is good fun that fits nicely alongside past albums like Crimson Thunder and Renegade.

The Haunted, Exit Wounds (Century Media): Considering how awful the 2011 album Unseen was, I didn’t just have low expectations for the new Haunted album, I simply didn’t care. Yet Decibel’s benevolent reviews overlord Andrew Bonazelli insisted I give this thing a shot, and whaddya know, this album by the revamped band is a good return to form. With Marco Aro back in the fold as vocalist after a decade away, the band has simplified its approach, reverting to the thrashy melodic death metal they excelled at early in their career. That’s all The Haunted ever needed to do, and with this record, their best since Revolver in 2004, they sound reborn. Good for them.

Krieg, Transient (Candlelight): The best black metal not only delivers savage, primal music rife in gloom and malevolence, but matches the music with atmosphere that equally captures that bleak feeling. Of course it’s no surprise that the latest from Neill Jameson’s long-running project captures that very idea. This seventh Krieg album is wonderfully eclectic, smartly spacing the faster tracks across the record, with slower, groovier, crust-ridden compositions, giving it a little time to breathe. Backed by Philly black metalers Esoterica, Jameson creates a palpable sense of anxiety and urban decay, ranging from the menacing grooves of “Order of the Solitary Road” and “To Speak With Ghosts”, to the experimental spoken word track “Home”, to the inspired cover of Amebix’s “Winter”. Stream and purchase the album via Bandcamp.

Pig Heart Transplant, For Mass Consumption (20 Buck Spin): I love you, 20 Buck Spin, but this unbelievably pretentious combination of atmospheric noise wank and powerviolence vocals is completely off-putting. Interested parties can try it out via Bandcamp. Be warned.

Set and Setting, A Vivid Memory (Prosthetic): This instrumental band from Florida sounds like something The Mylene Sheath would have put out five years ago, adventurous post-hardcore/post-metal/post-rock/etc. with no regard for genre restriction and plenty of sumptuous melodies. It might carry on a little longer than it has to, but this is a promising blend of Pelican-derived dynamics and the odd touch of black metal for a little variety. The arrangements show excellent discipline, the songs show some genuine soul, and what should usually be an album that bores me to tears gradually turns into something I’m transfixed by.

Sólstafir, Ótta (Season of Mist): Three years after the revelatory Svartir Sandar, the Icelandic band returns with a follow-up that a lot more people are anticipating this time around, and true to form it continues their sublime fusion of metal, post-rock, shoegaze, and space rock. They’ve always had a real knack for melodies that envelop and entrance, and every track on this hour-long effort does just that. Musically, though, the influences are much broader than ever before, as touches of rustic folk and hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll creep into the songwriting. Practically every track is an epic in itself, but listeners’ patience is always rewarded, multifaceted tracks like “Lágnætti”, “Ótta”, “Nón” possessing the confident grace you’d expect of a genre’s masters. For those who don’t understand Icelandic, which of course makes up the vast majority of Sólstafir’s audience, the lyrics, sung achingly by Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, only makes this already magnificent music all the more alien and enigmatic, adding mystery, coaxing you to try to decode through emotion rather than language.

Wolf, Devil Seed (Century Media): I don’t know why Swedish band Wolf continues to put up with such apathetic treatment from Century Media. All they’ve been doing for the past 15 years is put out some of the most consistently good NWOBHM revivalist metal we’ve seen, so the least a label can do is throw the guys a bone and give them some CDs and vinyl to sell for gas money. But nope, this is an “iTunes only” release (and don’t bother trying to find it on Spotify, it’s been “withheld”), which is a real shame, because it’s one of the better albums Wolf has put out in recent years. “Shark Attack” is uproarious fun (preceded by the brilliantly titled intro “Overture in C Shark”), as is “Skeleton Woman”, while “Dark Passenger” and “My Demon” add some welcome gravitas. This is a great band that deserves more support than their label is giving them, so be sure to download Devil Seed via iTunes.

Not metal, but worth hearing:

Can, Out of Reach (Mute): Recorded during a time when the krautrock innovators were in a serious state of flux – it’s the only album not to feature founding bassist Holger Czukay – Out of Reach was subsequently disowned by the band, buried and ignored for decades. That long lost tenth studio album was finally properly remastered reissued on vinyl for last year’s massive career-spanning box set, but now Out of Reach is at long last available on its own on vinyl, CD, and MP3. Although it severely lacks focus and is in no way in the same league as classics like Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi, it’s not without its interesting moments. Former Traffic members, bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah, shoulder the bulk of the load, and add vivid helpings of funk and African rhythms to such tracks as “Serpentine” and “Seven Days Awake”, which benefit from the greatly improved remaster. Even at its absolute nadir Can remains one of the most crazily original and restless experimental bands in rock ‘n’ roll history, and at the very least it’s great to finally be able to properly complete the remastered studio discography. Order it here.

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