Published Jul 29, 2019The last time I saw Yamantaka // Sonic Titan perform was under very different circumstances. It was at the Vancouver Jazz Fest in 2014, while vocalist Ruby Kato Attwood and guitarist John Ancheta were still with the group, both of whom would leave the project the following year. Thankfully, the good ship YT//ST kept on sailing, and their 2018 effort Dirt showed them progressing to an even harder, heavier sound.
Complicating matters for their Phillips Backyard Weekender set, the band were flown in, and couldn't bring any of their own gear, not even guitars; fortunately, the dice roll on the tech rider crapshoot seemed to ultimately work out for them. Granted, it took the band a few minutes to adjust. The sound was a little muddled at first, but after drummer alaska b said something to the front of house sound person, the balance of thundering drums, ripping metal guitars, and twin sonorous wailing, demon-extracting vocals levelled out for "Yandere."
With alaska's double kicks blasting a hole in the fabric of the universe, capped off by a mind-blowing, space-trucking, technical guitar solo from Hiroki Tanaka, the title track from Dirt should be considered a must for driving mixtapes. Tanaka stood out again in their pulverizing take on "A Star Over Pureland," from their eponymous 2011 mini-album, and the dynamic cover of Flower Travellin' Band near the end of their set.
Singer/guitarist/percussionist Joanna Delos Reyes delivered passionate lead vocals on their rendition of "One" from 2013's Uzu, with alaska's crushing drums bringing it to a rapid fire crescendo, awash in cymbal destruction, guitar feedback, and keyboard mashing.
Commanding the stage with a tambourine or a hand drum, Ange Loft consistently belted out her vocals as grandly as Clare Torry in Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky." Despite a look of undue concern and earned concentration, de facto bandleader and artistic director alaska was a workhorse throughout their set, crushing her kit as hard as John Bonham ever did.
Their face paint and martial arts-influenced attire continues to accentuate the seriousness of their face-melting assault. Yet, overall, they seemed perhaps a little less theatrical in a traditional Noh sense than I remember, but more theatrical than ever from a metal standpoint. These weirdoes rocked hard, like Goat on a bad acid trip with the '60s San Francisco chapter of the Hell's Angels. Clearly, they're in good hands with alaska behind the wheel.