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Yakuza


by Andrew Frey
January 2003

Yakuza singer and saxophone player Bruce Lamont began our interview stating, “The popular definition is used by the Japanese mafia, but the translation actually has many meanings including ‘social outcasts’. We like that.”

I first saw Yakuza at Metalfest in Milwaukee last summer. Quite an interesting open minded metal set. On one hand I saw that they took a Neurosis style approach to metal, but then again, they had a serious “John Zorn” style acid-jazz thing going on.  I knew then that I would be hearing and seeing more of Yakuza in the future. But what was it that set Yakuza apart? Lamont seems mystified, “I don’t know. Actually, we felt pretty at home with bands like Cephalic Carnage and High On Fire as opposed to the bands we played with at say… the Warped Tour.” Perhaps the difference is between the musical genres crossed, and the ways they were crossed. When describing the bands sound, Lamont points out, “It’s a mish-mash of many styles. Not intentional really, but our roots are in death metal, jazz, psychedelia, early 90’s alt rock.”


Yakuza formed back in 1999. Lamont recalls how things came together, “James Staffel (drums) and original guitarist Eric Plonka (now replaced by ex-American Heritage axe man Andrei Cabanban ) wanted to start a “different” sort of heavy project. Eric Clark (bass) came next then Bruce Lamont (vocals/saxophonist)” For this and more band history refer to the band’s website at www.yakuzadojo.com

The band’s 2002 genre-bending explosion known as “Way Of The Dead” features song styles that span the music spectrum. From the Tuvan style throat singing on the first track, “Vergasso” to “Obscurity,” which features dueling free jazz tenor saxophones (courtesy of Lamont and guest Ken Vandermark ) “Way Of The Dead” is a roller-coaster ride over uncharted musical terrain. It is harsh and it is intense. It is brutal yet it is beautiful. After the mind expanding metal found on the first 7 tracks, one is left to the dismal and bleak, yet strangely acid-jazzy instrumental landscape that is the 40 minute song “01100011101.”

Press reviews have reported several comparisons. Many of these weren’t even comparisons, per se, but more of an indicator for the unique direction the album takes the listener. On the metal side, there’s been mention of bands like Candiria, Meshuggah, and Dillinger Escape Plan. Over in the more alt rock side, Jesus Lizard, Faith No More, Tool, and even Hawkwind have been named. This comes as no surprise when considering some of Lamont ‘s favorite shows growing up included, “Slayer - South of Heaven Tour 1988, Faith No More - Soundgarden, Voivod - 1990, and Cecil Taylor - 1999.”

As comparisons are drawn on the heavy music side, they are also drawn toward the jazz side.  Sun Ra and Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis are easily within Yakuza’s comparative musical palette as well as German free-jazzer Peter Brötzmann . Recently the quartet contributed a cover of John Coltrane’s “Seraphic Light” (from Stellar Regions) to Trane Into Extremes (Exile on Mainstream Records), a compilation of Coltrane covers.

With such an ambitious album as “Way Of The Dead,” I had to wonder what is in the works for a follow up. “We have written some new material. More experimental,” quips Lamont . “We have taken a ‘why not’ attitude towards our music.” With this in mind, what sort of writing process is utilized to create songs that contain such a range of music styles and sounds? Bruce helps out. “It varies. We have an alter ego band known as the Kabuki Mono which focuses on musical themes as opposed to rigid song structures. We sometimes will discover new ideas through this process. Other times a member may have riff or a rhythm that we build around.”

If any of you out there are lucky enough to go, Yakuza will be playing both at New Jersey Metal Fest, as well as SXSW Music Fest in Austin, TX. If you simply can’t make it to those shows, have some hope anyway. There are other projects in the works. “We just finished a ‘video’ for Chicago typewriter,” Lamont beams. “Its not a soundstage performance clip, but rather a short creepy art film that stars no one from the band. Look for it on MTV2.” Sounds great.

So what else is there to say? “Music is everything to us in its purest form. No hidden agendas behind it,” rounds out Lamont.

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