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I've had about enough of expressing my thoughts on albums I passionately revere and so I thought to myself: What band would be perfect for me to start my holocaust of hate on? Well, I settled on the musician rather quickly. But what release? His body of work is so long and extensive. After a little bit of pondering on this question I also came to the most obvious of conclusions: Why not the first album that I ever heard by this musician...? And so, SYL it was (such a creative title, isn't it?). I probably purchased this album from Best Buy back when it was somewhat new in stores, so....going on almost a decade now. I listened to it for a while, and in my metal infancy thought it was decent, but as the years went on it faded into my CD collection collecting nothing but dust, forgotten (almost) forever... until this day. This is a great day ladies and gentlemen, because I am going to kick this album's ass as much as Devin Townsend tries to act bad ass or die trying. Starting now...
So the first thing that fucking sucks about this fucking album are the lyrics. The lyrics are fucking lame and unimaginable. A lot of the lyrics are simple stupid declarations with no deeper meaning or poetry to them, and skimming through the lyrics in the booklet or on M-A will be evidence enough of this. However, this is a Strapping Young Lad record and I don't really know what more you can or should expect other than some unintelligible anger and excessive use of the word fuck. I think this speaks to a problem with Devin Townsend in general as an artist--he just typically doesn't write very profound, meaningful lyrics. I guess he has the whole anger thing down, but to me that's just not really enough. And still, the anger that he portrays through his lyrics is juvenile and immature. I suppose this isn't a big deal to some people, lyrics and all, but to me lyrics are important, and this is generally a huge negative with all of Devin Townsend's body of work for me. There just isn't enough substance to this album lyrically and that puts a huge damper on my overall enjoyment of SYL.
The riffs are pretty standard for Strapping Young Lad, but more like second rate backburner material that doesn't really stick with me at all when the album is over. They are all completely forgettable for the most part and lack the fire and catchiness of an album like City. City started off with a high amount of energy and intensity even with the intro piece, fully displaying the inspired anger and spirit that cannot be found anywhere on SYL and then bursting into "All Hail the New Flesh" which possesses powerful soaring vocals and one of Strapping Young Lad's best riffs. SYL is generally devoid of any catchy yet intense moments like this and that's a big part of where it fails in comparison to an album like City. Early Fear Factory and Ministry have obviously had a hand in influencing Strapping Young Lad and Devin Townsend in general, and SYL is no different. Unfortunately for Devin Townsend, even the very worst old school Ministry riff is light years better than anything to be found here on this record. Overall, musically this album simply lacks passion and feels painfully uninspired compared to an album like City. Really everything about this album screams (as Devin Townsend would) out how generic and uninspired it is, and how they really seemed to lack any unique ideas. Honestly, I think Devin Townsend exhausted every ounce of creativity he ever had on City and left nothing else for the rest of his career, which is turning out to be quite long and prolific (going strictly by number of releases). A lot of his projects had an uphill battle to begin with for me, since I don't dig progressive music very much, which is why I suppose Strapping Young Lad is the only bearable endeavor he has done...as far as I've experienced, anyway.
There are perhaps two aspects of SYL that prevent the album from falling into the category of "worst music I've ever heard" (That is generally reserved for melodeath and certain non-metal genres). I will graciously admit that Devin Townsend is a talented singer, and indeed he is. I always recognize and give credit where credit is due when it comes to singers, wherever they may be found--be it pop, rock, metal, etc. His voice has the ability to soar high above the average singer into Rob Halford-like screams and wails, and this is a common trait found in a lot of Devin Townsend's music. In fact, according to The Range Place, an interesting and useful forum I tend to frequent, Devin Townsend has hit notes quite a bit higher than Rob Halford (although their modal range appears to be nearly identical, with Townsend having hit one note lower than Halford). The point being that Devin Townsend's vocals are very versatile and can be quite good, saving some of the songs from becoming absolutely valueless and in some cases even making the songs briefly bearable, and even enjoyable (sort of). Unfortunately, quality catchy vocal sections are very noticeably missing in SYL, but can be found quite frequently on City -- like the section found in the middle of the song "Detox."
At times the drumming can be quite good, albeit a bit repetitive. Gene Hoglan is a legend in the metal community for his unique talent and skill behind the drum kit, and rightly so, as he is one of the most talented drummers in all of metal (and in all of music). His work in Dark Angel alone is evidence enough of this and I do enjoy a good bit of his work, even if the surrounding instrumentation is sometimes less than impressive (like here, on this album). His signature style is intact on SYL, with his familiar blazing double bass patterns and interesting double kick triplets, such as on the beginning of "Aftermath." Despite that, solid drumming alone is obviously not enough to save any album and I'm afraid SYL is no exception.
Ultimately, SYL fails to achieve anything, except to be boring most of the time and mildly annoying when not. However, I'm not one of those people who think that everything Devin Townsend has ever done is completely valueless...just almost everything. Strapping Young Lad is his best project, in my opinion, and City is the best album he's ever released. So, I would suggest starting at City -- and if you find that to be shitty, then you might as well forget the whole thing, because he has nothing better to offer. I can't recommend this album to anyone, because I should like it (being the industrial/thrash junkie that I am) and even I can't stand it. What I would recommend instead is putting down the Strapping Young Lad record (whichever one of them you happen to be holding) and go find yourself the nearest bargain bin or used section of your record shop and search for ANY Ministry record, because its value is infinitely greater than anything Devin Townsend has ever thought of.
Strapping Young Lad's self-titled album is their most overlooked as it is sandwiched in between their two masterpieces and while it may be far better than Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing, it still isn't at the same level as the albums that its sandwiched between.
