The first Noble Truth of Buddhism is frequently translated into English as, “Life is suffering.” The highest level that can be achieved in Buddhist practice is called Nirvana — often perceived as a state of new-age bliss or paradisiacal transcendence; literally, however, the word means something like “emptiness” or “extinguishment” or “nothing.” You can see why metal bands (like Emptiness) and metal-adjacent bands (like Nothing) go for this stuff. You can see why Leonard Cohen spent years in a Zen monastery, and why Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain longed for a “Leonard Cohen afterworld.” If you are temperamentally drawn to darkness, you’ll find a certain warmth in extinguishment.
For practitioners, though, nihilism isn’t the goal. Suffering isn’t a thing to celebrate, it’s a thing to overcome. Take, for example, Yob frontman Mike Scheidt, who’s been practicing this stuff for years, and always suffusing his music with Buddhist wisdom (including spoken-word snippets from Zen philosopher Alan Watts, whose voice opens the band’s last album, 2014’s Clearing The Path To Ascend).
Last year, Scheidt was forced to undergo emergency surgery for acute diverticulitis. He survived. He wrote about it here. It sounds like a fucking horrifying experience. Here’s one of the less-horrifying quotes from that essay:
[The surgeon] did say if I had waited one more day to go to the doctor, which was indeed my original plan, that my organs would have failed within hours, and I would have died.
Like the majority of professional musicians, Scheidt had no significant health insurance plan, and had to launch a Gofundme campaign to help with his medical bills. (He reached his goal in three days.) As Scheidt wrote afterward:
Before this hospitalization happened, I was playing guitar daily, fired up and fully inspired. Now, I will have even more to bring to the music. Immeasurably more. In part due to my near death experience. In part due to this journey of healing, and the lessons both the NDE and healing have to teach. I will have more to bring to this new music and to my life in general, because of you and all that you have given me. I’ve said my gratitude reaches to the sky and back. My gratitude to you also runs deep into my bones and beyond. Some of these times have been the absolute worst of my life. Other parts, the ones I will carry with me from here forward, have paradoxically been some of the greatest, most transformational experiences of my life. I will carry these lessons, and do my very best to rise to the potential they hold.
He’s spoken at some length about his near-death experience — which would make for pretty rich metal-as-pain material — but more important, I think, is the clarity he found in its aftermath. That’s what he’s singing about now. Yob’s eighth album, Our Raw Heart, is out in June, and here’s what he said about his new understanding last December:
I went through years in deep depression because I’ve written about these subjects in Yob from day one, Eastern influenced wisdom and stuff. I try not to write about wisdom I haven’t earned, I’m not trying to parrot something out of a book. I went through chunks of time where I felt like a fake. How can I have sat for this long and chanted with Tibetan lamas in Tibetan and sat with teachers and read books and still be depressed? But when it really mattered it all came rushing to my aid, it was an utter and total support.
That’s a pretty intense confession coming from a guy who’s been singing about this stuff for the better part of two decades, but it also illustrates how much deeper he’s mining this wisdom today, how much more he has to offer. Rolling Stone just published a pretty great interview with Scheidt, where they premiered Our Raw Heart’s lead single (and Yob’s first-ever video), “The Screen,” which you can hear/watch below. The story remains a fucking nightmare. But as the man says, “Time to wake up.”
Our Raw Heart is out 6/18 via Relapse. Pre-order it here.