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Yakuza - Sutra review


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Band: Yakuza
Album: Sutra
Release date: May 2023

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

There's being experimental with your sound compositions, and then there's being straight-up off-key. On Sutra, Yakuza thread dangerously close to the second one.

Yakuza were always a band that was hard to correctly describe using a single genre tag, taking something akin to At The Drive-In's post-hardcore with a touch of Helmet's towards a more Today Is The Day-ish weird take on sludge, blended with some droning mysticism akin to Om and some jazz saxophone dissonance from Naked City. Almost more punk than metal, and avant-garde all the way while retaining their riffing and atmosphere in a zone that could still feel at least a bit accessible. Yakuza have morphed their sound a bit from their punkier debut with 2001's Amount To Nothing up until 2012's more metal focused Beyul. And then, ten years of silence, but one in which the name Yakuza would still earn itself some respect as the sound they developed became a stepping stone towards the increasing number of jazz injections into metal that have been happening since, from Ex Eye to White Ward. Were any of them directly influenced by Yakuza? Maybe. Maybe not. But I wouldn't be surprised.

Obviously there's reason for rejoicing in having them return. Not only would we be getting more music from them, but also it's a neat opportunity for more people to explore an underappreciated back catalog. And now we have Sutra, a name that initially made me think a return to the more spiritual atmospheres of 2010's Of Seismic Consequence. While there are songs where the jazz has a spiritual jazz undertone or mellower moments that feel more reflective, most of the album lies in a pretty heavy and direct sound. While a lot of the avant-garde elements of albums past are present here, there's a combination of those elements being more streamlined here and the goalpost for those elements being forward thinking having been moved during the band's absence. And, in a way, what's more hard to digest about the sound is less about the conscious decisions to go out of the box, but in how some of those elements are executed and end up sounding within the whole.

Which is to say, the vocals are often too off-key for their own good, and the production really doesn't emphasize the right aspects of the sound. Compositionally, I really appreciate the bigger dive into post-metal, whether the more progressive kind in the vein of The Ocean or the more atmospheric sludge of Rosetta. There's real punch to be had in the riffing and in how gigantic some of the moments feel, but the mishandling of the elements doesn't let them land their impact. Bruce Lamont's performance is pretty frustrating because the album is full of moments where he sounds good or nearly there, while memories of past albums show that being a bit off-key was always part of the sound, nevertheless too many moments where they feel grating happen, more on this album than on any of the other Yakuza albums. I am someone that can get pretty used to grating vocals, and moving past them and the weird production revealed some pretty interesting soundscapes, expansive post-metal with some groovy riffing, hardcore leanings, and obviously the mood-enhancing saxophone, but I can see how these can be too huge a turn-off to be worth trying to adjust to.

In the end, while I'm glad to have Yakuza around again, this wasn't precisely the comeback I was hoping for. It has a lot of great things going for it, but the things it doesn't are hard to ignore.

Written on 30.05.2023 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.

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