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Yakuza - "Transmutations" (CD)

Yakuza - "Transmutations" CD cover image

"Transmutations" track listing:

1. Meat Curtains
2. Egocide
3. Congestive Art-Failure
4. Praying For Asteroids
5. Raus
6. Steal The Fire
7. The Blinding
8. Existence Into Oblivion
9. Perception Management
10. Black Market Liver
11. Zombies

Reviewed by on December 16, 2008

"“the very definition of pain...the soundtrack to despair”"

Any outsider to the genre will tell you that heavy metal is loud and hateful, often passing up the word "music" for "noise." It is a genre that deals with negative emotion, with feelings dark and venomous. More than anything, it is characterised by its centralisation on seething anger. There are bands that play heavy and incorporate other emotions, but even when this is done, it is rarely done well. H.I.M. try for a blend of love and metal, some try to add humour to the sound, some rock out because it’s fun, but all in all, the majority of metal sentiments are furious. For many bands, even this theme of anger is undirected – there isn’t a lot of understanding why they’re angry, what they’re angry about, who or what they’re angry with - it’s just plain, simple anger.

Yakuza, whose anger is directed, who know the why and with whom, direct their music with this knowledge. And yet anger is the lightest of our heavy moods. Our rage lifts and liberates us, it gives us a pedestal from which to bend our fury towards gods, people, heaven, earth, systems of injustice and so on. Heavier than anger, deeper than rage and lower than fury are feelings often less fleeting. Grief, pain, sorrow, despair. The weight of these burdens crushes us, in their embrace we sink further, become heavier than the Titanic. Rage is the lightest space that this album enters.

This is a band that has everything you could possibly ask for: they have fast, breakneck deliveries, they have slow, mind-numbing dirges. There is no arguing the weight of their music, though they also have progressive jazz-saxophone passages. They have a tortured scream, and wailing clean vocals. They have soaring ambience and psychotic onslaughts. Not only do they have all this, they have all this in just one song, let alone the whole album.

The opener, "Meat Curtains," is a long, creeping, sad croon that in the last two minutes turns into blasting metalcore madness. "Egocide" begins with a beautiful, intrinsic saxophone segment that seems to dwell without reaching any higher ground. The singer laments, "Tear out your eyes so you can see, tear out your heart so you can feel, tear out your mind so you can think." There is a short spoken word piece, before the song begins to intersperse saxophone, death, groove and thrash metal. Yakuza is a difficult band to explain; the kind that needs to be heard to be understood. They show their singularity during their slower dirges, their moments of doom-laden despondency.

The jazz passages of the album do not seem out of place alongside complex song structures, but rather help to enhance the disharmonious feeling of the album, suggesting a native removal from natural order. In "Congestive Art-Failure," Yakuza has taken their experimentation to the vocals, applying cutting effects to the beginning, which is somewhat doom-metal sounding. The song then evolves into utter death, before finally developing into a dirty Dream Theatre-like style. If this leaves us feeling upbeat, secure in our feeling of anger, the next song completely shatters us.

"Raus" is a harrowing, crippling stone tied to the feet of the listener who gasps for air in the stormy ocean of Yakuza’s music. A slow, lingering tune, it has a tone of inevitability, and we can see only the depths into which we sink unrelenting. "The Blinding" has a flavour of world music to it, strains of India or the Middle East flowing in and out of the slow and yet psychotic pressure of the percussion and bass lines.

So what don’t I like about Yakuza? I have definitely heard higher-quality vocalists. However, this particular guy fits their music completely, and I can’t even imagine them sounding any other way. The often rattling, tinny sound of their drums? No, that suits them as well. The lyrics, then. But again, no, the lyrics are some of the best I have heard. Certainly not the jazzy influences or the seamless cooperation of various metal sounds, thrash, death, doom and metalcore. In fact, I think the only thing I do not enjoy about "Transmutations" is the layout of the front-cover booklet. Lines of red draw a picture on a consistent deep brown as the booklet folds out into one big square leaf. An interesting design, the picture, with a definite Indian, or Middle Eastern feel to it. The words, however, are difficult to read, arranged as they are in a large, tightly spiraling circle. The colouring is also quite dull, bland. It suits, but it is also boring. Am I just being petty now?

Perhaps the worst thing about this album is that by the time it is finished, you are so lost in it and in yourself that it takes some time to recollect where you are, what you were doing. This is not a bad thing in itself, it merely means that it is not a safe album to listen to while driving. "Transmutations" is the very definition of pain. It is grief-driven rage, a sad, sorry, hatred-filled defiance of the gods. It is the soundtrack to despair, the music of mourning an untimely death, the sorrow of the lonely soul. It is the tears and locked jaws of desolation. It is audio anguish. Metal meets misery.

Highs: The weight of this album is unlike any other, and is enhanced by elements otherwise considered light.

Lows: An irritating leaflet layout and a tendency to erase memory and time are all I could think of.

Bottom line: Though excellent, this is not a fun album. If you have a serious and diverse appreciation of experimentation and music as an artform, you will find much here to appreciate.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)