Bruce Lamont is best known for Yakuza, a band that’s been around a number of years, and whom I think I might have been MySpace friends with as long ago as ’07, but which I only really began paying attention to last year upon seeing some blog love for Of Seismic Consequence, and also for his collaborative involvement in bands that lie pretty firmly in the metal genre while being creatively expansive: Nachtmystium, Locrian, Brutal Truth, Minsk, Bloodiest, and so on. With his solo release Feral Songs For The Epic Decline, Lamont presents rather different settings for his rich voice and ominous saxophone playing, and gives us something that’s heavy in another way.
Solo albums by people in known bands are frequently a catch-all for experiments, genre exercises, and oddball ideas that don’t fit within the established style of the musician’s main gig, and as such have a high tendency to be unfocused, patchwork sounding affairs. Feral Songs, however, evades this lack of focus, presenting a variety of sonic colors within an overall framework of mystical drone-folk and noise collage, likely to appeal to fans of Michael Gira’s various late-Swans and post-Swans works. Woodsy, culty chants, meditative drones, dissonant acoustic guitars, and a distinct lack of drums are prominently recurring sonic elements, but there are a wealth of other ambient sounds less immediately identifiable fading in and out of the mix, with the dial being regularly tweaked along a continuum between the album’s folkier side (“Year Without Summer”) and its ambient side (“Book Of The Low”).
Two interesting departures stand out in the second half. “Disgruntled Employer” begins by laying a foundation as a saxophone and looper piece — listen closely before the synths and percussion come in, and you can even hear the click of the looper’s footswitch buttons; “Deconstructing Self-Destruction” begins with a gentle electric guitar fantasy that sounds a bit like Dylan Carlson idle between rehearsal takes, then fades in a lulling industrial drone that quickly erupts in a brutal noisecore section featuring distorted screams over a mechanized blastbeat, made even better by how it abruptly breaks off into the acoustic guitar strums opening “2 Then The 3″ which takes us back into folk territory to close out the album. Feral Songs shows Bruce Lamont to be a skilled architect of sound and mood, and it’s a beautiful sonic artwork.
Yakuza seem to be going for the “iconoclastic brainy heavy band” Voivod kind of thing, and last year they released the very well-received Of Seismic Consequence. They’ve got a pretty distinctive style of their own. I had rather been under the impression that they kept to an aggressive sound, so I was a bit surprised by how mellow a lot of Of Seismic Consequence is, but now, having heard Feral Songs it sort of fits. Opening track “The Ant People,” built from drones and tribal drumming on toms and rim-clicks, wouldn’t sound at all out of place on Bruce’s album.
“Thinning The Herd” gets the heavy shit going. Within a few seconds I was concerned about the harsh hyper-compressed guitar tone, the same kind of sound that seems to have popped up on a bunch of metal stuff in 2010, particularly of the “black” or “post-black” variety. It’s a sound that can quickly become fatiguing in a loudness-war kind of way. Fortunately, it turned out that the album makes use of it tastefully in the louder sections; a surprising amount of the guitar playing on the album is in fact done with little or no distortion at all. “Thinning The Herd” is probably the album’s most aggressive moment, built on a furious odd-meter riff reminiscent of the old Faith No More tune “Surprise! You’re Dead!” mixed with a bit of Today Is The Day circa their self-titled.
So-called “clean” vocals (i.e., “singing”) are an element that has started to feel refreshing in a metal album these days with the trend being for each singer to try to out-demonic-snarl the last. Bruce Lamont has real vocal chops, making the vocals in Yakuza not merely an evil sound effect, but something that contributes melody and emotion to the music. The next few tracks move into much mellower territory, alternating heavy passages with spacey, swampy psychedelic post-rock sections that employ Bruce’s saxophone. It’s nice to hear heavy music with some dynamics and contrast.
It makes me feel a little weird to name too many other artists or genre labels in a review, but music is difficult to write about without referencing other music, even though it feels a little wrong to do so. I’m just going to throw a few things out here that elements of the rest of Of Seismic Consequence brought to mind: that new Lantlôs album; atmospheric black metal; slinky Morphine-esque baritone sax; Killing Joke; a dash of Nick Cave; Today Is The Day; soaring slow emocore. It’s another highly varied, yet also highly coherent, album from some exceptional musicians. Hard to say how much of the respect this album is due it will actually get, as it goes against as many of the big trends in metal these days as it nods to. But that has a lot to do with making it a standout that seems likely to still sound fresh and interesting years from now.