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If you're confused, I'll explain. When Devin Townsend started Strapping Young Lad, he did so not only to vent his anger, but to throw playful jabs at the rather odd cliches of Metal. However, before SYL put out the landmark "City," they produced this album. It sounds... how can I put this?
If you could teach a piece of shit to play Paganini, that's what this album would sound like. At times, the music is almost completely unlistenable because of how weird and unbalanced the mix sounds sometimes. There's a hell of a lot of chug, but it's in the vein of Godflesh. The drums have an almost super-sonic approach which gives them relatively little weight, and instead the palm mute grooves are usually what carries the rhythm. As far as the music itself goes, some of the riffs on this album range from mediocre to downright boring.
It all sounds so bad, I know. So, why the 60% score? Some of the chorus' in this album are some of the most flavorful and melodic you will ever hear if you give the album a complete once-over. "S.Y.L." has a thrashy little riff that's rather standard, and switches off to groove every now and then with Devin Townsend screaming and growling his vocal chords out, and then BAM: at about 2:10, Devin drops an amazing melody with fantastic synth back-drops as he shouts his anthem, "I see the coming of a new time, past your shit by far." "In the Rainy Season" continues in the same manner. There's a riff that has several Meshuggah overtones, and shifts into a chorus melody much like "Zen" from "Alien" if you're familiar with it. While songs like "Critic" don't have a sweeping melody caught up in the chorus, the synth backdrop provides a nice palette for pseudo-melodic guitars to work with.
Not to mention, there are several songs on this album that have some extreme potential, like "Drizzlehell." While, on a modern-day production job it would probably be a metal anthem, all the distortion is drowned out by a completely mechanized and annoying, constant drum beats. "Happy Camper" would've also been another genius track if the production would've given it enough time to elevate from anything besides ultimate clutter.
There's one more redeeming aspect about this album as well: the sense of humor. The hidden track "Satan's Ice Cream Truck" might be worth the price of this album alone, or even the hilarious lyrics to "Happy Camper." The entire album, however, is filled to the brim with jocular jabs as cliches that infiltrate metal. In the right context, it can either change your perception of the album if you view the lyrics in a comical light, rather than: "Why the fuck is he swearing every fucking second? Fuck!"
While by no means a gem or an instant classic, there are quite a few redeeming aspects of this album. However, nearly the whole of SYL's discography is literally light years ahead of this album.
Seeing as my most trustworthy sources for metal have dropped plenty of hints towards the height of quality found throughout this band's discography, I decided it was about time I shook off my preconcieved notions and give it a listen. As I was browsing through their catalouge, I noticed the familiar cover art of their debut release, Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, which just happened to be re-released that past month. I picked up a copy, hurried to the counter and popped it in my stereo, and was floored instantly by the aural armaggedon earfucking me senseless.
To put it simply, this album fucking sucks. The worst part is, I vowed to review this on request, so, not wanting to be a pansy and back out, I sat through every soul draining second of it. I'm gonna be outright: if I was less of a man, I would have bawled. As it was, I simply sobbed. As soon as I pressed play and the industrial sampling of S.Y.L. reeled in, I felt my hope for these guys begin to waiver and my lips begin to glisten with the words "lame" and an elongated "gay". About three songs in, it dawned on me that I wasn't just failing to "get into" the band's sound, but it was pissing me the fuck off.
It's not the schematics that bother me, as nothing could be further from the truth. Really, the humor and approach was very appealing to me at first glance, and I still find Devin Townshend to be a likeable lyricist and a competent performer. Ultimately though, it's not the blueprints that matter, it's the execution.
Throughout the 50 agonizing minutes, I failed to hear anything remotely "death" or "thrash" about this release. What I do hear is directionless, chugging aggro-metal combined with the industrial distortion and quirks of early Fear Factory with cheesy, sweeping melodic choruses and a post-thrash songwriting style. Everything from the subpar drumming, teeth grating sound mix, pointless industrial interludes, and the wasted vocal prowess annoy to the bitter end. The only redeeming factors about this release are Devin Townshend's solid vocal patterns and his ridiculously over the top lyricism.
I can't compare this to their other work, as I really have no interest in hearing it, but if it's even remotely like this... yuck. Just an underrated album by an overrated band. It's rare that I have trouble sitting through a release for a reason other than boredom or cheesiness, but this is simply the most annoying album I've listened to in a long time. Boy, do I have some reconstituting to do...
After making his musical debut as the vocalist on Steve Vai's Sex & Religion album Devin Townsend felt he needed to quench his thirst for music of a slightly heavier variety and inspired by Fear Factory's successful cross-breeding of death and industrial metal on their Soul Of A New Machine debut Devin went out and created his own similar styled project under the moniker Strapping Young Lad. Unfortunatley however for Devin it would fail to have the same effect on the world of metal as Fear Factory's seminal debut and would fall far short of his future efforts both with SYL and as a solo artist.
Even for a debut this is considerably uneven and also lacks many of the characteristics that would later elevate SYL to the upper echelon of metal. The drumming (from a couple of unknown session musicians) is incredibly pale in comparison to the godliness that Gene Hoglan would bring to the band following this album and since it was basically the first album by a then unknown musician the production is light years away from what Devin fans would later become accustomed to and as a result the epic 'wall of sound' effect commonly associated with SYL is notably lacking.
