Yugen: Mirrors (live)
  • Performance
  • Musicianship
  • Production
  • Re-listen-ability
  • Proves they're today's leading RIO act?

I’m not the kind of guy that generally likes live albums, especially since nowadays it seems that if there’s a live album there’s also usually a live DVD of the same performance; and I’d much rather just watch the DVD. But, seeing as how Yugen is one of my absolute favorite bands and they don’t have a DVD release of Mirrors (although I believe large parts of this performance are found on the second part of the RIO documentary), I thought I’d give this record a shot . In the end, I was not disappointed in the least since what we get here are performances that render these songs very distinct from their studio counterparts due to the reduction of the band size for this gig, as well as the avant-garde nature of Yugen’s music, which likely includes some improvisation. The bottom line is that Yugen remains a band that brilliantly pulls off the absurd compositional musings of Francesco Zago to my delight (and hopefully yours too!).

By and large, the interpretations of the incredibly difficult pieces on this live album are stunning. Yugen launches their deranged sonic assault with “On the Brink,” a perfect and screechingly dark intro that certainly makes a nightmarishly wonderful opening to any concert.  The chaotic fugues in “Catacresi” are unbelievably delightful, and its haunting middle section turns out to be even more magical sounding than the original, although equally cool.  And if that isn’t enough, the outro is nearly beyond match in terms of evocative atmosphere (wish they extended it more though!).  “La mosca stegata” does a fanastic job of providing a dark transition to one of Yugen’s more guitar driven pieces, “Overmurmur,” which I must admit that I under-appreciated upon first listen. Heavy and brvtal would be an understatement here, as this live performance would certainly leave most black metal fanatics with soiled trousers.  “Cloudscape” manages to show the extreme nature of the band’s expert patience in building the atmosphere of a piece. Loads of restraint is employed on this one, allowing the mood to slowly wash over you before the opening guitar parts come in. While “Cloudscape” is one of Yugen’s more simple songs in terms of tonality, this arrangement sure isn’t easy to interpret because of the sheer moodiness needed to make it convincing; this Italian band pulled it off masterfully.

If you think that they’ve pulled out some strange pieces so far, there’s nothing that compares to the avant-rock insanity of songs like  “Becchime,” a chaotic storm of modern chamber destruction with wild atonal runs, frantic jazz elements, and sudden breaks and bursts that would likely give your grandma a heart attack. If you’re looking for something truly brave, this is the place to be. Finally, to close off the concert the band lights it up with the piece that was my introduction to Yugen (and which I instantly fell in love with): “Corale Metallurgico.” I like to think of this piece as a sort of instrumental Sleepytime Gorilla Museum member’s fiercest dream, a song that devastatingly employs pounding rhythms and loads of tuned percussion that you can actually follow despite the atonal nature of the phrases. You can really rock out to this guy full on as you instantly realize exactly why these dudes were way more hardcore conservatory kids than you ever were. As a bonus, the band even manages to successfully cover one of RIO’s primary fathers and proponents: Henry Cow; on “Industry” the band achieves a ruthlessly dismal funereal vibe in unbelievable ways. What was that comment about soiled pants earlier? Guess I forgot to bring two sets of diapers.  Seriously though, I hope that Frith and the gang were paying good attention to this one because I’m sure that Yugen has done them proud.

Mirrors is a live album I would highly recommend to anyone interested in avant chamber rock, jazz, prog, or metal. This is record that will most definitely hold me over until the Yugen/Ske family releases the debut of their much anticipated new band this year: Not a Good Sign. I can’t wait.