Yakuza are a critic’s band. Certainly for as long as I’ve been reviewing albums, I’ve been saying of the Chicago outfit, “They’re doing really important things, it’s only a matter of time before the public catches on.” Century Media probably felt the same way when they signed the band in the early part of the last decade, and Prosthetic too when they put out 2006’s Samsara and 2007’s Transmutations. And you know what? We were all right. Yakuza have been making innovative and individualized metal for over a decade now, and it just seems like nobody’s paying attention.
For their latest outing, Of Seismic Consequence, they’ve found a new label home on Profound Lore, and suddenly it doesn’t matter anymore. If you don’t know, well, you don’t know. It’s not the band’s problem, it’s not the label’s problem. Yakuza has the freedom to do what they want to do and that’s just the way it is. The narrative I’ve seen in Of Seismic Consequence is this is Yakuza’s “fuck it” album. They’re saying “fuck it,” and doing what they want. If you want to come along for that, great. If not, your loss.
And Of Seismic Consequence is a considerable journey, with a feel more like a linear trip than a rounded album of songs. Conventionality has never been top priority for Yakuza, and their progressive bent toward the experimental and tech-jazzy continues here. “Stones and Bones” is as angular as the band has ever been, and 11-minute centerpiece cut “Farewell to the Flesh” is an exercise in ambient minimalism, vocalist Bruce Lamont adding his trademark saxophone to a subdued melodic singing that seems to quiet both the album and the universe surrounding it. Lamont has always been the focal point of Yakuza, but without guitarist Matt McClelland, bassist Ivan Cruz and drummer James Staffel, the heavy/soft shift of a song like “Be that as it May” would fall completely flat. There’s a band dynamic on Of Seismic Consequence, is what I’m trying to say, no matter whose name you see in the interviews.
The album was produced by fellow Chicagoan Sanford Parker, who if you’ve heard either the new Zoroaster or the latest Nachtmystium albums, you’ll already know has entered his “Let’s compress the shit out of these guitars” phase. There’s some of that on Of Seismic Consequence, but the under-three-minute late pairing of “Good Riddance (Knuckle Walkers)” and “The Great War” lose none of their tension for it. Lamont turns in his angriest, most intense vocal on the former, and the latter, while somewhat more diverse and angular sonically, is no less devastating. Closer “Deluge” works a slow build for its seven minutes, starting off like something from Alice in Chains’ Sap and gradually encompassing the listener with its plodding rhythm. Kelly Lamont (hmm…) guests on vocals to great effect here. She’s one of two guests on Of Seismic Consequence, Helen Money’s Alison Chesley being the other, adding her cello to Yakuza’s already complex maelstrom.
I think what’s always kept Yakuza from crossing over from “important band” to “popular band” is that their songs feel more like part collections. Of Seismic Consequence isn’t the record that’s going to change that, but like I said before, it doesn’t matter anymore. In Profound Lore, they’ve found a place where they can have the creative freedom they’ve always seemed to display anyway, and those who have already caught on or will catch on can do so and everyone else can go listen to Lacuna Coil or The Acacia Strain. If anything, Yakuza are at their most potent yet, creatively, and it seems their will to drive their sound further into the reaches of truly progressive metal has only increased over time. Lamont and Co. may not be headlining this year’s Ozzfest, but they continue to make music that is truly their own and more and more inimitable.
Tags: Chicago, Illinois, Profound Lore, Yakuza