The only track on here that is really arouses any response is the opening track S.Y.L. which sounds something like what we would be getting on the exceptional follow up album City. Frenetic heavy as fuck riffage and a huge sledgehammer to the face chorus, this track really displays the potential of Devin Townsend as a metal craftsman. There are some complaints about the somewhat lameness of the 'fucking hate you' lyrics but it's catchier than SARS and the pissed off-ness of the delivery confirms it's sincerity and it's all but guarenteed to cause immediate headbanging. However the rest of the album isn't quite so good and despite the angstiness of some of those lyrics the rest of the album is still a mallcore free zone and is not quite awful, just a little bland and boring. After S.Y.L. the tracks all seem to blend together and the only song that really grabs your attention is Skin Me and that probably has a lot more to do with it's striking similarities to Fear Factory's track Martyr rather than the quality of the track itself.
Devin definatley sounds pissed off and the album is certainly as heavy as a really heavy thing but there is just way too much noise and not nearly enough direction to warrant repeated listens. This is without a doubt the work of a musician really discovering his own style and sound which he would later go on to perfect though here it sounds muddled and even frustrating at times. I really hate to do this as I am a big fan both of Devin Townsend and SYL but realistically I have no choice. Give this a miss and get City instead.
I really enjoyed reading some of the reviews of this CD, which seemed to have problems with this CD in three areas: 1. The lyrics, 2. The distortion, 3. the Chugga-chugga nature of some of the guitars. I'll address 1. and 3. If you don't like distortion, there's not much I can do to help you. That's a personal preference, and if you don't like the sound, you don't.
So here goes: The lyrics. Yes, Devin Townsend cusses a lot. No, this isn't mindless I hate the world nonsense, because, as with everything he does, there is at least some subtlety to it. I see essentially the bridge of the first song ("I Fucking Hate You" repeated) being quoted as an example of his lyrics being simple and immature. But how many of you knew that was an anti-capitalism song? Look a little closer next, time he's not screaming about nothing.
As to the Chuggga-Chugga nature of the riffs, what do you expect? This is Industrial with some grindcore elements. And grindcore was originally defined as sounding like a machine.... No, it's not Iron Maiden, no it's not melodic power metal, but that's not what it's meant to be. The riffs aren't simplistically nu-metallish either, if you listen carefully. Yes it's easy to loose this in the chaos of the music, but that's part of why it's heavy, no?
So enough with addressing other people's derisions of the CD. Why is it good? Devin Townsend has one of the best emotion transmitting voices I've ever heard. In other words, when he's angry the listener can feel the anger easily. To me, as a result of that, the CD is highly theraputic. Also, the lyrics, as I said, have a good bit of depth if you actually look at them. This CD's also got a good dose of kick you in the stomach heaviness. Not as much as it's musically superior follow up, City, but it's still there. The music also has some really interesting elements, for example the song "Cod Metal King" sounds like one of those cheesy metal vampire dance scene songs actually done right. "In the Rainy Season"'s end section with it's highly melodic and layered singning mixing with the loud chugging guitars creates a wonderful, spine tingling effect. The much harped on "Happy Camper" features Devy's most hyperkinetic vocal performance, perhaps ever.
My main criticisms of the CD is that it is relatively uneven, especially in the later parts. Some of the songs in that area are complete throwaways, though the wonder great song "The Filler" is a) hilarious and b) plays with some interesting vocal/guitar combos that turn out well. Also there are a few parts that are guilty of what others accuse, that they are too chuggachuggachugga, but almost every section plays with more rhytmic and melodic complexity than would be first apparent. Get some good headphones and listen closely.
Boris's review is understandable. If you're into thrash and the likes, lots of old school metal especially, this definitely won't be your thing. It is certainly a noisy record, very angry metal with industrial influences, kind of blind rage put on CD, and sometimes it works really well, but a few songs aren't as organized as later ones. It's a great album though, in my humble opinion. Opening song "S.Y.L." (simple enough, eh?) has almost manically sung verses, with sparse instrumentation until the chorus explodes in your face. This song is damn intense live. Devin's way of screaming is kind of unique, because it's not generic growling or shrieking, but he actually sounds like a pissed off person (on their first two albums, anyway), despite having the ability to sing quite well also. The chorus is sung quite nicely over the vaguely melodic riffing, until it goes into some headbanging breakdown-style material, with the by now well-known "I fucking hate you" chant. Don't look for insight in their lyrics, it's pretty much the soundtrack to the worst day of your life, and the lyrics reflect that quite accurately, as it's pure fury but generally with direction, not just typical "I'm a slacker and I hate the world" bullshit that you find on a mallcore CD. It's also funny to think about when this album came out, since it was after Devin sang on Steve Vai's debut album, 'Sex & Religion', and then pursued this pretty radical change of musical direction. (I can imagine Steve's face when he heard this...heh.) S.Y.L. has a great sense of climax too, the song builds up heavier & heavier until you're screaming against the pounding double bass at the end. Next song, "In the Rainy Season", is another testament to, you guessed it, anger, abandonment, and hatred toward fucking assholes (it's the general theme here, in case you haven't noticed). More singing on the chorus, but not some kind of formulaic clean vocal chorus *coughSoilworkcough*, just well-placed only when needed. Other songs like "Critic" sport some SAVAGE riffs that rock you to hell, and "Happy Camper" is practically industrial grindcore. Some tracks, like "Goat", are just silly and pretty useless, cause SYL never take themselves too seriously, which is admirable, but it's a bit excessive on here. All in all, a quality and angry album, and the following one, City, would perfect this style.