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City is definitely not everybody's brand of poison, that's for sure. Neither is Strapping Young Lad. If you don't like City, you're probably not going to like any of SYL's other material. Now that that's out of the way, there's a very good reason why this band, and this album in particular, are so well received even a decade and a half after its release. City was Devin Townsend's second album as the Strapping Young Lad and his first with a real band ensemble. 1995's Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing was, in Devin's own words, a focus "on dissonance and just being as over-the-top as I could." Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing was Devin's angry but not completely formed response to the music industry. City, on the other hand, is a record that is at times brutally sincere in its misanthropic denouncement of all things human, and that is half the difference. The other half is the band that backs Devin. Gene Hoglan's robotic drumming, coupled with Jed Simon and Byron Stroud's sonic attack results in some seriously face-melting stuff here. The reason this band and this album are so revered are that their music has staying power, as long as you're in tune with Devin's particular wavelength. The thing with City is that it's a more rewarding listen; the songs are well-crafted and have true staying power.
The songwriting on City has matured quite a bit from Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing and laid a new sonic groundwork for SYL's future recordings. This is a record that is equal parts chugging, vitriolic riffing and chunky, syncopated hooks as opposed to a bunch of angry screaming and noise mired in a crushing wall of sound. While the angry screaming and noise is still there, it's much more refined than on the first album and on the whole adds to the experience as opposed to numbing the listener. The opening combo, Velvet Kevorkian and All Hail the New Flesh, sets the tone for the rest of this album, full of bombastic and dissonant guitar noise while Devin unleashes apocalyptic screams. Most songs on the album are either fast, rocking thrashers stuck behind a nigh-impenetrable wall of production and sound or grooving, slower jams that contain just as much ferocity as the fast songs. Songs like Detox and Underneath the Waves are more like the former; they're fast, they're balls to the wall, they're angry and they're full of bipolar rage fueled by a constantly chugging, bass-heavy guitar attack and Gene Hoglan's near-perfect timekeeping skills on the drums. Another album highlight is the lyrically nonsensical AAA. (maybe nonsensical isn't the word; it's more a series of thoughts that are strung together with music) AAA is a slower, syncopated groove that proves a nice breather from the superfast Detox and Home Nucleonics. The only real curveball on this album is the song Room 429, a cover of a song originally by the industrial rock group Cop Shoot Cop. It can be kind of jarring after the sonic assault of the past half-hour, but it takes on a very nice menace when filtered through Devin's sensibilities.
As I've stated previously, the production is very noisy; loud isn’t really the right word, although the music is really loud. Devin uses his much favored "Wall of Sound" technique on this album and it proves to help the listener immerse themself in the music. It feels more like you're right in the middle of it instead of listening to it on a stereo or with headphones. The guitars are chunky and heavy, the drums very punchy and commanding. Unsung hero Byron Stroud's bass adds more sonic texture than anything else, but it helps add a bottom end to the sound that would be quite lacking without it. Devin's youthful voice (read: before he fucked it up) is ever present, screaming in ways I never thought a person could until I heard this record.
If you're a Devin fan or fanboy, then you should already have this record. If you're looking to get into Devin Townsend's music, you should definitely skip SYL for now and save it for later, unless you're into extreme music. However, for those of you who want to get into SYL and don't know where to start, this album is a pretty good place to do it. The evolution of SYL's sound is very apparent here, but City is very different from anything else Devin has released under his SYL moniker. It's an exhilarating experience on its first listen, and proves to be just as entertaining upon its fiftieth. While City may have its flaws, they're few and far-between. City proves to be a great exhibition of Devin Townsend's youthful rage and proves to be a rawer, more true expression than just about anything else he released with SYL. Anyway, enough gushing about this record. Run, don't walk, to your nearest copy and play that shit.