Yamantaka // Sonic Titan is a bit of a difficult group to get a handle on, not just in terms of music, but also in terms of identity and concept. A Canadian band of Asian descent and born in the British isles, the duo of Ruby Kato Attwood and Alaska B (who expand their ranks considerably on stage), Yamantaka // Sonic Titan are surrealist theater as much as they are a rock band. Face-paint, elaborate costumes and sometimes bikinis play a part in their repertoire, as do other external visual aspects. All of which could be seen as overshadowing the music itself, were Yamantaka not so invested in crafting a work of progressive rock so inventive and bold that the visual aspects actually threaten sensory overload.
In the most basic sense, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan play prog rock, which lends itself well to the kind of theater in which the band indulges (see: Genesis; Floyd, Pink). The group’s latest album, YT//ST isn’t nearly as sprawling as some of the 1970s’ most ambitious progsters however, wrapping up its psychedelic rock opera in just 31 minutes. But those 31 minutes contain some pretty spectacular ideas. The percussion and chant of “Raccoon Song” is merely a warning shot, a ceremonial opening of the gates for a swell of bombastic and complex ideas to come. Yet it takes a while for the explosions to truly detonate — “Queens,” the first full song of the album and also the most immediately accessible, rides the line between dirge and ballad, shimmering guitar riffs reflecting against meaty organ and ultimately some stoner rock stomp. It’s around “Reverse Crystal // Murder of a Spider” where the album begins to expand into something truly colossal — part Sabbath, part Yes and altogether incredible.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan began what was to become their proper debut album, the “noh-wave” opera Star, before issuing YT // ST. So, as large as the ideas seem on this 31 minute set, they’re merely a small part of an ongoing saga, one that promises to be something of a truly epic scale. Act one, however, will be a hard one to follow.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.