If you closely follow the comings and goings of doom metal band YOB, or have read any of the stories written about them in the wake of their eighth album Our Raw Heart, then you know how close the world came to not having any new music from the trio.
After being diagnosed with diverticulitis (a disease that attacks the digestive tract) in 2016, the band’s creative force, guitarist and vocalist Mike Scheidt, collapsed in a grocery store in January of last year and was rushed to the ER. His sigmoid colon had ruptured leaving him wracked with pain and in need of surgery. In recovery, Scheidt also had to contend with shingles and a MRSA infection that nearly killed him.
It was a long road to recovery, but the 47-year-old came away from the experience swinging. He poured himself into writing and recording new material with YOB, hitting back with the band’s best work to date. Our Raw Heart is a passionate, sustained rage against the dying of the light. Over music that is alternately furious and pensive, Scheidt doesn’t demand answers for his plight. He finds acceptance and peace in his frail state, nodding quietly to the realization that these might be the last words he ever sings. “Sent reverence,” he bellows over the grinding propulsion of his band’s attack on the title track. “For what has been given / in this shared life / the raw within.”
The narrative is important to understanding Our Raw Heart, but for Scheidt, it’s only a small part of the story.
“It’s dramatic, there’s no doubt about that,” he says, speaking from his home in Eugene as he prepares for tour. “It happened and it had an effect on my perception of things, which then went into how I wrote, lyrically and musically. It does fit into a similar category with any of our other albums. The music is important, but the flavor of the album is that it came out of this particular span of time. It was spawned out of healing.”
There’s also a clear sense of the band evolving even further beyond the growling, near-stoner rock of their 2002 debut Elaborations of Carbon and the more magisterial sprawl of their last album Clearing The Path To Ascend, released in 2014. There’s even more open space on Our Raw Heart and surprisingly tender moments that call to mind the grace of Scheidt’s solo work. In part, that’s the progression of any creative project—unless you’re Cake or The Ramones, your music is going to change in some manner as you keep writing and being influenced by the world around you—but that growth is also something that Scheidt takes very seriously.
“I want to make sure that there’s something about each album that really earns its keep,” he says. “Having parts of the album that’s in keeping with where we’ve been is part of the lineage and tradition. But there has to be a newness and something internally that’s making us get better. There can’t be too much pretense about it. It can’t be forced either. What it comes down to is study and reading and practice and challenging my life outside of music so I have something new to bring.”
Scheidt clearly came out of the past 18 months with a lot to say. He and his YOB bandmates (drummer Travis Foster and bassist Aaron Rieseberg) are already discussing the next album, and he’s feeling the itch to make a follow up to his 2012 solo album Stay Awake.
“I’m keeping my ears to the ground for projects that sound interesting,” Scheidt says. “I have a finite amount of time with all the things I want to do but I’m keeping things wide open.”