Beyul is the second Yakuza album to be released via Profound Lore. The continually underrated Chicago-based four-piece issued Of Seismic Consequence (review here) in 2010, and in that time, not much superficial has changed. Vocalist Bruce Lamont continues to lead the way with his warnings of the consequences of excess and his saxophone, guitarist Matt McClelland, bassist Ivan Cruz and drummer James Staffel doing a more than able job in keeping up and at times setting the course for Yakuza’s post-metallic shifts between ambient spaces and grinding aural crush. Once again, Sanford Parker helmed as producer as he has since sharing those duties with Matt Bayles on 2006’s Prosthetic Records debut, Samsara, and as with the ensuing Transmutations (2007, also Prosthetic) and Of Seismic Consequence, the pairing works well and to the advantage of the material. Hell, cellist Alison “Helen Money” Chesley even returns for a guest appearance on three of Beyul’s tracks, so if you were thinking their sixth album might be some radical departure from the successful blend of progressive metal, ambient hum and jazz textures Yakuza was able to accomplish on Of Seismic Consequence – to be blunt – it ain’t. What Beyul is, however, is not only a logical extension of the ideas the band presented the last time around, but a tighter performance, with burgeoning melodic breadth to complement the stylistic freedom that seems to have always been at their core. Of progress, they continue to make a rolling stone, but how they’re doing that has changed. Perhaps the most notable difference between Beyul and its predecessor – again, superficially – is its length, which has dropped from a heady 51:55 to a vinyl-ready 38:46, and the adoption of a structure as well that feels suited to the LP form, a split perceivable between the two longest tracks, highlight cut “Man is Machine” (8:29), and the following “Fire Temple and Beyond” (9:55). If there are plans for a vinyl release, I don’t know, but even on a CD, Beyul seems to be driving toward that form, the last four of the album’s total seven tracks pushing further into the blistering avant garde – by now long since familiar territory for Yakuza.
With the most diverse and engaging vocal performance of his career fronting the band, Lamont remains a focal point throughout Beyul, developing the range he began to establish last time out and reserving a harsher approach for the penultimate thrasher “Species” (1:26), the mounting chaos of which serves as a release for much of the tension the album has built to that point. Earlier tracks like “On the Last Day” or the opener “Oil and Water” meld post-metal tribal-style rhythms with varying degrees of memorability in songwriting. Rabidly percussed, “Oil and Water” nonetheless has a chorus, and not a weak one, but coupled with the intensity of the initial churn, the two competing sides feel almost like the title, and even when they offer some release for the tension around 1:45, and screaming lead guitars pave the way for effective echoing vocals, the insistent thud is shortly to resume. If Yakuza had meant to write a catchy pop song, it might be an issue, but to date, that’s never been their aim. The thrashing riff they seem to be ending with gives way to one last chorus, and “On the Last Day” continues the push into maelstrom, offsetting with sax-led jazz ambience. Chesley guests here, as on “Man is Machine” and “Fire Temple and Beyond,” which follow in succession, and Angela Mullenhour and Tim Remus also contribute to “On the Last Day,” resulting in a kind of orchestral experimentation that’s met with multiple layers of vocals. In the heavier parts – because, despite effective contrast, that’s what they are – the line “Deny it all” is a sustained standout from Lamont, and that sets up the expectation for more of a chorus, which “Man is Machine” delivers after an initial plod and washes of low end wipe the slate clean from the pummeling opening duo. For guest spots, Mars Williams and Dave Rempis join Chesley and Mullenhour, and of course Lamont, McClelland, Cruz and Staffel as well, on “Man is Machine,” giving the song even more of a sense of culmination. Nonetheless, it’s the song that stands itself out, the repetition of “The body distorting the mind” following a faster cadence that reminds curiously of early ‘90s Primus before they cycle back into the lumbering verse.