The TV miniseries Cosmos, both in its O.G. Carl Sagan form and its rebooted Neil DeGrasse Tyson iteration, works, if you want it to, as a smart science lesson for kids. It’s a lionization of the iconoclasts, throughout history, who helped us understand how the universe works, and an approachable science-fictony way to teach science facts without making kids feel like they’re in class. But neither one became a stoner favorite by explaining scientific concepts to kids. They do that, sure, but they also work on a blow-your-fucking-mind level, mostly by pointing out the tiny infinitesimal place that we occupy within the larger universe — a larger universe that, for all we know, is just one speck in a universe of universes. Watching Cosmos is, among other things, an exercise in challenging your imagination by making yourself feel as small as possible. Another way to do that same thing: Spend some time with Clearing The Path To Ascend, the new album from the Portland doom metal band Yob, which is practically a universe unto itself. You can’t just throw Clearing The Path on and go about your day. It’s an album that forces you to enter a deep-concentration zone where you stop thinking about where one song ends and another begins, where you become a bug trapped in its amber.
It’s tempting to compare Yob to Pallbearer. They’re both doing great work within doom metal, that vast and slow riff-plod subgenre. They’re touring together. They’re probably friends. And they’ve both released two of the year’s great metal albums — Clearing The Path and Pallbearer’s Foundations Of Burden — within a couple of weeks of each other. But the comparisons don’t really hold merit since they’re doing two very different things with their music. Foundations Of Burden is a huge album in its own way, but it really just sounds like an old-school ’70s boogie metal album that’s been stretched and slowed and smothered, made soft and warm and gooey. Clearing The Path doesn’t sound like that. It sounds like a smoking crater so deep that you can’t see the bottom. If you’re going to compare it to another album this year, a better equivalent might be Swans’ To Be Kind. Swans and Yob are working in very different genres and evoking very different feelings. But they’ve both got that same tremendous commitment to enormity, to blowing past the structures of everyday life and voyaging into the infinite. To bands like that, little things like song structure stop mattering altogether. They have bigger concerns in mind.
Really, though, it feels less instructive to compare the album to other music and more useful to compare it to other things: Canyons, rock formations, giant redwoods, the feeling of falling from a great height, the concept of light years, the monolith from 2001. Clearing The Path is only four songs long, and it lasts over an hour, but even that doesn’t really convey the scope of what Yob are doing. To talk about the actual music is to get bogged down in trivial details: Slow and fuzz-drenched guitar crunches, otherworldly howls, elephantine drum cracks. All those things exist in the music, but the music feels bigger than any of them. They all bleed together and run into each other, and every titanic crashing moment comes exactly at the right time. When the hammer drops and the songs really lurch into gear, you don’t want to intensely nod your head, the way you might want to do with many of these bands. You want to throw your hands up at the sky and wonder at the fact that you are even here on this planet in the first place. It’s that sort of album.
I’m talking about Yob like they’re ancient mystic druids or an ephemeral pulsing force or whatever, and that’s not what they are. They’re three dudes from Portland who don’t look particularly intimidating. Frontman Mike Scheidt put out a solo album of gravelly folk music a few years ago, and he’s comfortable rocking pigtails in press photos. The band has been making music like this for a long time, and they’ve got six albums to their name — albums that I always kept in the mental “that sounds cool, I’ll check that out” file and then never got around to checking out. Clearing The Path To Ascend is their first album on Neurot Recordings, the label run by Neurosis, who have been contemplating infinity through metal long enough to influence an entire generation or two. Yob’s music is part of a continuum. It has context. For all I know, all their other albums sound just as huge. But when Clearing The Path is playing, it doesn’t sound like a really good doom metal album. It barely even sounds like music that’s being made by humans. It sounds like the night sky opening up before you. It sounds like surrender of the soul. Our own Michael Nelson, who has forgotten more about metal than I’ve ever known, has written a bunch about Clearing The Path and whether it’s the best metal album of the year. I can barely think of it in those terms. When it’s on, I can barely think at all.
Clearing The Path To Ascend is out now on Neurot.
Other albums of note out today:
• Jeezy’s hard-hitting and personal Seen It All.
• Blonde Redhead’s wispy, mysterious Barragán.
• Sinkane’s buoyant soul-pop exultation Mean Love.
• Zammuto’s idiosyncratic art-rocker Anchor.
• Earth’s doom apocalypse Primitive & Deadly.
• Half Japanese’s nervy old-school DIY punker Overjoyed.
• Code Orange’s feral, intense I Am King.
• TOPS’ eerie, romantic Picture You Staring.
• Los Angeles Police Department’s stark DIY self-titled debut.
• Deep Sea Diver’s dense debut Always Waiting.
• Krieg’s textured black metal opus Transient.
• Helado Negro’s glittering electronic Double Youth.
• Reindeer Games, the debut from the Three 6 Mafia/Insane Clown Posse project Killjoy Club.
• Trentemøller’s remix collection Lost Reworks.
• The soundtrack to Stuart Murdoch’s God Bless The Girl movie.
• The Mass Appeal Compilation Vol. 1 collection.
• Zeahorse’s Pools EP.