posted on 3/2006 By:
If you’re one of those traditional types that likes your bands easy to label, and a breeze to compartmentalize, and gets all fussy when the food on your musical plate touches each other, you’d best walk on by. Yakuza ain’t for you—not that the name hasn’t already tipped you off. This band is nothing if not hard to nail down. Samsara sounds like the result of all your favorite musical styles—metal, hardcore, post-rock, jazz, and prog rock—spending a three day weekend alone at Hedonism, the Cinemax of resorts, where well-paying guests spend their time getting their freak on in every way natural, and several ways that aren’t. Samsara is broad, it’s dynamic, it’s eclectic as all get out, but most of all, it’s cohesive. Disparate influences and styles don’t impress me—hell, I’ve got those myself. Meshing them into something that sounds like a whole, rather than loosely cobbled parts, is where it’s at. I can’t do that shit. But Yakuza can, and that makes Samsara worth the price of admission.
Samsara is the third full length from these Chicago alchemists, and their first for Prosthetic, following 2002’s Way of the Dead. Its unpredictability is one of Samsara’s most appealing traits. Still, as admirable as their talent for artful eclecticism is, the one place where Yakuza falter slightly is in their ability to string together an album of consistently excellent quality. There’s not a bad song on Samsara, but they’re not all equally engrossing, either. If they were, this album would be an absolute monster. As it is, it’s damn impressive and difficult to ignore. Ironically, some of the most interesting parts of the album come from the least metal of places. The slow burning "Exterminator" sounds like Soundgarden covering Tool covering Led Zeppelin, while indie underground legends Tortoise nod appreciatively from the bar. That is to say, it sounds like all of those things and none of them. It sounds as though as the band’s style took shape, their creativity was channeled though these influences in a way that filtered them in differing amounts and manners into a powerfully individualized vernacular. Nailing down what you hear in Samsara is kind of like playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in that the band encompasses so many styles and the bands therein, that each set of ears will parse out their own interpretations of identifying factors and commonalities. And that, my friends, is art.
But don’t mistake artistry as passiveness–Samsara hits hard enough to leave a mark. Their turns to spacious interludes and sax led melancholiness is all the more pronounced because the yin to that yang is grinding, technical battery that can be traced back to the likes of Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, and Mastodon. The best material on Samsara contains both of these elements, or as already noted, sticks to a consistently less aggressive approach. "20 Bucks" spends much of its time in a jazzy cum-indie post-rock saunter, but shifts without warning to brief periods of explosiveness, and finally culminates in a particularly virulent battering. The spacey, atmospheric manipulations of interlude "Transmission Ends...Signal Lost", give way to the most uncompromising aggression on the album, the technical kidney punch of "Dishonor". Conversely, "Just Say Know" is one of the few heavy tracks that lacks the band’s typical counterbalance, and the song suffers as a result of it. Also notable are the barbiturate swoon of the cocktail singalong "Glory Hole", and the nine-minute atmospheric jam, “Back to the Mountain”, which includes guest vocals from Mastodon’s Troy Sanders. Occasional use of cello and piano join the more regularly employed saxophone to add texture and melody. While The Mass uses the sax to add jagged, skittering runs, Yakuza take a more laid back approach, and although the sax occasionally wails and twists, it just as often contributes accents to the band’s mellow atmospherics. Although Yakuza still has a few rough edges to work out consistency-wise in order to become truly elite, Samsara is an unqualified success as a creative work of original metal, and easy to recommend to those who live outside metal’s beaten paths.
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