Yamantaka // Sonic Titan have spent most of their existence as a band in flux. Originally created by Kato Attwood and Alaska B as an art project at Concordia University, they were never necessarily meant to be defined as a band at all. Their first work was a multimedia rock opera that explored the members' Asian, European and Canadian heritage with a "noh-wave" soundtrack that mixed elements of prog, metal, Chinese opera and Noh theatre. They never necessarily intended to write it down, but they did, and this formed the grounding for their revelatory debut album, YT//ST.
Since then, they've put forward two versions of themselves, one a straightforward touring band and the other a theatrical group that has produced works like the drag opera 33. More recently, Attwood left the band and they debuted a new lineup that leaned more toward the rock end of the spectrum.
All of this raises the question: When you see Yamantaka // Sonic Titan live, which of the band's many identities and incarnations are you going to get? Last night (November 23) at The Garrison, they appeared as a six-piece rock juggernaut, performing a searing set that pulled numerous influences together into a sound all their own.
Pulling almost exclusively from new material that will appear on a forthcoming album, the band showed that they're ready one-up their last proper release and sophomore LP, 2013's UZU. Their opening song, the jubilant "Someplace," saw them progressively layer one element upon another, as if to introduce the new lineup, before it all culminated in an explosion of operatic rock.
Where before the band leaned toward gritty prog rock with a psych sentimentality, their new material sees them pulling from a variety of 1970s and early 1980s hard rock and metal styles. There was a heavy smattering of Magma and Rush bumping up against the Who and even occasionally Kiss. There was a healthy grounding of Megadeth-esque thrash metal, propelled by Hiroki Tanaka's quick guitar riffing. Always ready to explode into a techy but tasteful solo, he variously pulled from guitar icons like Kirk Hammett and Eddie Van Halen, imbuing songs that already seemed to have blown the roof off to even higher energy levels.
The stars of the night, though, were Joanna Delos Reyes and Ange Loft, whose duelling lead vocals brought a soaring operatic quality to the songs. There were times when they invoked the yowls of '80s hair metal bands, and other times when they conjured Meat Loaf's cinematic howling. UZU standout "One" felt infused with new energy, and their closing song, the yet-to-be-released "Out of Time," made the room virtually explode with its stomping, powerful refrain.
Whoever Yamantaka // Sonic Titan are now, they're sitting on something great, and their forthcoming third album will likely reassert the band as one of the most vital and unique rock acts working today.