Darkness and Hope


Mr. Orlando

2020 was an intensely difficult (if not traumatic) year for everyone. While there were glimmers of beauty and grace that occasionally cut through the overwhelming uncertainty of our times, people suddenly found themselves in the position of having to find ways to soothe a neverending deluge of heartache and fear. In the spirit of perseverance, I wanted to highlight two albums inspired by the artists’ suffering and subsequent survival of trials.  


Yob – Our Raw Heart (2018)

Yob is a doom metal power-trio band from Eugene, Ore. and the main project of founder/principal songwriter Mike Scheidt. For the uninitiated, doom metal is to thrash metal what barbequing (slow and low heat) is to grilling (fast and hot).  In the doom genre, the riffing is slow, low, sustained, and the rhythm crawls, deliberately creating space for the listener to soak in the decibels and reflect. The tones of the guitars and vocals can be clean, heavily distorted, or anything in between. Doom metal requires patience and creates an almost meditative listening experience – speed and virtuosity are not the focus. Our Raw Heart (ORH) holds a unique place in the Yob discography as it was written while Mike was recovering from a near-fatal run-in with acute diverticulitis. The result is an album that is explosive, crushing, and massive up front but cutting through all the intensity are intentional flourishes of brightness, clarity, and gratitude both in the lyrics and the music. Right out the gate, the album art is stunning – sacred geometry fills the booklet and the colors that fill the lyric sheets are rich purples, blues, oranges, greens, and reds.  Taken in as one artistic expression, the colors are reminiscent of either a sunset or sunrise – the beginning of darkness or of light, respectively. In a genre that often has an extremely limited color palette (black, white, and gray usually), the idea of introducing color into the artwork ties seamlessly into the mood and purpose of the music.  

At seven tracks with a running time of 73 minutes and change, ORH’s songs lean to the longer side (standard for the genre) and explore themes of yearning, battling illness, the afterlife, spirituality, nature, hope, and appreciation. Instead of dwelling on the dread of a grim diagnosis, the lyrics focus on the beauty in life and a life well-lived – it’s a story of glorifying the opportunity to live, not romanticizing death (arguably one of metal’s longest running tropes and one of the strongest criticisms of the genre). The production is organic sounding – it has texture and feels as though the songs are living entities themselves. The guitars go from being crunchy, explosive, and dissonant to providing a wealth of melody and nuance through clean tones and harmonies. A great example of Yob doing what it does best is both the centerpiece of the album and the longest song (16:27), “Beauty in Falling Leaves.” The combination of clean vocals, tasteful levels of distortion, and space between notes creates an uplifting experience – the listener is surrounded by sound but not overwhelmed by it. The opener “Ablaze” and title/closing-track “Our Raw Heart” have a similar feel and tie the album together as a cohesive story with different chapters.  For those seeking by-the-book heaviness, try “The Screen” and “Original Face” – yet as heavy as those songs are in the context of the rest of the album, they aren’t sonically any more or less powerful than the others.  Yob’s ORH is a beautifully balanced effort that both expanded Yob’s sonic palette and proved that “heavy” can be bright and beautiful, not just nihilistic and violent.



Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses (2018)

On Dark Horses (ODH) sounds like a blustery, wet, partially cloudy day in fall feels while walking through the woods – it might get sunny later, but it will most likely rain. And even when rain comes, the damp misery surrounding you is balanced by the sound of the raindrops hitting the leaves on the trees and the scent of the wood and earth becoming hydrated. After the darkness, light is sure to follow and life continues onward. Emma Ruth Rundle is a master of creating tension and not giving the listener any real indication of whether or not the tension will end.  Both musically and lyrically, the emotion on ODH ebbs and tides and the melancholy is palpable. Enigmatic, gothic, organic, crushing, strong, yet delicate, the songs feel as though they have just enough energy to stand up to the trauma that’s inspiring them, but it’s exhausting and the protagonist seeks resolution – a break from the monotony of having to constantly revisit these same demons over and over again. Thankfully, there is hope. On ODH, the production provides a smokey warmth that suggests the possibility of peace – it’s hazy and dreamlike, like when you wake up after a long, deep sleep. The songs on ODH are complicated, difficult stories of childhood, existence, love, loss, fear, and self-reflection told through slow-to-mid-tempo electric-guitar-driven folk. Clocking in at 42 minutes, the songs average around five minutes a piece but feel expansive in their execution. Emma knows how to use space between notes to create mystery and intrigue which she uses to her advantage in songs like “Control” and “Races.” There are moments within songs like “Fever Dreams,” “Light Song,” and “Darkhorse” where the band crescendos into a powerful, echoey, liquidy wall-of-sound (reminiscent of shoegaze) – the sound is not dissonant and bleak, rather it feels like the warmth in your chest after crying. It’s the sonic equivalent of being vulnerable and, for a moment, being seen and validated. The two closing tracks “Apathy on the Indiana Border” and “You Don’t Have to Cry” are just as tension-filled and hopeful as the six that precede them – the album ends with as much power, and uncertainty, as it opened with (NB – all of Emma’s albums have phenomenal closing songs). ODH can’t promise you that the rain won’t come, but if it does, it will at least walk with you towards the parting clouds.