Yakuza, Beyul: The Body Distorting the Mind

Posted in Reviews on October 25th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

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.

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audiObelisk: Third Batch of Roadburn 2011 Audio Streams Posted Online

Posted in audiObelisk on May 19th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

The third batch of audio streams from Roadburn 2011 might be the best one yet. I don’t think I’ve stopped raving about how good Ramesses (above) and Sungrazer were since I got back from the fest, and with the chance to hear some bands I missed over there — my head hangs in New Jerseyan shame for not catching The Atomic Bitchwax — it’s good to at least hear what I didn’t see. You know the drill by now — here are the links:

The Atomic Bitchwax
http://3voor12.vpro.nl/speler/ondemand/44747228#ondemand.44747228

Carlton Melton
http://3voor12.vpro.nl/speler/ondemand/44747232#ondemand.44747232

Pharaoh Overlord
http://3voor12.vpro.nl/speler/ondemand/44747236#ondemand.44747236

Ramesses
http://3voor12.vpro.nl/speler/ondemand/44747240#ondemand.44747240

Sungrazer
http://3voor12.vpro.nl/speler/ondemand/44747252#ondemand.44747252

Yakuza
http://3voor12.vpro.nl/speler/ondemand/44747256#ondemand.44747256

Zoroaster
http://3voor12.vpro.nl/speler/ondemand/44747263#ondemand.44747263

Scorn
http://3voor12.vpro.nl/speler/ondemand/44747248#ondemand.44747248

As always, these streams were captured live at Roadburn at the 013 Popcentrum in Tilburg, Netherlands, by Marcel van de Vondervoort and his Spacejam Recording team. Special thanks to Walter and Roadburn for letting me host the links on this site.

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Yakuza Interview with Bruce Lamont: A Call to Observe Something Beyond Ourselves and a Call to Scare Yuppies

Posted in Features on July 16th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

When Yakuza vocalist/saxophonist Bruce Lamont talks about a great change and “something beyond ourselves” imminently about to occur, I don’t think he means apocalypse in the traditional sense, like he pictures some kind of catastrophic societal collapse nightmare scenario à la Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road, because, as he notes in our interview, it’s happened before. If you don’t think World War I was the end of the world, go back and read up.

Yakuza‘s fifth album (first for Profound Lore), Of Seismic Consequence, deals with these issues and has a sense of dread throughout, fully conscious of the impending but aware of the inevitability too. It’s a striking record for a number of reasons, its themes among them, but musically progressive as ever, Yakuza continue to be one of America‘s most unique and driven bands. Even a casual listen to Of Seismic Consequence from someone familiar with its predecessor, Transmutations (Prosthetic Records, 2007), will reveal a host of areas where the band has moved forward, Lamont‘s increased use of melodic singing being the most obvious.

But Yakuza has never just been about Lamont, however much his sundry guest appearances elsewhere, side-projects and solo work might make him the most recognizable figure in the band. Guitarist/vocalist Matt McClelland, bassist/vocalist Ivan Cruz and drummer/keyboardist James Staffel each play a central role in making Yakuza what they are in 2010. Sanford Parker‘s production work on Of Seismic Consequence didn’t hurt either.

After the jump, Lamont discusses his visions of the changes the world is about to undergo, how Yakuza came to work with Profound Lore, and just how great it is to scare the crap out of yuppies, which, no matter how you feel about the music, is something I think we can all agree on. Enjoy the Q&A.

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Yakuza: Weighing the Consequences

Posted in Reviews on June 22nd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

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.

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