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Yakuza - Beyul

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Artist: Yakuza

Album: Beyul

Label: Profound Lore

Review date: Oct. 11, 2012

By this point in human history, the more skilled and ambitious of hard rock and metal bands have become adept at the seamless incorporation of disparate influences into their music. This is a welcome change from the quickly tiresome “jazz part/thrash part/ambient part” type of genre-hopping composition that characterized the efforts of mid-1990s entries that tried to cop a John Zorn trick with little finesse, not to mention the “metalcore-verse-followed-by-Nickelback-style-chorus” trash that clogs the “metal” sections in whatever retail CD bins remain these days.

But Yakuza is certainly not in that camp. On Beyul, its second record for the forward-leaning Profound Lore label, the Chicago band continues to prove they’ve mastered a far more tasteful blending of ingredients. Over seven cuts, Yakuza augments a tightly wound core of thunderous riffs and prog-metal rhythms with elements of post-rock (pioneered by their windy city colleagues) and even hints of eastern musics.

Vocalist/saxophonist Bruce Lamont (also of Chicago’s brooding Bloodiest) complements those elements, his own pipes tuned somewhere between the lower register of a youthful Chris Cornell with the introspective restraint of Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry. There was also a time when a metal band with prominent sax playing would be a red flag; but Lamont’s alto draws on harmolodic warbling or the austere reedwork heard in European prog (Rock in Opposition, even) with nary a bleat of "hot sax" in earshot. It’s most effective on “Oil and Water,” where he lets loose a sheets-of-sound flurry to usher in the chugging “Children of the Grave”-swing. “Man is Machine” toggles between a Tibetan-inflected vocal/sax drone and a syncopated refrain out of the Van Der Graaf Generator playbook.

Polyglots they may be, but Yakuza never abandons its native tongue. “The Last Day’s” nearly classic-metal chorus and the Iron Maiden breakdowns that offset the otherwise subdued “Fire Temple and Beyond” never let you forget that they are, first and foremost, a metal band (and a pretty damn powerful one at that). The stampeding hardcore of “Species” is a jarring but brief interlude before album closer “Lotus Array” drifts to life with more plaintive, vibrato-less sax amid an eastern-tinged rhythmic accompaniment that is all but obliterated by a Viking attack of burly power-metal at its coda.

Here’s a band that succeeds at assimilating and synthesizing without churning out a carbon copy of a favored style. While a somewhat trained ear could tease out what came from where, it’s a lot easier in this case just to sit back and enjoy work that seems to value interesting textures and arrangements — but not at the expense of the songs themselves.

By Adam MacGregor

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