Album review: Yakuza – Sutra


On Sutra (out May 19th on Svart Records), the eighth studio album by Chicago, Illinois’ Yakuza (and first since 2014), the band demonstrate their will to dive down whichever musical avenue takes their fancy. Whether it’s a dash of ISIS-style post rock/metal, a flavour of Deftones’ alt-metal, a touch of Neurosis’ sludge-metal brooding, a heavy-jazz John Zorn freakout, or a slice of Mastodon’s apocalyptic rampaging, there’s a DIY quality to the whole record that’s a bit ramshackle, but endearingly so. 

So what is Yakuza? On the basis of Sutra it’s not so easy to say. They dabble in metal — notably sludge, or a Machine Head/Prong kind of post-thrash groove metal — without ever going full in. Then there are the avant-garde jazz components, particularly on display when vocalist Bruce Lamont whips out his saxophone or clarinet and lets rip.

There are nods as well to the noise-rock of bands like Unsane (on the sprawling “Echoes from the Sky” for example). And in amongst all of this is a post-rock/post-hardcore sensibility. This especially comes out in the vocals which — for the most part — avoid overly gruff and aggressive metal-isms, instead often going for more of an impassioned wail that has touches of Maynard, Mike Patton, or Ozzie about it. 

Lamont though doesn’t quite have the delivery of any of these big hitters. As a result the vocals sometimes feel a bit all over the place. Likewise, the music sometimes feels a little too free.

For sure, these guys can play. There’s no shortage of riffs, melodies and ideas on this record and especially on latter tracks like “Into Forever” and “Psychic Malaise” they can turn up the intensity to pretty great effect. Soaking rock and metal music in jazz and avant-garde elements is a cool approach, but sometimes the technicality of these songs feels like it would benefit from a slightly more regimented delivery, with the band coming across as a less heavy and less polished version of many of the bands they evoke. 

Still, the overall impression of Sutra is a positive one. There’s the varied riffing and unpredictable shifts of tracks like “Embers” and “Burn Before Reading”. Furthermore, the deployment of saxophone and clarinet at various stages gives this music a dimension that most bands in rock and metal don’t have at their fingertips (the noirish jazz/metal fusion of  Gold Spire’s eponymous 2021 album being one such association that comes to mind.)  

Repeatedly flirting with greatness, the ragged edges of Yakuza and Sutra are endearing, but ultimately place this record a little in the shadows of the varied top-tier influences they evoke. All in all though for anyone who values rock and metal that emphasizes creativity, Sutra is well-worth giving the time to. 

Order the album via Svart Records.

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