Live Review: Scott Kelly and Bruce Lamont in Chicago, 11.11.15

Posted in Reviews on November 13th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

scott kelly and bruce lamont 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It had been a few days since I’d gone outside. Seriously. In Chicago for a work trip, I’d been holed up either at the conference I was in town for or the hotel immediately adjacent to it. Dinner had been ordered in three nights in a row, and I’d gone precisely nowhere since arriving in the city on Sunday. Not healthy. Not living right. In the end, it was the phone call from hotel security — checking on the wellness of the room’s occupant, since housekeeping hadn’t been allowed to clean in more than 48 hours — that shamed me into leaving to see Corrections House bandmates Scott Kelly (also Neurosis) and Bruce Lamont (also Yakuza and Bloodiest). Shame sometimes does the trick.

As it happened, they were playing a different hotel, the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, in a space carved out as the “Drawing Room” and decorated in what I can only describe as man-bun living room chic; dimly lit (as the pictures I got will attest — god damn I need a new camera), all things made to look old and comfortable, leather-bound everything, like the Harvard club where people go to talk about how their new app is going to do away with various plights of inequality. “Gamechanging” modern design by making it look like a slavemaster’s parlor. I’m sure it was all very expensive. It looked very expensive. Strange setting for a show.

bruce lamont 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)Not to say that with Misters Kelly and Lamont both playing solo sets — they shared a guitar — it should’ve been in a dive bar. The chair I sat in was perfectly comfortable. It was the second night of the Kelly/Lamont tour, which may or may not be taking the place of a full Corrections House run to support that group’s new album, Know How to Carry a Whip, out on Neurot Recordings, and the plan seemed to be in order: Lamont would play first, Kelly second, and then they’d play together. Not a method entirely dissimilar from the first time I saw Corrections House early in 2013 (review here), but obviously a different sonic context without Sanford Parker‘s beats — likely on his way to the West Coast with Buried at Sea — and without Mike Williams of Eyehategod‘s semi-spoken drug poetics. Worth it to say that nothing felt overly like it was missing once the show got started.

Part of that is probably thanks to Lamont‘s kitchen-sink experimental approach. Surrounded by his saxophone, clarinet, the guitar he was sharing with Kelly, at least two vocal mics and sundry other processors, pedals and effects, he was able to create a wash of droning noise all on his own. Lamont‘s solo album, 2011’s Feral Songs for the Epic Decline, was the basis for some of the performance, but much of what he did was manipulated, echoed, spaced out, and layered into something new. I know Bloodiest have a new full-length coming at the start of 2016 via Relapse, but if Lamont hasn’t considered recording a follow-up solo outing live and putting it out even in limited numbers through War Crime Recordings, his label co-owned by Sanford Parker, he probably should. Some of the most affecting moments came as he tilted his head back and let loose a soulful howl that reminded me of some of the spaciousness he was able to conjure in Yakuza, but the whole set was saturated with creativity and Lamont‘s sense of controlling the chaos was palpable.

The switch to bringing out Scott Kelly was done via an extended saxo-drone and a wave of the hand. Both mics were already set up, and so Kelly came out from the crowd and picked up the guitar. There were a couple songs he played I didn’t recognize — maybe new, maybe covers I couldn’t identify — but his meditative takes on the works of Townes van Zandt are always welcome. He did “Tecumseh Valley” early in the set, but the highlights were cuts from his 2012 Scott Kelly and the Road Home album, The Forgiven Ghost in Me (review here). I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for “The Field that Surrounds Me,” but “The Sun is Dreaming in the Soul” scott kelly 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)did just fine, and particularly following “The Ladder in My Blood” from 2008’s solo album, The Wake. “We Let the Hell Come” provided an intense finish to his solo portion — Kelly rocking back and forth behind the mic in a less neck-dislocating fashion than he might on stage with Neurosis, but definitely with a similar rhythmic sensibility — arriving at its title line after gravel-throated incantations for which he backed off the mic about a foot but that still came through clear in their intent and vision.

A similar wave brought Lamont back to the front. Together Kelly and Lamont offered renditions of Townes Van Zandt‘s “The Rake” and Neil Young‘s “Cortez the Killer,” before finishing off with the Corrections House track “Run through the Night,” taken from their 2013 debut, Last City Zero. Standing side-by-side, Kelly‘s guitar and Lamont‘s sax cast a Morricone-style spell over the room, a hard strum spacious with both adding vocals until Lamont, having layered backing “ooh”s, created a sufficient wash and apex that seemed to swell one voice at a time until appropriately consuming. The studio version of that song gets pretty noisy, but live, it was more melodic, and when Kelly got back on mic to whisper out the last few lines, the multi-layer barrage he cut through made it plain that nothing else would follow. They cut out together and the show was over with a quick plug for merch, which had been placed on a table behind them while they played.

It was raining outside when they were done, so I took a quick cab back to my temporary lair and tried to get a night’s sleep. No dice there, but I didn’t the least bit regret how the evening had been spent, whatever it took to get me out the door.

Thanks for reading.

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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

Carlton Melton

Pharaoh Overlord






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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