Yakuza remain mind-altering but reveal newfound display of ferocity on ‘Beyul’

Growing up, our school encouraged us to take up an instrument. We had a regular music teacher who focused almost entirely on teaching instruments to students, and we got these little personal showcases of all the instruments available so we could pick the one we wanted most. Or, translated, the one we wanted our parents to buy us the most. It was a good time.

I was an avid pop music fan in the early 1980s, so the saxophone stood out as the choice for me. The instrument was featured in so many of the songs I had recorded off the radio and with which I annoyed parents and friends on a regular basis. Pretty sure I made everyone sick of Hall and Oates and Men at Work. Anyhow, when it came down to striking a deal with my parents over what instrument I would play, all parties were not in agreement. I wanted the sax; they recommended the less-costly trumpet. Who do you think won this one? Hint: Not me.

So the trumpet it was, and despite learning the theme from “M*A*S*H,” it was a futile cause. I hated the thing. I later dropped it. My parents said that’s why they didn’t want to invest in the sax, because they figured I’d lose interest in whatever I was playing. Nope. I just hated the trumpet. I wonder if Bruce Lamont ever had such worries, as he’s still playing sax to this day with his killer band Yakuza, who have become one of the most interesting and unique bands in all of extreme music. The sax certainly wasn’t a very metal instrument a decade or so ago, as pretty much zero bands used it as a primary instrument in their bands, but Lamont sure as hell changed that and made the instrument pretty fucking awesome again. There still is a ways to go before an entire metal audience embraces it, as I remember concert goers wondering out loud before Yakuza’s support slot for Triptykon what some sax player was doing on stage. Fools. In fact, the band doesn’t even have an entry on the vaunted Encylopaedia Metallum, which is absolutely ridiculous.

Yakuza have returned with their sixth full-length record “Beyul,” named after hidden valleys that are part of Tibetan Buddhist lore, the location of which is said to be revealed closer to when the world is to come to an end and that exist as a place of spiritual refuge once hell begins to unfurl on Earth. The band’s music often tackles destruction and the tumultuous history of our existence, and they do much of the same on the new record, often poking the deification of technology and other advancements in our society. The band’s music always gives off that sense that the Earth could rip apart and dissolve into fire at any time, and what will we be left with from our normal, sometimes cluttered lives? Lamont’s sax usually sounds like a doom horn, sometimes mournful, sometimes vengeful, always on fire. It’s there as a second voice. He’s, of course, joined by guitarist Matt McClelland, bassist Ivan Cruz, and drummer James Staffel.

“Beyul” is one of those records that is and isn’t typical of the Yakuza experience. On one hand, there are progressive-minded, adventurous, volcanic songs that reach epic length and leave you breathless once they’re done. But there also are some fast, furious tracks not generally expected by such an ambitious band. The record itself also isn’t as long as many of Yakuza’s other records, clocking in at just under 39 minutes. That’s damn-near EP territory for this band, and it’s a little surprising once you realize the album’s run its course. I know my first time through, when closer “Lotus Array” expired, I was kind of like, “Woah! That’s it?” But that’s certainly not a negative. Better to have 39 great minutes than 50 or 60 minutes not as inspired. And I got used to the brevity.

Opener “Oil and Water” has a Middle Eastern flavor to it, mostly because of Lamont’s heady, fluttering sax, but the rest of it chugs. Lamont howls of being “in dire need of a new plan” on the chorus, and he and the rest of the band get to pummeling with visceral, imaginative melodies. “The Last Day” blasts open and is a pretty moody track. Actually, it’s pretty AND moody. Tempos shift back and forth, with an ever-observant Lamont calling, “As we watch the sun rise and fall again and again,” while cellist Helen Money adds more lush texture. “Man Is Machine” is my favorite of the bunch, and it’s where Lamont seemingly is at his most cynical and agitated, with him commenting on the role of technology in our lives. “You are both master and slave,” he pokes at one point, yet later he calls, “You are my Christ, I worship your circuitry.” The simple chorus is full of vitriol. It’s a smasher of a number.

“Fire Temple and Beyond” is the longest cut on the album, reaching nearly 10 minutes, and it certainly uses all of the space it occupies, with drone, some slower melodies, eventually chunky thrashing, neat guitar lines that roll in and out, and a strong sense of purpose. That, combined with “Man Is Machine,” certainly acts as a steady centerpiece. Then shit goes off. “Mouth of the Lion” roars at 2:14 in length, and it’s as fast, furious, and feral as the band gets. Lamont goes all-out animalistic, and he even tops himself in that category on “Species,” that lasts all of 1:24. These are buckets of ice water, they’re so surprising, almost as if the band thought a curveball to the gut was in order. We wrap with “Lotus Array,” a slower moving, reflective song that conjures images of Eden, mankind’s struggle with existence, and Lamont’s hopeful repetition of, “We will live forever.” And that’s it. The record fades away, giving you all it intends to offer.

It’s nearly impossible to go wrong betting on a Yakuza record. They’re pretty consistent, and they always give you the best they’ve got. They may not appeal to all metal listeners, but those who get them treasure the band. Unabashedly, I’m one of those people, and I’m really excited about “Beyul” and how these songs will come across live. They’re a unique experience, a band that finds a new way to capture my imagination with each release.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/yakuza/55268044860

For a more extensive read on Beyul, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beyul)

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/plr-items/yakuza-beyul/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/