More often than not, the intimate details fueling the creation of an album are unknown to listeners. It makes sense, really, because art is meant to be personal, and a great deal of its interpretation is intentionally left open. Plus, in the end, most of us don’t really care what set the wheels in motion for a record like Slowly We Rot, we just like that it rots so slowly and so well right alongside us while we’re thinking about things that slowly rot.
The details of Scheidt’s hardship have fueled Our Raw Heart, and separating that experience from initial reactions to the record will be near impossible. Imagine going to see a friend you haven’t had a chance to catch up with for years, listening to a harrowing account detailing a close-to-death ordeal, and reacting along the lines of, “Wow, that sounds like a really terrible experience! I’m sorry this happened to you. Unfortunately, that story isn’t terrible appealing to me, and I’d rather talk to the version of you I knew four years ago. Thanks.” Most people with an actual living heart in their chest would not do that, thankfully, so anything short of the sounds of Scheidt rifling through drawers looking for his car keys for an hour has the possibility of being greeted with some form of “phoenix rising from the ashes” storyline simply due to the joy of knowing that this awesome dude came out on top. Plus, you know, it’s YOB. We love YOB. YOB is great.
The truth of the matter is this: Our Raw Heart is not an easy listen. The sheer weight of its underlying motive is palpable, and it dominates early and puts a heavy boot to beauty’s neck without caution. It also spends a significant portion of its time delivering the goods in a very straight-forward manner that recognizes a central riff that will then strike relentlessly without fretting over prettying up the corners. So no guest spots, no surprise instruments, and not a lot of messing around. You’ve heard “The Screen”—it sounds like an 800lb grizzly running uphill, and it is going to catch you and it is going to yank out your soft bits. Ten minutes spent experiencing such a thing might not seem like a big deal compared to, you know, how long the rest of your life is, but those minutes tick very, very slowly in the moment. Tack the equally ten-minuted, less heavy and more drone-y “In Reverie” and the largely dark & quiet “Lungs Reach” to it and you’ve got a front end that’s notably dark, glacial and sans the sort of liberating groove YOB has often dropped on heads in the past. Remember the extraordinary strut around 9:30 into “Nothing to Win” from Clearing the Path to Ascend? Not in these halls, matey. But again, there’s nothing terribly epic or strut-worthy about being pinned to a hospital bed.
And then, suddenly, there’s “Beauty in Falling Leaves,” a big 300-year-old oak tree of a song that just re-anchors everything. It’s not the album’s first bit of prettiness, as opener “Ablaze” flashes a similar flare of wistfulness, but this 16.5-minute epic paints a beautifully pleasant, pastel landscape that conjures a sense of clarity and acceptance that’s absorbing and feels like warm honey slipping through your veins. Like everything that precedes it, “Beauty in Falling Leaves” remains bare-bones in its delivery—no ancillary ingredients to stand in the way of its satisfying, gradual swagger that’s further pacified by Scheidt’s weary but mending rasp. It’s a mood that’s momentarily broken by the ensuing “Original Face,” which, despite still having a touch of pensiveness, delivers that old, familiar YOB bite and one of the record’s only leads, but the warmheartedness thankfully returns with the epic closing title track.
The song “Our Raw Heart” is every bit as warm as the lofty oak that precedes it, but there’s a touch more melody and an overwhelming sense of concession that makes it an ideal soundtrack for nearly any sentiment that accepts open, raw vulnerability: watching your kids grow up too quickly, seeing your parents grow old from too far away, or life-long friends laid to rest too early—those introspective moments that tug at the heartstrings regardless of how tough the exterior happens to be. In essence, it’s the touch of drifting acceptance Our Raw Heart needs for closure, and it is liberating.
>>Resonance<< is a word that probably illustrates the core essence of YOB better than any other. People who love them do so because the band’s manner of woolly doom resonates with them both literally in a live sense and figuratively due to Mike Scheidt’s penchant for connection. The music that’s created feels alive in that an organic ebb and flow is always present, and because a conscious effort to respect balance without boundaries abides. In this regard, YOB echoes life, and life unfailingly rears a particularly ugly head for every person on this earth time and again. Perhaps that, in a particularly stark and intense form, is the point of Our Raw Heart: a blunt reminder that existence is sometimes difficult and can feel relentless, but one should never give up on the hope of flight.