Echoes of noisy, operatic chants and soaring cries tumbling together with the occasional stoner guitar riff poured out of the Kung Fu Neckties' doors onto the rainy Tuesday night. Canadian self-proclaimed Noh-wavers Yamantaka // Sonic Titan made their stop in Phillly on June 12th, during the tail end of their U.S./Canada tour. Founded by visionaries Alaska B (drums, vocals and electronics) and Ruby Kato Attwood (vocals, keys and percussion), the YT//ST collective wasted no time captivating the small but enthralled audience. From first otherworldly note to last, not a single patron could be found in a seat.
Noh-wave, a phrase coined by the band, couldn't be a more applicable label for Yamantaka // Sonic Titan to have found for themselves. Even during setup it was clear that the band was bringing all of their influences to the table; the painted faces of the band recalled the traditional Noh Japanese classical theater, and at times even harkened to the Norwegian black metal scene's corpse paint. Donning studded vests, the band began to erect knee-high cloud cardboard cutouts, a more restrained representation of the street art style installations they have done in their hometown of Montreal. The expectancy from the crowd could be felt as everyone spoke in hushed tones, pointing excitedly at the guitarist's Misfits tee and Alaska B's stark red-on-white face paint. And this was before the music even started.
As the lights dimmed and the crowd fell silent, I thought for a moment that the storm outside had picked up with newfound vigor, until I realized that the thunder and rainfall was emitting from the stage. Drums, guitar, keys and effects slowly rose amongst the storm spilling from the speakers, with vocal chants steadily rising above the clamor. Just as I noticed two empty microphone stands on stage, an enormous paper dragon sprang forth from beside the stage and headed into the crowd. Piloted by Attwood and Ange Loft (vocals), the dragon plowed through the audience, bobbing and weaving to the psychedelic tribal rhythms radiating from the stage. After a few rounds through the stunned crowd, the helmswomen took to the stage, Attwood dressed in regal Noh style robes and headdress, Loft in what was barely recognizable as a garbage bag styled to mimic a shadowy spirit. The setlist seemed to more or less follow the track listing of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan's debut, YT//ST, released on Psychic Handshake Recordings. An amalgamation of psychedelic noise rock, operatic chants, with hints of space-age jazz and East Asian folk, the set was perfectly balanced between the band's influences; driving, noisy, post-punk anthems topped with catchy vocals reflected flawlessly off of the tribal, drum-driven chantings. Slight inklings of drone and stoner metal filled the cracks of their sound as well, living up to the "Sonic Titan" portion of their name.
Before the last song of the set, Alaska B briefly addressed the crowd, thanking everyone for coming out, proclaiming that this was their favorite city yet and that there would be no encore. Despite the disappointing news, it seemed fitting; after all, operas don't have encores. Before trekking back out into the rain, I stopped to pick up a copy of YT//ST and thank Alaska and Loft at the merch table, who told me that they would be playing one more show in New York before returning to Canada to finish off their tour with a couple dates. If you're lucky enough to be reading this from the homeland of our Northern brothers, don't miss Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. I can guarantee it'll be the best $10 opera you ever see. Get dates here.