Progressive beasts Yakuza blast back with warped metallic path on long-awaited journey ‘Sutra’

There are not many bands these days that are instantly identifiable right away as the saturation of every music scene has gotten to a point where individuality has become scarce. Metal is no different, and trust me, with all of the promos I get on a daily basis, there’s so little to differentiate bands from each other that it gets kind of comical. Ones that have a true identity must be protected.

I say that because we have “Sutra,” the latest release from long-running progressive metal band Yakuza, a band that truly stands on its own. It’s not just the element of sax in their music that makes them so easy to pick out of a crowd; it’s the way they play, construct, and unfurl their creations that it cannot possibly have been made by anyone else. It’s been almost 11 years since we heard from the band—vocalist/saxophone player Bruce Lamont, guitarist/backing vocalist Matt McClelland, bassist Jerome Marshall, drummer/percussionist James Staffel—which was on “Beyul” way back in 2012, and although the metal landscape has shifted significantly, Yakuza remain a strange beast all their own that is untouched by time and trend, creating another labyrinth work that challenges and mystifies.

“2Is1” opens in a cacophony of sound, cutting in and launching as Lamont’s unmistakable singing knifes into your chest. Leads recoil as things get weird, sweltering as the force picks up and melts in corrosion.  “Alice” chugs and jars, the singing coming for you directly, the haze adding a level of mental confusion that dips into the tale. A tornadic gust explodes as the playing blisters, strange transmissions confound, and everything ends in a sludge pit. “Echoes from the Sky” brings a guitar attack that goes for the ribs, jolting and zapping, crunching the bones in your chest. The leads explore the atmosphere as Lamont’s sax finally enters the picture, adding steam to the mix, combusting and disappearing into a vortex. Exhaust thickens as the sax calls, vibrating to the end. “Embers” is dark and alluring, pulling back and going trancey, hand drumming pacing the trip. Detached singing adds purposeful confusion as the pace toughens, the power crumbles, and the thrashy fury loosens your teeth. “Capricorn Rising” is a centerpiece, the sax wafting in, the pace slowly developing as it stretches its wings. The intensity spikes as Lamont’s voice bends time, the sax breezes in, and then things get more volatile, unleashing a proggy assault. Guitars spiral and smear, the speed increases and leaves blisters on the flesh, and Lamont repeatedly howls the title as the track comes to its end.

“Burn Before Reading” digs in and blows up, going ferocious quickly, vicious yelps helping liquify flesh. Sax calls as the temperature gets cooler, dark, and infectious, ending in a pile of dust. “Walking God” is brighter and more playful, Lamont calling, “We walk alone,” as the guitar work surges. The pace smashes through the gates, the vocals blister, and the guitar work snakes through dark waters, disappearing into strange tributaries. “Into Forever” heats up in a hurry, running roughshod with speed and trampling fury, the psychedelic curls jostling. “Falling forever!” Lamont wails as the sax mixes into the clouds, ending abruptly. “Psychic Malaise” squalls and mashes, Lamont’s singing going deeper and more sinister. Shrieks rip as the sax is injected into the track’s veins, the mud factor clogging pathways. The fiery gusts take you under with it, bringing heated bursts that leave behind ash. Closer “Never the Less” drains in, the sax elevating the temperature, the leads letting waters bubble. Things get more aggressive and burlier, the power destroys, and the vocals strike. The singing soars as hypnosis combusts, the humid gusts swallowing you whole and digesting your essence.

Yakuza remain one of the most interesting and genre-warping bands in metal, and “Sutra” is another powerful building block on their foundation of ingenuity. A decade is a long time to wait for new music from a band this special, but you can’t rush experiments like these, and surely that stretch made what we hear here so intoxicating. This is a record that likely won’t dissolve in your blood on an initial listen and will require many journeys deep into its core for its power to truly be understood.

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