Yamantaka // Sonic Titan Dirt

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan Dirt
Though much was made of the departure of vocalist Ruby Kato Attwood and guitarist John Ancheta in 2015, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan's Dirt finds the band embracing the shakeup to liberate themselves from repeating what they'd done before.
Like 2011's YT//ST and 2013's UZU, there's a dense concept at Dirt's core. Briefly, it's a soundtrack to an unreleased 1987 anime that takes place in the same mythical world as its predecessors: Pureland. Ten thousand years after UZU's floods, and about a billion before the closing apocalyptic chapter detailed in YT//ST, Dirt traces the discovery of an exodus ship, called the A'nó:wara, which has the last piece of uncorrupted, arable soil.
As the album title suggests, the focus of the narrative is placed heavily on that last clump of dirt, and the promises it offers the remaining people who covet it — allowing the story to function as a sci-fi allegory and a way for the band to interrogate the very human compulsion toward hubris.
The concept is a collision of anime references, The Legend Of Zelda games, Buddhist cosmology and Haudenosaunee tradition, filtered through the band's equally disparate musical tastes and styles. But this record isn't so much a list of influences played out as it is testament to just how artfully Yamantaka // Sonic Titan interpret them. Even if you don't dive right in to Dirt's weighty concept, the material manages to be compelling in its own right.
There's an immense skill in taking so many seemingly unrelated concepts, ideas and sounds and putting them together in a way that makes perfect sense, and Dirt is the sound of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan mastering that skill. Each song is an incredible balancing act of pop sensibilities and off-the-wall unpredictability. With its manic metal energy that gets imbued with lovely melodic moments during the chorus, single "Yandere" is as good an example of this as any, but album highlights include penultimate track "Tawine," which expands from a slow insistent rhythm into an ostentatious psych-metal ballad, and the rousing "Dark Waters" that channels Judas Priest's lean riff charge and anthemic vocals.
It's almost a disservice to call this band "prog" as the press is so often wont to do, because of how much that label downplays their hooky sensibilities.
The incredible results are both a credit to the band's commitment to songwriting and the result of just how well new players Brandon Lim, Joanna Delos Reyes and Hiroki Tanaka fit into the fold.
Lim (also of noise rock outfit HSY) brings a much more rhythmic mindset to the group as bassist, pairing neatly with drummer Alaska B in the low end. Tanaka's seven-string fretwork pushes the Yamantaka's sound into a more distinctly metal territory, which they wholly embrace as if they've been waiting to make that leap all along. As a new voice of the band, Reyes has perhaps the most difficult task as a newcomer, which makes the vocal performances on this record all the more remarkable. Reyes has a range and flexibility that's a strong complement to the band's own expert elasticity.
With Dirt, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan have returned sounding more than reinvigorated — this is the best album they've ever made. (Paper Bag)