There is very little margin for error with a band that relies upon intense costumes, set design, and performance art in their live shows — especially when releasing audio-only material. For every Gwar or Caroliner, there are also plenty of youngsters packing trunks of elaborate monster outfits into their station wagons before working out a unique musical voice. While certainly not as surreal as either of those big name weirdos, a quick scan of live footage of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan will show plenty of expressionist backgrounds, kabuki makeup, and instruments that are…difficult to identify. On their debut LP, YT//ST, the duo of Alaska B and Ruby Kato Atwood stir noisy prog and no wave rhythmic propulsion into an explosive mixture that aims to destroy everything standing the way of ecstatic beauty that doesn’t need any visual component to understand.
The successfully jumped hurdles don’t end there, either. Professed dramatically on their website, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s ideological component – one of shattering colonialist appropriation in favor of a natural hybridity — could be potentially polemic, and this album is also reported to be a preview of a still-to-come rock opera. From the invoking chants and epic rainstorm of “Racoon Song” onward, YT//ST is a dramatic experience designed to push into the subconscious.
The dark naturalist imagery (“wolf’s breath in my hair,” and, “raven’s own wing”) and organ throng of “Queens” stride into the dark woods, shedding humanity and embracing the primal as overblown percussion builds. While the lyrics on that track do some heavy lifting thematically, the remaining vocals remain largely vague, foreign, relying on nuanced moans and croons to give context to the emotions of the music. The bursting toms and metal riffage of “A Star Over Pureland” gets an added layer of claustrophobic intensity from the multiple layers of female howling matching the guitar feedback. The funhouse synths and gamelan-y metallic percussion of “Reverse Crystal // Murder of a Spider” need that echoed call to lead out of the darkness.
At times, YT//ST feels like some sort of ritual guide into another world. There, priestess attempt to drone a second sight into followers, standing in a forest of shuddering percussive trees, just at the edge of a sea of jagged guitar waves. Even without the big set pieces and striking visuals, these two can infuse dramatic narrative into their enlightening prog-stoner drone.
Essential Tracks: “Queens”, “A Star Over Pureland”, and “Reverse Crystal // Murder of a Spider”