Geez, for a band that spends a fair amount of time playing so slowly, YOB sure works quickly. Beginning with their sophomore effort in 2003, not a year has gone by without another offering of mountainous modern doom, YOB style, and although fans’ ears are likely still ringing from The Illusion of Motion, the band has struck with this year’s installment, The Unreal Never Lived. But more impressive than their productivity is their consistency and development. With each effort YOB makes adjustments and improvements that preserve the soul and persona of the band while fine tuning an already bludgeoning doom offense. Last year’s The Illusion of Motion was the band’s debut on Metal Blade, and YOB stepped up to the plate in a big way, delivering their most consistently impressive album to date. Already beloved within the genre, The Illusion of Motion helped push the band’s reach beyond the usual suspects into new circles of metal fans. YOB is one of those bands about which you never hear anyone say a negative word. People seem to either be oblivious to them or respect them immensely. The Unreal Never Lived should rightfully eliminate much of the group in the first category.
Stylistically and structurally, The Unreal Never Lived is in many ways similar to The Illusion of Motion. YOB’s not serving any of that Load/Reload bullshit, but it’s clear that the two albums were cut from similar creative cloths and assembled in much the same way. The agile, bone jarring opening track, slow and oppressive second, and marathon doom epic fourth song of the album are all ably repeated without sounding formulaic or repetitive. This is the first time a YOB album has resembled the previous effort, but it seems clear the band has simply reached actualization through a process of doom alchemy and is continuing to plow forward along the trail blazed by The Illusion of Motion.
“Quantum Mystic” is not only the band’s best opening track, but quite possibly YOB’s best song altogether. Like TIOM opener “Ball of Molten Lead”, the song has a near perfect balance of massive thickness and chugging agility, its locomotive propulsion overpoweringly heavy but surprisingly mobile. It’s just that kind of balance that makes YOB’s music so compelling, and it runs rampant on The Unreal Never Lived. They leverage typical cement-booted lumbering, monolithic riffs with uptempo grooving romps; oppressive moods with intermittent shards of punctuating melody; and then of course there’s the patented high/low (and points in between) vocal approach of Mike Scheidt. All of this adds up to a distinct and unique personality that is unmistakably YOB and unmistakably doom.
The band moves from the fist pumping show of force that is “Quantum Mystic” to the sunless, oppressive “Grasping Air”. YOB has a knack for choosing names, and the title of this one perfectly matches the lead blanket mood of desperation for something as foreboding as it is elusive. Scheidt’s neurotic solo adds nicely to the sinister, stifling tone of the song. At nine minutes long, “Grasping Air” is the shortest of the four songs on The Unreal Never Lived. I’ve always enjoyed the “short” YOB songs of the ten to twelve minute variety slightly more than the twenty-minute marathon tracks, which explains much of my preference of The Illusion of Motion over Catharsis, but album closer “The Mental Tyrant” is hard to deny. The twenty minutes are broken up into four nearly parts, beginning with some open, mellow, hazy riffing that almost sounds like a doom equivalent to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. This transitions to a period of monstrously heavy plodding riffs that degrade into a barrage of sliding feedback. Ten minutes in the vocals make their appearance; adding elongated hellish growls over the resin coated monolithic pummeling. The slowly churning section builds to crescendo before launching into stretch of absolutely fucking pulverizing muted riffs. Sometimes it’s the less tangible things that really make the difference, and YOB’s ability to sculpt the dynamics and shifts comprising the trajectory of the songs adds immeasurably to the album and keeps the listener enthralled throughout its fifty-two minutes. Another year and another entirely impressive album from the doom wizards from Oregon—this one should grace many a top 10 list.