The first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths is, “All life is suffering.” Considering what he’s gone through over the past couple years, Mike Scheidt knows a thing or two about that. Following the break-up of Oregon doom metal mainstays YOB in 2005, the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter formed a new trio by the name of Middian, 2007’s debut album Age Eternal focusing on a more immediate, aggressive form of doom than his more swing-oriented, philosophically-themed previous band. All was well and good, the album got a lot of positive press, but later that year Scheidt and his bandmates were hit with a lawsuit by a defunct band by the name of Midian. Although the single additional letter “d” seemed save enough, the overtly litigious Wisconsinites thought otherwise, dragging the friendly, well-meaning West Coasters into a prolonged legal battle that cost Scheidt loads of money, a record deal, the band name, a damn fine album (which is now out of print as a result of the lawsuit), and in the end, his band, drummer Scott Headrick relocating, bassist Will Lindsay joining fellow Oregonians Wolves in the Throne Room.
The second Noble Truth is, “Desire is the origin of suffering.” Only when we realize that, can we truly let go of suffering. Similarly, Scheidt diplomatically did everything he could to let go of Middian, from at first trying to appease the malicious Midwesterners by changing the band’s name to Age Eternal, and then by abandoning that doomed project altogether. This eventually brought him back to YOB, which reformed in 2008 with original drummer Travis Foster, and Aaron Reiseberg replacing bassist Isamu Sato. After some well-received reunion shows and rediscovering the joy of creating music, the trio headed into the studio with producer Sanford Parker to record their fifth album, and first since 2005’s excellent The Unreal Never Lived.
The third Noble Truth is, “The cessation of suffering is attainable.” It might be a touch unconventional, but one good way for Scheidt to remove the cause of suffering is to focus on his art once again and put out the album of his career, which he’s done with the aptly titled The Great Cessation. Structurally and thematically, the sprawling, five song, hour-long album continues right where YOB’s last four albums left off, monstrous, sustained tritone riffs propelled by slow, deliberate tempos which Scheidt describes as “stagger beats”. This time around, though, Scheidt sounds more driven than he ever has, his lyrics a little more direct than usual (“The ignorant rule the weak with iron law and wrathful deeds,” he sneers at one point), and the production by Parker, arguably the best doom metal producer working right now, creates a phenomenal backdrop simple but lavish, warm yet absolutely punishing. “Burning the Altar” sounds as inflammatory as the title implies, while “Silence of Heaven” is as dark a track as YOB has ever recorded. “The Lie That is Sin” benefits hugely from a moody, tension-filled mid-song breakdown to Scheidt’s inspired vocal performance, which alternates from a guttural roar to a surreal tortured howl.
The fourth Noble Truth is, “The path leading to the end of suffering.” In other words, The Great Cessation. At 20 minutes, the YOB song that bears the title delves headlong into that idea, music and lyrics equally meditative. “Will we ever see a time when it’s enough / When we see what we know isn’t all of all that is?” Scheidt muses after a gorgeous four and a half minute intro, crooning silently, his voice drenched in reverb, as the instrumental arrangement gradually crescendos, culminating in the stately chorus in which Scheidt sings, “Close your eyes and let it go / Breathe in the space before you were born.” YOB albums have always concluded on an epic note, but this album’s title track sees the trio reaching new heights. Beaten but not broken, Scheidt emerges triumphant, his own healthy perspective and philosophy, not to mention his undeniable creativity and the brute force of his formidable band, propelling YOB to the kind of artistic heights that no nu-metal also-ran could ever hope to attain. Score one for the good guys this time.