REVIEW: YAKUZA’S BEYUL
I’ve always thought “avant garde metal” is an odd duck micro-niche. Since so much metal is (ostensibly) devoted to pushing the parameters of form, tempo, technicality, production, or listener tolerance, an “avant garde” for metal is like asking for a sandwich with extra sandwich in it: redundant certainly, delicious potentially.
Regarding diet, we’d all do well to eat more Yakuza. On the Chicago group’s new album Beyul (Profound Lore), “avant garde” seems to refer to a number of things.
First, their use of non-metal instruments, specifically lead Yakuzer Bruce Lamont’s saxamaphone, and second, the occasional brief, non-western influenced passage. The two present themselves immediately and effectively on album opener “Oil And Water,” where frenzied horns and hand percussion paint a panic in a middle eastern bazaar, before the snake charmer breaks out some early Ozzy melodics, both forthright and frail over double bass, a lot of double bass.
As further evidence of their Avant-Gardiness, you might add in Yakuza’s inky splurges of dissonance. One of Beyul’s highlights “Man Is Machine” features tranches of black puddled dissolution, with foghorn drone, buzzing guitar, and reedy whispers. It leads to one of the album’s most powerful crescendos, with Lamont singing in a cycle as the rhythm section propels and dissolves. The sax might get a little too much play in the build-up, but the horn blowing never feels like chintzy ornamentation, or a new conduit for technical masturbation, like it can sometimes with Ihsahn.
The avant garde tag is puzzling, because maybe with the exception of the saxophone, these other bits of Avant-Garditude I mention (maybe throw suite based rather than verse/chorus song structures into the mix too) seem suspiciously like the tools of the trade for any metal band not looking to recreate a fantasy version of 1974 or 1986, although, the retread army might be considered “avant garde” for boldly challenging the limits of my attention span, and love of denim.
And for all the weird shit, this album is a thoroughly engaging, rarely boring, not-so-difficult listen. This is for two main reasons. The first reason is the production, which makes these songs sound like they were performed by real humans in a normal human space, which is an incredible bitch to do, and even more of a challenge with all the sax and strings and bonus percussion and weird buzz devices. The production balances different intensities without any fuss. Penultimate shredder “Species” covers sensory overload with admirable ferocity, and when it escapes over the city walls onto the night time caravan of “Lotus Array,” there’s no disjunct, only mournful layers of sax undergirding a steady ride beneath a starless sky.
The second reason the album doesn’t come off as a brainy ploy or world music seminar is Lamont’s vocal performance. He is not the most technically talented vocalist, but he makes up for it with range, and that range is eminently approachable. If you were to isolate the vocal tracks on Beyul you’d hear bits and pieces scattered across the alt rock and metal cannons, including (but not limited to) pieces of Tool, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Ozzy, and Michael Gira’s recent work in Angels Of Light (compare Beyul’s opener to We Are Him‘s to see what I mean). It’s a dour but humble catalog, blissfully ignorant of recent advances in the execution of alternating screamy and singy parts. Avant-whatever, Beyul is thoughtful, surprising, and rewarding without the assistance of a music-analysis cap. It’s an experience on the cutting edge that doesn’t require you to think too much about what’s in the blood.
(4 horns up out of 5)