Release DetailsLABEL Prosthetic
RELEASED ON 8/7/2007
posted on 8/2007 By:
Yakuza’s 2006 album, Samsara, was their best release yet, and brushed closely with greatness, but didn’t quite have the legs to stand above other awesome albums by the time the end of the year rolled around. With Transmutations, my Chicago neighbors have basically bulked up their somewhat trademark fusion of influences into an angrier, more involved, and weighty disc that sounds like the band has truly ‘clicked’, resulting in an excellent new album that pulls no punches whatsoever. Progressive and jazzy as always, Yakuza have also produced their sleekest, smoothest presentation to date both in songwriting dynamics, and actual sound quality. It seems as though each song matters and is integral to the overall successful interpretation rather than creating high and low points and highlighting certain songs over others.
The first thing that struck me about Transmutations is how unhappy it sounded from start to finish. The more spacious parts are not relaxing, nor soothing, and the clean vocals retain a dry, unmelodic feel which adds to the tense overlying sensation. As rhythmically enthralling and energizing as the thundering near-death metal sections may be, there’s a very negative, unfriendly vibe that reinforces and celebrates turmoil rather than releasing it like exorcising personal demons. They’ve done very little aesthetically to distance themselves from their past work, and by staying true to what brought them to the party, and evolving naturally rather than forcing a trendy or unnatural change, Yakuza have taken a strong uncompromised step forward in a way.
“Meat Curtains” opens this hour-long undertaking with a doom oriented, ponderously slow pace as Bruce Lamont lays out flat, droning vocals over a cavernous rhythm section which alternately erupts into fits of rage and ends with a flurry of feedback, and “Egocide” begins with exotic percussion and deceptively mellow saxophone leading into more parched clean vocals by Bruce. As the song begins to build, the rhythm section picks up the pace and the innovative use of sax momentarily joins in the fray with mountains of precise rhythmic fervor while Lamont lets loose with his nearly unmatched roar before the tune concludes in the same pensive manner it began. “Congestive Art-Failure” is a cool, compact number that reminds me of Pearl Jam during its aquatic-sounding beginning before settling into big, crunchy power chords and a jaunty uptempo stomp, but then “Praying For Asteroids” comes ripping through with stammering vocal structures and loping, relentless riffs once again. These first four tracks provide a respectable adrenaline rush, but Yakuza aren’t content with merely bashing their way through this album on muscle and force alone, you know they had to add some weirdness along the way.
“Raus” is a somber seven-minute melancholic track that falls back on lush atmosphere and stiff, militaristic percussion with dejected saxophone adding to the nuances beneath the echoing, moaned vocals, serving as a momentary break in aggression, but it doesn’t take long at all before Yakuza are back to raging heavily with the busy and brief death metal lean of “Steal The Fire”. Matt McClelland steps up and takes over lead vox during the wailing, demented seventh track “The Blinding”, a ‘song’ that serves as a bizarre but entertaining non-musical alter ego this time around. As if in response to the shifts in pace, “Existence Into Oblivion” features a steadfast almost Viking-esque marching groove throughout that brings to mind scant moments in the catalogue of Chicago colleagues Minsk. “Perception Management” establishes itself as the only point that actually allows for a relaxed, comforting feel with a much appreciated release of soulful saxophone and clean guitars, as Lamont confidently displays a more melodic but still breathy style of singing.
“Black Market Liver “ and “Zombies” both throw so much into the mix and provide so many different cool moments I can’t even begin to describe them, but neither of them dive too deeply into heavier water, and stay the course of ambience and resonance rather than ending full throttle while still avoiding a boring fade-out. Sanford Parker does a tremendous job with the production on Transmutations, bringing out every ounce of grit and every delicate detail of Lamont, McClelland, Jackson & Staffel’s superb performances. At last, they've delivered on the promise of past works and assembled an entire album of gripping, adventurous music. During a time when I’m getting burned out on hybrid styles of metal, Yakuza freshen things up by staying faithful to what they do best, and this time around they’ve played an almost unbeatable hand. This album is dynamite, and even though it may not warrant perfect scores, Transmutations should be more than satisfying to even casual fans, and I can’t point out a single negative thing to say about it. Exceptional.
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