Released: 2006, Prosthetic Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Chicago’s Yakuza is a strange, strange band. Some might call their conglomeration of metal, hardcore, jazz, ambient and discordant noise “experimental.” I call it strange. Unique, but strange nonetheless. On their third album, SAMSARA, Yakuza continues to defy conventions with odd time signatures and melding of styles that generally make for a difficult listening experience. Yakuza is not a bad band by any means. In fact, their ambivalence towards keeping things in line is refreshing on one hand but challenging on the other—probably part of the reason they got dropped by Century Media after only one album, 2002’s WAY OF THE DEAD. Like its predecessor, SAMSARA is far from boring but it takes a REAL open mind to be able to digest what Yakuza is serving up. Jazz, hardcore, sludge, prog, hard rock, ambient…it’s a real catch-all. Think Mastodon meets Neurosis meets Faith No More meets Kenny G (just kidding on the last one)…
The saxophone/tribal drum intro of “Cancer of Industry” is relaxing and pensive before the brutal harshness kicks in and Bruce Lamont’s mournful bellowing roar takes over. “Plecostomus” trudges along, going back and forth between some dutifully heavy riffs and a messy din of spastic guitar noise while its follow-up, “Monkeytail,” takes a more laid-back approach and soothes the listener with some dark, brooding horns that are intoxicating. The ambient instrumental, “Transmission Ends...Signal Lost,” could be lifted from a Cult of Luna album with its sample-heavy air of vast openness. “20 Bucks” is dripping with Eastern influences and the Primus/System-of-A-Down-like stop/start weirdness is an immediate parallel. Lamont’s trippy vocal style on “Exterminator” is not dissimilar to Robert Plant’s singing-underwater on Led Zeppelin’s “In The Light” but there are also slight similarities to Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell. The rhythm section coupled with the horns really give this track a mystical aura, too. The crushing heaviness found on “Just Say Know” is like a ten-ton wall of sound that buries anything Mastodon has done. A short burst of chaotic fury, it hits like a sledgehammer to the temple. The smart sequencing of a track like “Just Say Know” followed by the slow, jazzy drone of “Glory Hole” with its tinkling piano and monotone vocal really demonstrates what a versatile band Yakuza is both as songwriters and musicians. The ultimate track, though, is “Back To The Mountain,” which plugs Yakuza’s myriad of styles into a meandering nine-minute trip through amelodic noise, crooning woodwinds and raging vocals from Lamont and Mastodon’s Troy Sanders.
It is virtually impossible to pigeon-hole a band like Yakuza and in today’s genre-specific market, a forward-thinking band can be a tough sell. SAMSARA will have its audience but Prosthetic Records will likely find themselves in the same situation that Century Media did—who is this band’s demographic? Yakuza is too heavy to be alternative, certainly too bizarre to be marketed to mainstream radio and probably a little too quirky for metalheads to be sporting their t-shirt. So where does this leave Yakuza? Probably right where they want to be, which is on the fringe of several genres, redefining music’s parameters and never capitulating to anyone’s classifications. SAMSARA is a strange trip and it takes a few spins to really sink in but quickly rises above the dross of metalcore/death/power metal that gets spoon-fed to the masses.
KILLER KUTS: “Cancer of Industry,” “Monkeytail,” “20 Bucks,” “Exterminator,” “Just Say Know,” “Back To The Mountain”