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Now THIS is more like it! Following Strapping Young Lad's promising yet scatterbrained and inconsistent debut Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing comes the band's first truly unified release, and goes to show how important all of the musicians are to making this beast of a band what it is. The end result is City, an outstanding album in every respect, heavier than you wouldn't believe, and easily one of the best metal albums of the 90's.
Describing what City sounds like is not easy, even to those familiar with the band's first album. I suppose the biggest influences to City's sound are death metal, grind, and industrial/noise, but even that doesn't cover all of the bases. Just realize that however you categorize this album, this is HEAVY metal in every sense of the term. Devin and Jed's riffing is loud as fuck and razor-precise, and Byron Stroud's bass and Gene Hoglan's drumming forms one of metal's most devastating rhythm sections, with Hoglan in particular putting in an absolutely monstrous drum performance, continuing to make the argument for his status as one of metal's top drummers. But, like all legendary albums, what makes City truly special is something that can't simply be dissected into the playing of the different band members.
While the contributions of a full band are definitely a large part of what makes this a huge step forward from the debut, rest assured that the main reason that City is such an amazing album is Devin Townsend. Townsend's now trademark multi-multi-multi-track production techniques and signature vocal stylings are in finer form here than perhaps they ever have been, and his unique songwriting talents get their first real chance to blossom with the support of experienced musicians. The music in City is harsh, caustic, angry, and incredibly loud, with certain segments almost overwhelming, but never unwelcome, in their devastating Wall-of-Sound approach. Yet Townsend's penchant for catchy melodies and infectiously poppy riffs is not absent here; in fact, they are just as vital to City's excellence as the brutally heavy parts. Some of the best parts of the album come when one of Devin's brilliant hooks or clean vocal lines bursts in when you wouldn't expect it: the keyboard lines in the climax of "All Hail the New Flesh", the catchy-as-fuck-riff in the middle and end of "Detox", the closing yells to conclude "Underneath The Waves"; both sides of Devin's musical personality make their presence known, and it works beautifully.
Devin's vocals are also in top form. Avoiding the somewhat strained screeching of later SYL works, his voice sounds much more natural here, screaming and singing (usually something of a halfway point between both) with real emotion and heart rather than with bland technique, and always when he feels it best suits the music, rather than conforming to a strict written pattern. In typical Townsend fashion, lyrics are simple, down to earth, and to the point; these definitely aren't Cryptopsy or Emperor lyrics. While some may find the lyrics are lacking, I honestly believe that Devin wouldn't be able to turn in such a memorable vocal performance if they were really complex, and they serve the angry nature of the music just fine.
Best songs? All of them really. Intro "Velvet Kevorkian" opens the album with a march-like beat, building tension before launching into "All Hail The New Flesh", one of the best songs Devin has ever written. "Oh My Fucking God" features an amazing torrent of rapid fire vocals, tongue-in-cheek screeches, and segments of pure, unadulterated noise that come together to make the album's heaviest and most insane song (and one of the heaviest ever). "Detox" is slightly more restrained but no less mind-blowing, with the aforementioned riff being one of the best of the album, followed by the short "Home Nucleonics", an absolutely vicious track that features some of Gene's best and most creative drumming. "AAA" slows down the pace to a catchier groove before the album explodes again into "Underneath The Waves". This song never seems to get the recognition is deserves compared to the rest of the album, but it is definitely one of the best cuts.
Now we get to "Room 429", the Cop-Shoot-Cop cover. I'm going to be honest-I don't like the way this track was put in here. Its a good song and is covered in a good way, but it would have been much better as a bonus track at the end of the real album, rather than before the last song. It just doesn't fit well with the rest of the album, and is the only thing holding this back from a 100 for me, but no matter; move it (or delete it) on iTunes and you'll still have 34 minutes of some of the best metal ever. The album closes with the monolithic "Spirituality", an immense, slow epic that finishes the album in a perfect way. Devin's vocals are especially awesome on this song.
If you don't at least give City a chance, you are missing out. Its that simple. Whatever you may think of Devin Townsend or the newest incarnation of Strapping Young Lad, City is an album that every metalhead should hear. Its loud, heavy as shit, and packed to the brim with incredible and inventive songwriting. Strapping Young Lad was formed because Devin Townsend was angry; at people, at the world, at himself, and City is a monument not only to Devin's anger as a young man, but also his brilliance as a musician and songwriter. While Strapping would again reach near-perfection with 2005's Alien, City is the band's real magnum-opus; this is a work that has, and will, stand the test of time in metal circles. A must-have, and a masterpiece.