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Yakuza - Samsara Review

by Mark Hensch

Right away from one's first listen, Yakuza should inspire pretty strong reactions. This is love or hate music personified; what else can you call grooving hard rock, sludgey metal, free jazz, and Shellac inspired hardcore? Besides the "busy" (and I was being generous there) nature of the songs, to top things off instruments from cellos to pianos to saxophones are employed with disregard for almost any standard notions of what constitutes heavy music. Again, this is love it or hate it music to the max.

2002's Way of The Dead was my introduction to this strange band, and I've been trying to wrap my head around it since I got it maybe a year or two ago. Samsara (and this will either scare people away or draw them like flies to honey) is not one iota different. The trademark sound of Yakuza, which ranges from Tool-worthy hard rock to Dillinger chaos to ambient insanity to Shellac groove to Chicagoan classic jazz is all here.

This time around has found the band growing even more ambitious. Added to these elements is production courtesy of Matthew Bayles (underground recording maven beloved for his efforts on discs as diverse as Pearl Jam, ISIS, Pelican, Botch, and the like), guest appearances from people ranging from classical musicians to Troy Sanders of Mastodon, and some odd lounge, Middle Eastern, and psychedelic portions and this is one wild ride.

The mystical aura of "Cancer of Industry" glides in on tribal drumming and simply divine sax patterns. A short but sweet groove of hypnotic sludge core rounds things out, and this is a refreshing shot of adrenaline to the arm. "Plecostomus" is less interesting, as all of it is a bit unfocused. Does it want to be jarring Dillinger Escape Plan trickery or mammoth groove hard rock? Though easily unique, the song is a bit too schizophrenic for its own well-being and suffers a bit because of it.

"Monkeytail" is a really sweet track that starts with soothing saxophone jazz soon layered with a glaze of shiny space funk. All of this slowly erupts into an explosion of fluid, roaring post-hardcore. "Transmission Ends...Signal Lost" is an entirely bland, pointless, and grating interlude of completely unrelated hums and ebbs. Wow, this is probably the 99th time I've heard a band do this for some entirely banal and unknown reason! The blazing, unrepentant fury and barely-controlled chaos of "Dishonor" thankfully makes up for this with a twisting whirlwind of ripping laceration.

"20 Bucks" skitters with jangly clatters and hellish twangs alternated with blasts of gargantuan riffs. Think Melt Banana, The Mars Volta, and System of a Down thrown into a blender and topped with Dillinger sauce. The mind-blowing "Exterminator" is really quiet Tool wanderlust that soon reaches a destination of jazzy, free-form bong-hit bliss.

The intense "Just Say Know" really clashes with the aforementioned track, its in your-face skull-crushing complexity taking things up nine notches or so. "Glory Hole" is like a noir-ish piano ballad that gets murdered again and again by crushing riffs and jagged howls.

The long epic that is "Back to the Mountain" starts with brooding, zen melodies that are slowly steam rolled by hypnotic chords only to die off and be replaced by oozing sax notes. Its circular motion between the calm of serenity and the deranged anger of insanity makes for an interesting sense of Yin and Yang, which I have a feeling the band was striving for.

In conclusion, this CD is for the open-minded music adventurer only. Ambitious and expansive, once you get used to it Samsara is a rewarding locale. Recommended, but be careful; this one is well outside the box.

1. Cancer of Industry
2. Plecostomus
3. Monkeytail
4. Transmission Ends...Signal Lost
5. Dishonor
6. 20 Bucks
7. Exterminator
8. Just Say Know
9. Glory Hole
10. Back to the Mountain

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Yakuza - Samsara


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