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CD Review: YAKUZA Beyul

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Distressingly, the majority of Yakuza reviews still focus heavily on the alchemical influence the Chicago music scene has had on the band – noise rock, jazz, and industrial all writ large in the Windy City corpus – which is not so much erroneous as unfair, a fundamental if indeliberate underselling of what Bruce Lamont and his band mates bring to the table.

That strength is economy; with such a bewildering array of musical cross-pollination at their fingertips, Chicago musicians (much like their NYC counterparts) can often be guilty of letting their eyes get bigger than their stomachs. In fact, the whole "kitchen sink" trap knows no geographical limitations, afflicting a pretty significant chunk of the artists attempting to fuse previously unblended styles of music… the tendency is to try to do too much at once, much like a cook that ruins his own dish with a surplus of spices.

Beyul's album cover – a bird's eye view of mountainous terrain that may or may not contain one or more beyul, or Shambala-like hidden valleys of enlightenment and tranquilment – hints at the band's topographical approach, more of an expansive, contoured sound than one enamored of surface clutter.

"Oil and Water" starts things off on an accessible note, the relatively unadorned doom infrastructure occasionally spitting up brassy shards of saxophone and frisky tribal drumming, but mostly holding true to a recognizable verse-chorus-verse format. Beyul is a pretty brief album at 38 minutes, though, so it isn't long before the training wheels come off: "Man is Machine" has at its icy heart a 90's industrial metal pulse, but interrupts itself frequently with sidebars consisting of multitracked sax bleats and general instrumental cacophony, Lamont's melodic vocals often the only thing holding it all together.

The album's centerpiece, "Fire Temple and Beyond", is epic yet restrained, Ivan Cruz's bass providing a Steve Harris-like calming influence that allows Lamont's vocals to soar (although not necessarily in the same manner as his Robert Plant evocations in side project Led Zeppelin 2).

What follows is a concise clinic in this band's reach, "Mouth of the Lion" being a straight ahead stoner rock jam and "Species" taking on a familiar mix of crust and grind, both tracks lasting less than a combined four minutes. Which is essentially Lamont's trump card: by spreading his talents across solo material as well side projects such as the recent Bloodiest, there is little of that compulsive urge to cram every possible musical interest into the Yakuza outlet, which affords a rare economy of scale not often seen in the avant-/post-metal zeitgeist.

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