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This is the Strapping Young Lad album to which all others are compared and fail to live up. It's a lightyear beyond anything else the band managed to do and it wouldn't have been totally inadvisable for Strapping Young Lad to have just ended after it. It's probably the band's most 'serious' album thematically and doesn't have the silliness of works before or after it, and it has the best songwriting the band ever achieved. If you had to get one release from them, this is really it; it's a great metal album and worth just about anyone's time.
Strapping Young Lad never really changed sonically, so what sets this apart from the other albums is really just a matter of songwriting. It's simply better here; the riffs are catchier and more epic, the vocals soaring and ferocious, and the drumming fast and brutal. The production is thick and full (as expected from Townsend) and all the instrumental performances are perfect. Unlike other Strapping Young Lad albums, though, which can seem sort of confused with the instrumental elements not really coming together into a coherent whole, this feels perpetually sure of itself and never faltering. The songs are very simple and not really as varied as other Strapping Young Lad works, but what it lacks in overall complexity it makes up for in consistency and a focused musical vision. This fits the darker, more serious tone of the album: it's not a half-joking record like other Strapping Young Lad material, and is as such befitting of a more direct and cohesive treatment.
The atmosphere of this album is surprisingly dark. The lyrical themes of technology, alienation, and misanthropy are presented in a very direct and unyielding fashion, and the music follows suit. Stretches of simple tremolo burst into soaring melodic solos or monolithic held chords over a perpetually rushing drum performance courtesy of Gene Hoglan. It really is Strapping Young Lad at its best, where all the disparate elements which make up their style finally come together into a single brilliant whole. It's really the sort of crossroads where extreme professionalism manages to meat an inherent sense of artistry, resulting in something that's almost unbelievably listenable while still retaining depth after multiple listens.
The album possesses a sort of understated elegance about it. Describing anything about Strapping Young Lad as understated seems strange, but at least this album has none of the inherent goofiness of the other releases. It's Strapping Young Lad's magnum opus in a way; not only did they not eclipse this album, they never really seemed to try to, acknowledging that this was the best it was ever going to get. It possesses all the traditional elements of the band but manages to perfect them. Riffs careen out of control and vocals howl and drums smash through the soundstream but none of those elements on their own mean anything. This is truly a release that is much more than the sum of its parts.
I'm not sure what to say about this album and I think I've wasted enough time, but suffice to say it's very good and worth the time of just about any metalhead. Say what you will about Strapping Young Lad, but this is undeniably near the top of the metal pantheon for reasons that can't be adequately described. In short, it just works, and you owe it to yourself to hear it.