rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. 2Is1
02. Alice
03. Echoes from the Sky
04. Capricorn Rising
05. Embers
06. Burn Before Reading
07. Walking God
08. Into Forever
09. Psychic Malaise
10. Never the Less

The genre-defying, musically adventurous sensibilities that are inherent to the immensely talented YAKUZA have been both a blessing and a curse. They've been overwhelming and impressive when measured artistically. But while they've shared stages with the likes of MASTODON, LACUNA COIL, THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, OPETH and CANDIRIA since their 1999 inception, the band has been too far out in left field to garner significant commercial success. It's been over a decade since the Chicago-based act's last output, 2012's "Beyul", but YAKUZA breaks their silence now with their seventh album, "Sutra", a ten-track platter of eclectic, forward-thinking heavy music that is unquestionably unique and most importantly memorable.

While the saxophone has been employed in heavy music before, think John Zorn's work with the likes of PAINKILLER and NAKED CITY, and it's been tastefully peppered within KEN MODE's recent work via Kathryn Kerr, YAKUZA vocalist, Bruce Lamont, has long cemented himself as one of heavy music's most identifiable sax players, having appeared on multiple releases throughout the last 20 years. And Lamont continues to be YAKUZA's most salient member by virtue of his formidable sax contribution. His swaying and pensive lines with the instrument define "Capricorn Rising", a song that interestingly winds down with a blasting, pseudo-grind/jazz finale. In stark contrast, he utilizes the instrument's reach midway through the frantic pummeling of "Echoes from the Sky" with lines that are calm, manic and everything in between.

But YAKUZA isn't about one man or one sound. The other members — bassist Jerome Marshall, drummer James Staffel and guitarist/backing vocalist Matt McClelland — are integral to the album's beauty and depth. With "Sutra", the quartet comes together to create a smorgasbord of prog, avant-garde metal, post-rock, post-metal, experimental rock, psych rock, sludge, doom and jazz. "Burn Before Reading" ups the aggression with overtly abrasive metal guitars, throbbing bass lines and off-kilter beats. Music theory nerds can have a field day with the intricacies here and throughout "Sutra", and at the same time, open-minded heavy music fans who are less schooled as such and less inclined toward prog will be able to instantly appreciate all of the movements and moving parts.

The band has hit a home run with "Sutra", a stirring release that's progressive in the truest sense. YAKUZA is pushing the envelope of what heavy music can be.

Author: Jay H. Gorania
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