Music theory time.
Much like the intro to One, the second half of The Art of Dying, or the whole of Planet Caravan, each time the intro riff of Catharsis begins I sit there thinking happy thoughts about how that riff could play the whole song through and not tire on me.
It takes its time, beginning with what sounds like a guitar being knocked at with a wrench, before the first riff starts with single notes, the first of which is an A. It shifts up, in a manner best described as stately, to a longer lasting C (a minim, or half note, to be exact). This shift being that of three semitones (i.e. a minor third), this resting point of C sounds minor (a minor third has an unerringly downbeat sound – think the second note of Iron Man). When the riff moves on, in its own good time, it goes back down through the minor scale to G, the perfect seventh of A (think of the note the intro riff of Creeping Death drops to in the fourth bar). A perfect seventh normally sounds closer to minor than major, and with a bit of space it has a mysterious, suspended sound (a good example is the perfect seventh Flea rests on after the first flurry of notes in True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes). From here this procession continues down through the A minor scale in shorter notes (crochets/quarter notes) to a minim of F#, which, not being a note that belongs in the key of A minor (and as such is called an ‘accidental’), sounds dissonant. Subconsciously you expect to hear certain chords, especially if you’ve heard a lot of that kind of music (the 12 bar blues is the best known example of this) (I’m sure you can think of your own example). Subverting this expectation by playing less obvious note choices is the kind of move that can prick up ears.
From this F# the riff shifts down through the minor scale down to D, the perfect fourth, which, to my ears, has a slightly regal sound to it. After this the riff jumps back up by a fifth to alternate between two A notes an octave apart (think of the first two notes of Somewhere Over The Rainbow – that’s an octave jump), both lasting the length of minim. There’s no harmonic movement here, but the use of an octave keeps it moving at a surface level whilst also creating a suspended, hovering sensation, so that when the suspense is relieved by the downward movement of shorter notes (crochets) through A/G/F# and riff restarts in A, it comes to the ear as a pleasant surprise, rather than as a relief.
This initial use of single notes rather than chords presents the riff in its simplest form. When chords sucker punch in at 3:12 it harmonically expands. This expansion is a simple one: instead of introducing a more complex sound by throwing in the minor third or the perfect seventh (which are the other notes in the simplest kind of minor chord) for the first A chord, Yob play the fifth and the octave – a power chord – resulting in a more open, general sound. A power chord sweeps everything along with it. Sometimes subtlety can just fuck right off.
Despite this song being in a minor key, and the shift between the first A and C being that of the aforementioned minor third, when it lands on this C chord it sounds major. At first I attributed this to it being a C major chord. It’s actually a power chord; the fifth and the octave, in this context, sound major. Although the song is in a minor key, this use of a power chord follows harmonic rules, meaning that a C power chord fits into that key i.e. sounds right (is ‘diatonic’). The case is the same when the riff shifts back down to G, the aforementioned mysterious–sounding perfect seventh, Scheidt playing another power chord; again, harmonically correct.
I can imagine Scheidt sitting at home tinkering around with those five chords until they sounded just right, then playing with all of those effects pedals, eventually making this minor riff sound uplifting. In reality this riff doesn’t play the whole song through, into infinity and beyond. It plays through for four minutes and fifty–two seconds, or around a fifth of the whole song, before developing into a big descending section, before taking up a quieter variation of the same riff. Although in comparison to most songs this is still a long time, in the context of doom music this is not so much the case. Point being, Yob don’t rely so much upon an element of extremity, whether that be length (Sleep), distortion (haarp), density (Bongripper) or dissonance (Indian) to do the heavy lifting (not that I don’t like the bands listed – just that they play to their strengths, which are those areas. haarp are sick). Yob’s appeal stands in channelling these elements into songwriting. I can imagine Scheidt sitting at home tinkering around with those five chords until they sounded just right, then playing with all of those effects pedals, eventually producing one of those minor riffs that are somehow uplifting.
After the descending section, the quieter variation of the main riff, along with the singing, is uplifting, to the point of foreshadowing Marrow (which we will come onto in good time). Indeed, the lyrics are it’s–all–part–of–the–rich–tapestry–of–life stuff:
All the fear
All the pain
The hope and the tears
To measure the worth
However, the second ‘verse’ ends with
Built upon our philosophies
Not for me
In solitude again
Once again, Scheidt looks to – or is compelled by – philosophical struggles. The riff begins to repeat on shorter cycles, gutteral roars entering a minute later with
All the rage
The song takes a little break, and could have ended here, at the grand old age of 15 minutes and 30 seconds. When it re–enters it does so at a tempo of 40 bmp, which in the big book of Italian words for music is called, and I promise I’m not making this up, ‘grave’. And in this re–entrance it’s well and truly doomed out on us, everything drawn out – the chords, the screams, the crashes, all the rivets popping out of the hull as the ship goes down. The heavily distorted screams feel like very, very slow death metal, dragging out, droning on, digging in, and generally sounding like a bit of its namesake for Scheidt et al.
Ironically, given its title, for a song that starts out so pretty it sure does ends ugly, even with a spurt of energy at 19.25 into what I think of as a 6/8 Electric Wizard–style boogie (and who doesn’t love a boogie to The Wiz?). Whether this is cathartic, well, that’s up to whether you find catharsis in tension or release. I feel that a cleansing piece of music would have an inverted structure to that of Catharsis (which is something I’ll be looking for in the coming albums), but I guess some find the dissonance of styles like grind, black metal and sludge a release (personally, and even when sober, sludge has always inspired more of a hair of the dog feeling).
When I first listened through the whole of this album I thought that it contained few stand–out moments, especially compared to surrounding albums Elaborations of Carbon and Illusion of Motion. Respectively, it isn’t as raw and bluesy, nor as aggressive, and maybe it’s as straightforward as a Yob album ever got. Yet with time I’ve come to hear the character of Catharsis, and can understand why it’s a favourite for many.
We’re overjoyed feeling all right in our skin
The apocalypse never felt so good
Next up: we’re done with Catharsis and onto opening number of The Illusion of Motion, Ball of Molten Lead.