(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Way Of The Dead (2002), 6.5/10
Samsara (2006), 7/10
Transmutations (2007), 5/10
Of Seismic Consequence (2010), 6/10
Beyul (2012), 6/10

Chicago's Yakuza, fronted by vocalist and saxophonist Bruce Lamont, concocted a thundering hybrid of doom-metal, death-metal, jazz-rock and post-rock on Way Of The Dead (Century Media, 2002). Vergasso is as disorienting as it gets: a ritualistic Tibetan "om", a saxophone imitating Buddhist trumpets, a shower of tom-toms, and then... a metalcore riff-spitting guitar. Miami Device opens with sax effects but it's mostly frenzied quasi-grindcore replete with gargantuan roars ("mostly" because it keeps changing dynamics). Here and there the slow/fast mellow/violent contrasts bring out the theatrical quality of this music, notably in Yama and Chicago Typewriter. Contradictions abound. Lamont actually shouts a melodic refrain over the extreme grindcore foundation of T.M.S. Obscurity is all anger, speed and noise, but it also boasts the jazziest saxophone sounds. Stronger ambitions emerge from the purely abstract instrumental Signal, but it's only two minutes long. The album is mostly taken up by the 43-minute piece 01000011110011. A feeble bolero beat channels the psychedelic intoxication of fluttering saxophone wails that propagate like waves through an empty ether. The model is Miles Davies' Bitches Brew, three decades old. The overdubbed saxophone sounds explore and mix different timbres, never forming a complete melody, never forging a narrative. Ugly guitar noise bubbles up but quietly fade away. Bass lines morph with echoes of the sax.

Lamont actually sang instead of just screaming on the more elegant and varied Samsara (Prosthetic, 2006). Here the classic line-up truly coalesced into an organic unit, with guitarist Matt McClelland, bassist Ivan Cruz and drummer James Staffel providing more than just the backbone for the leader's ideas. Opener Cancer Of Industry already shows rhythmic creativity before launching into a senseless breathless ride. Only the brief Just Say Know outdoes it in terms of metal content. And even the more orthodox bursts of metal hormones display more restrain and class than on the first album. The guitar pens both the implosion and the coda of Dishonor in a highly dramatic manner. The slower and melodic Plecostomus pairs steady drumming and a loud distorted guitar, the latter merging with studio effects that eventually derail the whole song. Monkeytail opens with atmospheric exotic sax phrasing and features a long instrumental intermezzo. Similarly, 20 Bucks opens with a fairy-tale sax and percussion before unleashing metalcore fury. The trancey and eccentric Exterminator even sounds a bit like Pink Floyd's Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun mixed with some energetic Van Der Graaf Generator and closed with a powerful crescendo of polyrhythmic fantasy, raga-tinged guitar and a terrified litany. Another prolonged soliloquy, Glory Hole, keeps the drums under control even when the guitar noise reaches unbearable levels. The nine-minute Back To The Mountain admits the split personality, alternating between quiet sax-driven passages and brutal guitar explosions.
Absorbing the whole album in one session is tough: there is so much to taste. Amid the sensory overload the weakest link remains the vocals, never truly impressive and sometimes even detracting from the overall impact.

Transmutations (Prosthetic, 2007) was their weakest album, too often sounding like a blatant attempt to lure the Neurosis/ Isis crowd. The sorrowful croon of Meat Curtains alternating with sudden bursts of black metal is just not credible. Some songs sound like failed, amateurish pop-metal (Perception Management, Zombies). The one piece that stands out, because it is so different, is the gothic nightmare The Blinding. Raus boasts clean singing and a folkish lullaby, and betrays Lamont's main and more sincere influence: King Crimson-ian melody and King Crimson-ian melodrama.

Lamont's singing (never the band's main asset) got even more polished on Of Seismic Consequence (Profound Lore, 2010). Yakuza was never at its best when aping Mastodon or Neurosis, and here those impulses are minimized. Opener The Ant People sounds like a continuation of The Blinding. Closer Deluge sounds like the soundtrack of a funereal procession. In between the album is mostly taken up by two lengthy fantasies. The Middle-eastern flavor of Be That as It May gets pulverized by the galloping guitar noise of the second half but also migrates into the poppy melody that keeps surfing that noise. The eleven minutes Farewell to the Flesh reenacts King Crimson-ian pomp and, in general, stereotypes of prog-rock. Lamont's delivery and the band's performance is often minimal, almost bored and indifferent. The metal bursts (Stones and Bones for all of them) are a distration, not an attraction. The unlikely balance of visceral energy and eccentric intensity was Yakuza's main asset. In this album that album is broken, leaving some trivial metalcore songs and lengthy prog-metal with little pathos, and no bridges between the two fields.

Beyul (Profound Lore, 2012) contains the eight-minute Man Is Machine and unfurls in the same unpredictable, chaotic, irregular manner with possibly just more prog-metal melodrama.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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