The Great Cessation is the only Yob album I own on vinyl. Four 180g slabs of smooth, spinning, confusing, doom. Confusing, because, for some reason, on this 2010 Southern Lord reissue, Breathing From The Shallows has been moved from the fourth to second track, pushing The Lie That Is Sin, originally the second track, into third place. I don’t know if this was deliberate or a mistake – having listened to it in the newer order, the jangly break of The Lie That Is Sin breaks up the rolling thunder a bit, but doesn’t hugely alter its flow. However, much like how the back gate artwork of my copy of Sabbath’s Vol 4 was inserted into the jewel case upside down (true story, and please – no further questions), I’m going to embrace the spirit of wabi–sabi and review the album in this order. With no further ado, let’s get ready to ruminate.
Breathing From The Shallows is a stylistic continuation of opener Burning The Altar. Slow and thick, this is one of Yob’s discordant, oppressive tracks. It reminds me of Electric Wizard in that this track revels in its own filth; the intro is discordant, the bass tone is cranked and fuzzy, Scheidt’s all like ‘urgh’ and there’s a weird oscillating background noise. This track is ugly and can’t be bothered to be otherwise. Continuing this comparison to Electric Wizard, alongside the reverberating guitar sound, the reverb on the vocals bestows it with a psych–rock feel. The low–mids have been cut on the latter, giving them the same nasal, Ozzy–esque sound as on Universe Throb, Clear Seeing or Aeons, until Scheidt roars ‘DIE’ (…roaring nasally isn’t possible) after the first verse.
At first the lyrics read as a critique of greed and unfettered money making, rather than Yob’s normal sparring partner of religion:
Where you going with your greed?
Sharpened razor’s edge
burst at the seems
Then the second verse starts with ‘Where you going with your pride?’ I wondered if each of the deadly sins was going to get a slap in turn, but hereafter the lyrics turn to back to greed:
‘[…]eyes like magnets
ambition like cancer
stomach like a drain
I wondered ‘what breathing from the shallows’ meant, and why it had been chosen as a title. The closest phrase to it in common use is shallow breathing, but this is similar in semantics only. The lyrics are about over–consumption – so in this context, maybe they’re about a choice being made to exist rather than to live, through which ‘man becomes the ghost of his own creations’.
At first Breathing From The Shallows was hard work, coming after the density of Burning The Altar, but it grew on me. Its oppressive atmosphere hangs lower than the clouds over Britain in November, and it’s structured so that its seven and a half minutes feels just right.
Some artists are known for their phases. Metallica evolved from thrash to straight up heavy metal and beyond. Tom Waits went from drinking man’s–singer–songwriter with a piano to jazzy beatnik to that weird Island Record trilogy. Miles Davis moved from bebop to cool to orchestral to hard bop to fusion. Mastodon were crusty then prog and now hard rock. Fuck knows what Swans were and fuck knows what they are now but they keep on changing. Although it’s a bit much to call just one album a phase, The Great Cessation does feel like Yob’s foray into sludge, especially when compared to their more melodic recent material on Clearing The Path To Ascend and Our Raw Heart. Their next album, 2011’s Atma, was to be far more euphonious than the semi–tones and discord that dominates the majority (although not quite not all) of The Great Cessation. Breathing from the shallows, wallowing in the sludge, and it only gets uglier.