For many people, Mike Scheidt is Yob. Gentle and hirsute, he's the face and the versatile voice of the Oregon doom-metal trio. He writes the band's songs and its lyrics, and that's his guitar that yawns and rumbles across Yob's sprawling, slo-mo epics.
Indeed, Yob is a massive musical force that's built from and guided by Scheidt's vision. But a third of the way through a 30-minute conversation about the band's intensely personal 2014 album, Clearing the Path to Ascend, he attempts to shift the focus away from himself and onto the whole.
"It's just my music that I write to help me deal with life and deal with being on this planet, and it helps me do that," Scheidt says. "It wasn't that long ago that no one hardly gave a fuck, so I didn't realize that all these years later there'd be more eyes and ears on me doing it."
"And Aaron and Travis," he continues, referring to bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster. "It's not just The Mike Band. It's Yob."
The line where Scheidt ends and Yob begins has never been blurrier than it is on Clearing the Path, a stunning work that achieves pulverizing power, cathartic beauty and just about every shade in between across its four lengthy songs. Those four songs, combined, run a very Yob-like 63 minutes, and sonically, they trace a period in Scheidt's life marked by divorce, depression and ditching psychiatric meds, then overcoming these things, celebration and, ultimately, hope. It's an incredible story told through thunderous riffs and lyrical candor; recording Clearing "helped me get through it," Scheidt told Noisey, Vice's music website, last summer.
And that, he says, is all that mattered at the time.
"I went into this album really feeling like it was working for us, but having no idea if any of it was actually good," Scheidt says. "But, you know, it was working for us, so that's the most important thing. If everyone else hated it, it's still good for us. In order to keep it pure, you acknowledge that there's some expectation and just keep your head down and do the work and make sure that you really mean it."
Of course, everyone didn't hate it. Upon its release last fall by Neurot Recordings, Clearing the Path received nearly universal praise, and at the end of 2014, it was named one of the year's best metal albums by outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Decibel Magazine to The Quietus. "Few bands deliver as completely," The New York Times raved.
Much of the album treads the same ground that Yob has dominated for nearly two decades: deep, dark, devastating doom metal that's heavier than Earth and moves more slowly than evolution. Anchored by Rieseberg and Foster's glacial rhythms, Yob's songs are wide-open, apocalyptic landscapes that provide ample space for Scheidt's howls, growls and six-stringed wizardry. On Clearing the Path, the 17-minute "In Our Blood" and the 15-minute "Unmask the Spectre" begin with quiet, reverberant guitar tones and build into congested battlefields of sludgy riffs, modest guitar solos and Scheidt's grizzly incantations. The song in between, "Nothing to Win," is a relative punk rager that bludgeons for eight minutes before blasting off through squalls of space-junk for three.
And then there's the closer, "Marrow," which finds Yob floating through a prettier, more melodic world that it has explored before, but never so triumphantly. At 19 minutes long, it's a sea of undulating low-end, chiming guitars and vocals that soar as high and clear as anything Scheidt has ever done. Taken with the three preceding tracks, "Marrow" is the sun breaking over the night's horizon, the light at the end of the tunnel. It's as uplifting as doom metal gets, if it's even still doom.
For Scheidt, what you call it doesn't matter. What people think of "Marrow" does matter to him, but he can't control it. What matters is that Clearing the Path is an honest reflection of his life, his mind and his work at the time it was made.
"I'd say this album's more personal in some ways than other ones," he says, "meaning it's closer to home rather than digging into wide-open subjects that can be interpreted any number of ways but don't necessarily point directly to the heart of the person."
"I mean, maybe they do but on the new album, the person is a little clearer in focus," Scheidt adds. "To me, it has the same goal—it's just feet in the mud instead of the head in the clouds, I guess."
Much has been made about Scheidt's more personal—and thus less spiritual or mystical— lyrics on Clearing the Path. To hear his analogy, that shift makes perfect sense.
"People that go to meditation retreats, there comes that period of time in the retreat, however many hours or days in, where the romance of sitting kind of gives way to being uncomfortable and being tired and being hungry. All this stuff will come into play," he says. "I guess on this album, that's kind of more where I'm at: dealing with the stuff that comes up when the romance of it goes away, and you have to deal with the shit."