Yakuza - Samsara (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Samsara (2006)


Oddly enough, it was John Coltrane that sucked me into this.

One mention of Coltrane was all it took in the press sheet, and my attention was had. This is not a jazz album, however, nor is it a blues album. It's actually a metal record, with heavy influence from both of those extremely important genres. Yakuza are a veritable powerhouse of a band, and succeed where so many metal bands fail -- keeping things interesting.

And they start right with the achilles heel of most metal bands: the vocals.

Whereas so many metal bands opt for a deep scowl, Yakuza opt for diversity. They've got two singers, each bringing a vastly different approach to the table. The lead vocalist, also playing clarinet and saxophone when the song calls for it, is a man by the name of Bruce Lamont. His style alone has two facets, one a more hardcore-esque shout that works surprisingly well among the speedy riffs and thunderous drum fills, the other a deep singing voice, not unlike Lemmy, of the legendary Motörhead. Contrasting that is drummer James Staffel, whose voice is much more of the traditional metal sound, a quickly delivered, raspy scream. On their own or in tandem, both can steer the course of a song more than effectively. "Monkeytail," a song beginning with some real light jazzy rhythms, transitioning into a slowly building post-rock crescendo, eventually allows the vocals to make their way into the fold, and it's Lamonts shouting that perfectly coalesces with the punishing riffs. And as solid as that sounds, the band's ability to convincingly play jazz speaks much louder volumes in their favor.

As tight as the vocals are, this is predominantly a metal album, so what does that make important? The guitars. Solos. Heavy, heavy riffs. All that good stuff. In that right, Samsara delivers once more. The epic sounds of "Dishonor" oddly enough, lead way perfectly into a song like "20 Bucks," which begins with an extended free-form instrumental passage. "Just Say Know" is the band at their loudest, and most dangerous. It's the real metal coming out, with nothing to stand in its way. The vocals are venomously delivered, the chord progressions quick as lightning, the drumming pounding like thunder caused by the Norse Gods themselves. "Back to the Mountain" is the slow building, epic closer that every metal album needs. Taking heavy cues from Neurosis, the slow, deliberate buildup is devastating, and the anti-climactic ending to the song is oddly fitting.

I normally don't much care for metal, but I'll be damned if Yakuza didn't make me a believer. Extremely talented musicians first and foremost, this four-piece realizes, where so many heavy bands don't, that often, it's as much about the silence as the wall of sound that follows.