Yamantaka // Sonic Titan
“I have always appreciated the massive sound of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. But it wasn’t until I heard “Someplace,” a song on the Canadian art collective’s upcoming third album Dirt, that the second half of the group’s name made its way from my periphery and onto center stage. With founding member Alaska B at the helm, YT // ST remains skilful at eliding boilerplate genres as ever – “Someplace” is a dream-spun tapestry of Mazzy Star-style indie, prog rock, and doom metal. “Noh-wave” is how the group has frequently described its style, a nod to the collective’s incorporation of theatre. The self-definition is empowering, but most of all, vivid: four years after its sophomore album UZU, YT // ST continue to stake out their own territory, and are still creating some of Canada’s most exciting music within it.”
– Jordan Darville, The Fader
There’s a whole world contained within Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. They’re a Noh-Wave prog collective, a black-and-white (and sometimes red) theatre company, an operatic psych cult, and the speculative prophets of humanity’s impending doom. Above it all, though, they’re a thunderous rock band, and on their third album, DIRT, they’re the heaviest they’ve ever been.
Though they’ve been an amorphous beast since they formed in 2010, DIRT follows the group’s most significant evolution in years. Now totally Toronto-based, they’ve added new singer Joanna Delos Reyes, guitarist Hiroki Tanaka and bassist Brandon Lim, who, along with the towering drums of leader/artist Alaska B, singer/theatre artist Ange Loft and keyboardist Brendan Swanson, turn the group into a driving engine of sound. Live, the band can be sprawling and theatrical or concise and visceral, filling the stage with noise, melody and cacophony.
DIRT is the band’s first album since 2013’s UZU, their second straight to be shortlisted for the Polaris Prize as one of the best Canadian albums of the year. But the gap between albums hasn’t been a hiatus. Instead, the group hunkered down in the studio composing the mostly-instrumental score to the DrinkBox Studios video game Severed, along with members of the Canadian-Filipina gong group Pantayo. They emerged with new elements to heighten and distort into their already far-reaching sound, which combines and tornadoes Asian diasporic and Indigenous influences and perspectives.
They’ve streamlined their sound, digging into both heavy and poppy influences like Judas Priest, Killing Joke, and Jordan Knight and translating them into their own unmistakable aesthetic. The live show is still a sensory overload of makeup and costumes that falls somewhere between Boredoms and Kiss, but the focus now is on their sound – the fullest, most killer version they’ve put on record yet. They think big, but they’re not a thought experiment. They’re a force.
Similar to Sun Ra’s take on Afrofuturism, the band resist being pigeonholed into any one idea, sound or cultural perspective. Instead, they burst their references apart, creating something entirely new. No matter what direction they go in, it can only come from Yamantaka // Sonic Titan.