Yakuza / Intronaut
Samsara / Null
B / B+
round late '04, early '05, seemingly every other metal and hardcore punk CD came with a sticker proclaiming "For fans of Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, Atreyu, etc." Of course, this meant that the band probably wore eyeliner and girls' jeans while playing third-rate Swedish metal with half-baked hardcore breakdowns. Thankfully, this practice has passed. Labels probably realize they can milk the metalcore trend only so much before they have to unload lip-pierced bands like overvalued stock. Now, a new sticker is making the rounds: "For fans of Mastodon." This is not a shameful label to have. Mastodon is so idiosyncratic that it resists imitation; how a band that sounds like Rush and Iron Maiden doing Converge covers got signed to a major label (Warner Bros.) is anyone's guess. But the attention, while it lasts, is good. Mastodon has made it hip to like real-deal, hairy-chested metal that's thick, ugly, and smart. Yakuza and Intronaut are two groups that could well benefit from this.
Chicago's Yakuza is a metal band with a saxophone. It's not the first such band, though. The Mass uses composed sax like John Zorn fronting Slayer, while Ephel Duath smeared sax wailing all over its Painter's Palette album. But Yakuza deploys sax differently. Running his horn through copious delay, singer/saxophonist Bruce Lamont lets loose trippy, spacious lines, as well as midrange screams and Ozzy-meets-Chris-Cornell singing. The band likewise alternates between downtuned, sludgy stomps and sinuous, psychedelic passages. Like the late, great YOB, Yakuza's sound is both mystical and earthy. "Cancer of Industry" has Middle Eastern riffs over a tribal groove; "Plecostomus" sounds like Badmotorfinger-era Soundgarden. Samsara's production is likewise dualistic. The edges are sharp and heavy, but the mids are fuzzy, the amp tones bleeding into each other. For the material, though, this type of mix is apt. The riffs are forceful, if nondescript; the album's highlights are the parts with sax. Yakuza has hit upon a unique sound with much potential. If it can tighten its songwriting to match, its next album should be formidable.
Los Angeles' Intronaut, on the other hand, has emerged with all guns blazing. The band is a supergroup of sorts, featuring ex- and current members of Exhumed, Impaled, Anubis Rising, and Uphill Battle. This project is much deeper than its members' main gigs, though. Intronaut trades in the same scorched earth vocals and organic grooves as Mastodon, but with more color. The key is bassist Joe Lester, who knows exactly when to lock in with the guitars and when to launch into fluid, jazzy runs. Danny Walker's drums are mixed upfront, and rightly so; his sharp cymbals and bass drum rolls are joys to hear. The songwriting is assuredly complex. In "Fragments of Character," roaring savagery gives way to psychedelic textures before breaking down to creeping half-time grooves. The hammer then drops again, the band maneuvering mammoth riffs through a shifting array of feels. Add rich chord voicings and visceral odd meters (the 15/16 riffs in "They (As in Them)" are neck-snapping), and you have the makings of post-Mastodon greatness. Null is but an EP; the upcoming Intronaut full-length looks to be a must-have.