Artist: Yakuza

Album: Beyul

Yakuza, from Chicago, are a heavy metal band, and Beyul is a heavy metal album. Encyclopedia Metallum, normally a definitive web source, disagrees, which I’m told was an active, debated decision. I’m not quite sure what *else* they make, then, of Oil and Water, which barrels along yakuza_beyulat a quadruple-speed attack of distorted bass, drums, and squalling clarinet, before a commanding Rob Halford (Judas Priest)-like singer (= tuneful wailer) enters. The fierce trebly guitar solo is metal; the frantic background vocal screeches are metal. The Last Day is part tempo-shifting speed-metal, part more like Metallica’s dark atmospheric trudges, with reflective lead guitar and near-crooning and smooth-jazz sax over the bass that ominously tolls (for whom?). Man is Machine sets off Iron Maiden riffing — and later a more assertive Rage Against the Machine-ish barking rhythm — with long, loud reverberating chords and (tuned) howls and big echoing drums, plus the usual anti-humanity pro-apocalypse lyrics.

And free-jazz sax.  Bruce Lamont, when not being a classic heavy metal singer, plays saxophone and clarinet, and as far as I can tell this makes Yakuza’s Beyul“avant-garde”. Which I gather is metalhead for “These guys are too interesting WAAH”.

Someone is wrong on the Internet. Yakuza deliver much of what I want from heavy metal: the heaviness and power (duh). The bursts of insane energy. The mysterious pleasure of partly detuned bass chords (Korn’s grand innovation), or occasional Middle Eastern tunings. The grandeur. The stumbling into elementally right-on melodies, played several times rapidly with force and then abandoned. The atmosphere: aside from Oil and Water and the 1:26 grindcore-for-fun outburst Species, most of this album rings out with plenty of long-held notes and chords, even when there’s furious drum rolls. Beyul is an album to which I can lie down, put my headphones on, and let the music pummel me as my mind drifts.

Saxophone and clarinet? They fill the same frequency range as the human voice. They’re also a break from literal communication, instead sliding over the notes faster, more smoothly, and perhaps more intuitively than we can sing. Metal fans aren’t always into notes; perhaps that’s the objection. I overrule.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2012 page!