Despite clocking in at just over a half-hour, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s debut LP, YT//ST, arrived in 2011 as a fully formed masterwork, threading stoney ’70s prog and psychrock together with J-pop and traditional First Nations music. Live, the outfits offer up intricate set pieces and face-painted kabuki theatrics. As expansive as it is, though, the song cycle is but a shred of the Montreal-by-way-of-Toronto unit’s multidimensional, interdisciplinary artistic vision.
“We kind of had a huge concept, and then it was pared down, so we focused on certain aspects,” drummer Alaska B says of YT//ST on the line from a Montreal studio, where the act is tracking synths for its as-yet-untitled sophomore effort. While noting that YT//ST was plucked from a larger, still uncompleted cantata titled Star, she adds that the new album will likewise incorporate work from a theatre production the band staged last year called 33 // . She gives few details about the impending record, but B offers that it’ll be more synth-driven, in contrast to the squealing six-strings that fly high atop YT//ST’s ear-pummelling percussive drone “A Star Over Pureland”.
“We didn’t even have a guitarist for the first several years,” she explains of the act that she founded with vocalist Ruby Kato Attwood, which is now a sextet. “Over time, we progressed to include more prog and metal pastiches in the sound. It was starting from industrial, to industrial metal, to progressive metal, to all over the place. We’ve never really stayed still as a group.”
This eclecticism runs full force on YT//ST, which has been hailed over at Pitchfork and made the shortlist for last year’s Polaris Music Prize. Of note are the powerful rainfall sounds and throaty First Nations vocalizing on “Raccoon Song”—a nod to Attwood’s Kanienkehaka heritage—and the “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”–inspired organ solo on “Reverse Crystal // Murder of a Spider”. Elsewhere, Attwood sings sugary lines in Japanese atop the swirling psych-pop standout “Hoshi Neko”. Everything’s brought together, though, by a narrative partly based on the Buddhist concept of the Pureland.
“The idea is that by cultivating your wisdom properly in this world, then you can go to a second world that’s just a copy of this world where you instantly become enlightened,” the percussionist explains. “You basically buy yourself into heaven—a tithe setup.”
Before Yamantaka // Sonic Titan gets to that next level, though, it has a much-anticipated album to finish. There’s also its upcoming video game, Your Task // Shoot Things, a project prepped by Golden Gears Games that’ll incorporate the group’s anime-inspired artwork. It also has plans to stage 33 // again. If you haven’t yet had the chance to be enlightened by the hard-working, high-concept art rockers, it’s apparently only a matter of time.