Release Date: Oct 29, 2013
Record label: Suicide Squeeze
This is the marquee event we've been waiting for from Toronto/Montreal group Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. After establishing the complex foundations of the band on their 2011 debut, YS // ST, the audience was prepared for the opus ahead and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan are finally giving it to them. There's no holding back, as they present an expansive work of art that shows the scope of experimentalism they're capable of.
There’s a lot to like about arty Canadian two-piece Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, even without hearing a single note. The group’s core members—vocalist Ruby Kato Attwood and drummer Alaska B—are striking, and their vision for this project is refreshingly laser-focused: The kabuki face paint, costumes, elaborate stage shows and an ancestral narrative. What began as an art project that set out to dig deeper into their Asian heritage (Attwood is of Japanese descent, Alaska B of Chinese) has turned into a full-on prog band.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, Toronto-based purveyors of the experimental, already have a fair rep in their homeland. Their 2011 debut album was nominated for the Polaris Prize, Canada’s equivalent of the Mercury – although ‘UZU’, its follow-up, is bolder, rangier and more ambitious than anything likely to trouble that bauble’s orbit. Afforded lush, keyboard-heavy production, in many ways they resemble a vintage prog rock band: ‘Hall Of Mirrors’ is as clinically intense as King Crimson.
The duality built into Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s name was initially meant to acknowledge the shared Euro-Asian heritage of founders Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood, but it’s since come to be an analog for nearly everything about the band. They have two live shows, one a straight rock set, the other an elaborate, theatrical staged event featuring costumes and projections. Their image embraces both hemispheres of their heritage.
Not too many groups effectively infuse heavy music with high/low art collisions, pan-ethnic anthropological celebrations, operatic inclinations, and theatricality bordering on cartoonishness, but Yamantaka // Sonic Titan do it almost effortlessly, placing the whole mess in a sort of sonic dreamscape. .
Experimental art collective Yamantaka // Sonic Titan combine musical and cultural concepts from their complex Asian, First Nation, and Canadian heritages with a Western base of psychedelic sludge and progressive rock. The band’s 2011 debut, YT // ST, was largely successful, but the parts often mixed instead of melded. However, on the band’s latest album, UZU, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan expand, refine and recast those ideas anew, and the result sounds like a true synthesis of their diasporic parts.
The duo of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, made up of Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood, compose intricate rock suites that embrace dramatic excess without losing site of where the limit should be drawn. Some corners have called it prog-rock because it revels in a grand, sweeping narrative, moments of unbridled release that far too often clash as if in an armed battle between the forces of light and darkness. There is certainly a conceptual arc throughout UZU that contains some of the usual suspects, tranquil piano interludes and shuffling triad progressions, making for an operatic piece that is well-rounded in a musical sense rather than a thematic one.
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.
Let’s not kid anyone here. The name Yamantaka, a Hindu god, translates from Sanskrit as “the terminator of death.” The Sonic Titan part should be pretty self-explanatory—for a meager duo of namely Alaska B (drums) and Ruby Kato Attwood (vocals), Yamantaka // Sonic Titan makes plenty of noise. Noise in both the proggy turn-it-up-to-11 sense, but also in the deluge of homemade instruments, arty execution and wanton maniacal drumming.
Two words that should never be found next to each other; rock and opera. There have been many guilty parties across the years, culpable of committing rock music to the world of operatic theatre: Marylyn Manson; My Chemical Romance; Green Day. Beginning to notice a theme of over-bloated egos in black eyeliner? But is it possible for a “rock opera” to exist and not completely suck? Of course! Don’t believe me? There are plenty of examples.