Review Summary: Yakuza redefines their sound and helps reinvigorate a genre.
In a supposed blend of intensely dynamic metal and complex jazz, Yakuza made marks among the more avant garde metal fans with their 2006 release Samsara. Transmutations follows up that well received release by completely reinvigorating the sound found on that album and vastly varying as well as condensing it. Transmutations could I guess be described as a companion to Samsara, with its more violent post-metal appeal certainly drawing in the Neurosis / Isis crowd but also the use of clean signing leaves many portions of this album sounding like Godsmack if they were actually musically interesting. In terms of the current trend of progressive metalcore (Intronaut, Shels) this album isn’t the most interesting or best but in no way is it not an entertaining and appealing record. Yakuza’s obvious devotion towards experimenting and prolonging their sound gives them a heads up on most of the post-metal crowd who are more devoted to basically biting whatever the latest Isis recording appears to be doing.
Perhaps Yakuza’s best attribute is their flawless incorporation of musical moments that are almost completely removed from a metal setting and that evoke the dreamy progressive feel of dredg’s first two LPs. A perfect example of this is “Egocide” the second track on Transmutations which cycles through some saxophone heavy sections, monologue readings, until finally it drives into a thrashy conclusion. In terms of Yakuza’s metal sound lots of times in my opinion it is indebted to Mastodon. However unlike Mastodon, Yakuza is able to keep progressive music complicated and interesting for more than five minutes thus giving them some what of an advantage over bands that think relating their touring life to a literary classic is “ingenious”. Another band Yakuza seems to evoke is Tool but mainly in terms of that band’s highly dynamic and strung out composing. In terms of actual sound Yakuza doesn’t really possess the same type of extremely downtrodden feel as Tool and their sound seems far more hopeful and less accusing. The band is clearly not humorous but the range of emotions found on the album seem to pass through more than just sad and sadder.
Complaints towards this album are few but important. Like Neurosis’ earlier outing this year Yakuza falls into the pitfall of elongating their album to the point that towards the end of Transmutations the sound they have developed does get a tad boring. Also something out of their control is the fact that Shels has clearly already made the most interesting progressive metalcore album of the year so in my mind Transmutations isn’t the first record I reach for when I want something that sounds like it. A fault that the band can’t really control, but that should be addressed in my opinion even if it is just to get people to download Sea of the Dying Dhow. Still, Transmutations is a great listen and a very well put together piece of music that I have no problem with putting on, on occasion.
Transmutations in my opinion won’t be topping any of my year end lists but I welcome its addition to my album collection. Yakuza has made a solid piece of work and to take away from that just because of a few simple complaints and personal preferences is to say the least selfish. I’m sure in somebody else’s view this could possibly be one of their favorite records of the year. It tangibly conjoins the epic and repetitive feel of Isis and their followers as well building upon that sound with an incorporation of progressive and modern rock music. Few bands in the genre of post metal can lay claim to paving their own corner out in the genre and with Transmutations Yakuza do just that.