On their 2012 debut, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan worked out a powerful combination of prog, stoner metal, and no wave, somehow managing to match the lofty concepts of their band. Co-founders Ruby Kato Attwood and Alaska B expressed aspects of their Asian and Anglo descent (both visually and audibly) and released an album that was a part of a yet-unfinished opera, the music itself inspired and led by this high-concept business, but never dominated by it. That ability to present a unique identity without sinking too far into it and losing accessibility, to walk the line between their ideas and their various genre inspirations, is less apparent on followup UZU. The newly expanded outfit leans more heavily on their prog rock influences, losing some of the distinctions and dichotomies that made their debut so powerful.
The group’s dramatic tendencies surface with the very first ominous piano strike on opener “Atalanta”. Chords ring out in dour, epic tremors, with operatic vocals rising to the occasion. “Atalanta, the poacher’s bow has warned you/ The hunt is doomed, the bears have groomed/ The lion’s cursed daughter,” Attwood sings, concept establishing its importance in the mix from the word go. And, as might be expected, that tenderness gives way to the triumphant rocker “Whalesong”, its charge to “victory” and fist-pumping combination of fuzzed guitar, thunderous toms, and that piano becoming the obvious next step. While YT//ST might have also been a concept album, it never telegraphed its narrative, but rather let it be felt more subtly in its lyrical themes and recurring motifs.
But, then again, prog rock isn’t the world’s subtlest genre. Sure, it can be full of subtleties, but flamboyance is regularly an important part of the formula. That couldn’t come through any more clearly than it does on “Hall of Mirrors”, an absolute arch prog track in which autumnal guitars and Attwood’s rhapsodic vocals meet with a goofy rap-rock narrative counterpoint about a spider-like creature “telling lies, in his gentleman guise, ’til the monster shows his teeth and steals the sun from the sky.” But, these cheesy moments aren’t the rule, as proven by the epic “One”, which bounces between rhythms on its crushing bass, comes upon flares of disjointed noise, and alternates between chanted drone mysticism and tight melody, all in its five-and-a-half minute span. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan are at their best when fusing seemingly disparate elements together like they do on “One”, where they expose the connections that were already there and forge new ones at the same time.
Essential Tracks: “One”, “Whalesong”