(AP) -- YOB, "Our Raw Heart" (Relapse Records)
It's been a hell of a year so far for fans of doom metal, the Black Sabbath-worshipping style favored for its ominous themes, crawling tempos and down-tuned guitars. Bay Area stoner titans Sleep released (on 4/20, of course) their first full-length album in 15 years, filling a headbanger vacuum that sent "The Sciences" improbably to the Top 10 of Billboard's rock charts.
Now comes the return of underground heroes YOB, the Pacific Northwest trio able to swing effortlessly between menacing distortion and hushed reverie. Head YOB Mike Scheidt is back to full, howling strength after recovering from surgery for a debilitating intestinal disease. The brush with death has left him more reflective than usual on their eighth album, "Our Raw Heart," and less concerned by perceived genre rules.
The crunching, repetitive riff that anchors "The Screen" is manna for metal purists. But on songs like the soaring title track and the 17-minute meditation "Beauty In Falling Leaves," the heaviness comes not just from big guitars but from a creeping tension that bolsters Scheidt's passionate and wide-ranging vocals. "All around you, the infinite," he sings.
Five of the seven songs top 10 minutes in length, showcasing Scheidt's skills as a composer and guitarist -- and testing those listeners with short attention spans. Bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster are allowed the freedom to stretch out on ambitious and sprawling pieces that strive for transcendence.