Yakuza was formed in 1999 by the Chicago native, Eric Plonka, when, after an unsuccessful attempt to find a guitar player for the band he and drummer James Staffel were currently involved (in which Plonka was the bass player) taught himself to play guitar and recorded a three song CD titled "Thursdays in Hell" with Staffel. Using said CD, they put an add out for a bass player and found Eric Clark. After playing several live shows singer-less, answered an add put out by Bruce Lamont in the Chicago Reader. Bringing with him the saxophones which have become the bands not so secret weapon. Using unusual instruments like the aforementioned saxophone and clarinet, and incorporating free jazz, world music, and psychedelic music, the band debuted with its independently-released album Amount to Nothing in 2001. The album was met with acclaim from Terrorizer and the Chicago Sun Times. Yakuza followed its release with a tour alongside Candiria and Burnt by the Sun, eventually leading to a slot on the Vans Warped Tour.
Such exposure led to a record contract and the release of their second album, Way of the Dead, through Century Media Records in 2002. Yakuza then shared the stage with Opeth, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Mastodon. Jazz musician Ken Vandermark guests on the record (a unique live performance from 2002 is on YouTube). While the band received critical acclaim, the record failed to meet sales expectations; as a result, Way of the Dead was the only Century Media release. In 2005, the band signed with Prosthetic Records; in 2006, Samsara was released.
Samsara was recorded by Matt Bayles (Isis, Botch, Pearl Jam) at Volume Studios in Chicago. Yakuza enlisted a wide variety of musical guests on the album, including pianist Jim Baker, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, Sanford Parker, and Mastodon’s Troy Sanders.
Yakuza released Transmutations in 2007. This album incorporates more psychedelic elements alongside stretching, doomy movements and the jazz influences, while also incorporating breakneck grind riffs and grooves. The album features guest performances by world-renowned jazz percussionists Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang. This is unique for the fact that the two rarely play together, except during their annual "Winter Solstice Performances" in Chicago.
In 2010, the band released Of Seismic Consequence, their first album for Profound Lore Records.
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