No reason to waste your time with set up, so I’ll just come right out and say it: YIN, the second album from Toronto rockers Ayahuasca, is one of the best hard rock albums to grace my ears in recent memory. It is a multifaceted journey through countless influences that are seamlessly woven into an original and extremely refined sound by three expert musicians. It features earworming vocal melodies, tons of fun rhythmic tricks, plenty of progressive rock tendencies, and a serious knack for riffs both simple and twitchy. Point is, it’s a no-brainer for anyone that has ever had even a passing taste for grunge, sludge, or several other hard rock styles of the 90s.
And 90s is the key. There’s little doubt what decade on which these three guys cut their musical teeth. The most obvious starting point is grunge, as the vocals – delivered by both guitarist Berserk Lout and bassist Spike Monism – love to harmonize in a manner not unlike that of Alice in Chains. However, this sounds less like the combination of Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell than it does Mark Lanegan and a cloned Mark Lanegan crooning together to great effect. The vocals add just enough mysterious personality as to get you to sing along, but never enough that they lose their effect as a fourth instrument when they soar over many of the album’s busier instrumental passages. They occasionally even toss in a good scream for ‘eavy effect.
Describing the vocals first – as opposed to digging into the various riff stylings and rhythms that typically form the foundations of albums – has a point. All aspects of Ayahuasca’s sound, even the vocals, are at times part of the foundation, and all also act as the lead from time to time. As the vocals in “Born Into A Sadness Machine” do that classic grunge harmony, it is the Philthy Animal/Away drumming that turns the song into a monster. The mix of Prog Melvins and Pop Melvins in “Dark Matter God” is the track’s most immediately appealing characteristic, but it is the twitchy timing and rhythmic weirdness that give the song real depth. And while you might initially be drawn in by the great vocal melodies and banjo flairs in “You, The Siren and the Endless Void,” it is the song’s bass heartbeat that carries it.
Of course, repeated listens of these songs might make another element seem like “the lead” at any given point, but such is Ayahuasca’s total mastery of and comfort with their sound. That sound, as hinted at above, is the result of melding oodles upon oodles of top notch influences into something new and wildly fun. The grunge and sludge influences, particularly the bands that had a midpoint between the two like the aforementioned Melvins and AiC or even Soundgarden, are obvious, but the metal touches should not be ignored. The most metal comes via a love of early 90s Voivod, both in terms of Jourk Shapa’s obviously Langevin-influenced (and spectacular) drumming and plenty of riffage (“Dark Matter God” gets pretty Angel Rat-ish at times). But there is also the obvious Sabbath nod from time to time, and even the slightest touch of Meshuggah in the middle parts of the long closer “White Ship,” at least before it turns into an alternate universe version of “The Great Gig in the Sky” written by Helmet as opposed to Pink Floyd.
For many a band, such widespread influences and nods would be a weakness, but for Ayahuasca, they are merely convenient doors with which to enter this rollickingly great rock world. Once you’re in, the reference points take a very distant backseat to the abilities, collective chemistry, and songwriting chops of the band. For yours truly, the biggest transition from “listen for influences” to “ROCK YOUR DAMNED SOCKS OFF” came with “Left Skull Prison.” Whether it is the combination of metal chunk in the verse riffs with some speed picking on top or the killer transition from some sassy pulled-and-pinched leads into a brief and equally sassy solo, everything about this song just simply owns.
Really, most things about this album simply own. The catchment area for this kind of stuff ought to be quite wide, not just because of the list of influences, but also due to the band’s immense talents. YIN is catchy as all hell, deep in not-always-obvious ways, heavy at times, a touch eerie at others, deeply melodic, and just plain irresistible. More than any of that, it’s just a big damn gem of a rock album.