One thing that SYL can never be accused of is making the same album twice. HaaRHT is loud and unfocused noise similar to a lot of noise and grindcore but still recognizably metal, City is a Ministry-styled industrial album that shoves dark philosophy down the listener's throat with pitch black humor, Alien is a more progressive listen that offers a frightening picture of madness, and The New Black is diverse and technical. The self-titled album however has a far less interesting premise, as it's groove death played more in the style of Gojira than Six Feet Under, but what it lacks in vision, it makes up for in execution.
As much as I absolutely hate track by track reviews, I feel that there is truly no other way to review this album.
The album begins with Dire/Consequences which is epic and certainly better than Velvet Kevorkian and Imperial, but isn't nearly as strong as SYL or Decimator and while it's certainly not a boring listen, it isn't nearly as memorable as it attempts to be, but still creates enough atmosphere to keep remain entertaining.
Then comes Relentless, and it's certainly one of the band's better songs and one of the few songs before The New Black to feature a lead and what a lead it is, it certainly isn't We Ride or Wrong Side, but it's still one of the catchiest solos that I've ever heard even if it does happen to be very repetitive. SYL was smart to release this as the album's single.
Following that comes Rape Song and it's a fast and aggressive track that brings back many of City's industrial elements and isn't anything special other than being a fast headbanging track and nothing more which is disappointing given that Devin usually creates much more interesting songs.
Then comes Aftermath that is a complete monster of a song. Jed's lead guitar plays one of the simplest yet most effective riffs this side of Pantera over Devin's chugging rhythm guitar and later has a great and powerful chorus before breaking into a totally different but no less moving section at about 3:50 before going to a riff that's similar yet faster and slightly more technical then the one repeated for the first half of the song before finally returning to the chorus that broke the song in two in the first place. It remains one of the best songs that SYL has ever put out and stays interesting and groovy despite being a seven minute epic.
Following that comes Devour which has a stomping and aggressive sound that suffers from the same weakness as Children of Bodom's Downfall in the sense that it's a song that is meant to be played live and loses a lot of itself when played on a CD due to the heavy crown interaction that this song requires to be effective.
Following that comes Last Minute which has a riff that could be used as part of the soundtrack for a some Hollywood action movie and succeeds at proving that Jed Simon can do more than just play catchy and fast riffs and is actually capable of using real emotion when he plays despite what his usual output might make the average listener think but offers little other than cool guitar work and a chant along chorus.
Fortunately, the next track may very well be the absolute best track that SYL has ever written and is certainly my favorite track by the band. It has the industrial elements featuring prominently unlike much of the album and it starts off being slow and aggressive but then breaks into a chorus that is as beautiful as metal can possibly be and certainly competes with anything that Mastodon has done in that regard. The chorus on this track is one of my favorite parts of any song by any band and shows exactly why Steve Vai chose Devin for his Sex and Religion album, which makes me surprised that Century Media didn't release this as a second single.
Following this comes Dirt Pride which is an uber-fast track that recalls other fast tracks like Oh My Fucking God and shows exactly why Gene Hoglan is regarded as one of the best drummers in the business.
The album concludes with a slow and grinding ending that demands the audience's attention to it's message about the cost of war that has been the focus of most of this album and ties everything together in as strong of a political statement as anything put forth by Rage Against the Machine or The Clash as Devin sings about how society destroys younger generations through warfare and the mindless masses who blindly accept war.
Once again this is a political album and the album art depicts that with two disturbing pictures. One of which portrays a young baby holding a knife while flashing a demonic smile which represents how cultures teach their children to embrace war from a very young age while the other picture is that of a blood-drenched angel getting its wings clipped off which shows how religion is corrupted and turned into a political force that backs holy war. It's images like these that show how truly corrupt and depraved our civilization is and how artists like Devin Townsend have an obligation to be agents of social change in order to create a better world, no matter how un-metal that sounds.
As an album, it's not their worst, but it's far from their best. However, it's still a solid release that features some truly exceptional moments and has a wider social message that keep it from being just another album. Conflicted feelings aside, it's still a good release but it's not the place to start if you're new to Devin Townsend's work.
Strapping Young Lad's third album is their weakest, and does sort of stick out among the rest of the band's catalog as being kind of weirdly shallow. It's not that the band does anything substantially different from what they ordinarily do on this LP, but what is done just sounds stale, like they were really back burner ideas that they threw together for the release. There are worse examples of this sort of thing in metal, but this release really doesn't stack up at all against the rest of Strapping Young Lad's catalog.
'SYL' somehow manages to have massive amounts of variation at the same time that it has no variation at all. Each track, in and of itself, possesses little to no variation. There are two or three main musical ideas in each track that just alternate over and over again until some predefined length is reached; it's a lot like rock music in that way. That in and of itself isn't so bad; Darkthrone made one of the best metal albums ever in that way with 'Transilvanian Hunger'. But additionally, those parts aren't very GOOD. They're just a series of constant double bass and simple tremolo riffing or bombastically held chords, with Townsend's wailing vocals, but unlike other albums, where those sections are well-written and gripping, it seems that the objective with the writing here was 'we have to make a bunch of Strapping Young Lad riffs' instead of 'we have to make a bunch of great riffs' which just happen to be in the Strapping Young Lad mold.
At the same time, there's massive variation from one track to another; too much, in fact. The tracks are all in the same general style, but they have no connection to each other; the album doesn't tell a greater story, nor do the tracks individually, really. The best tracks are the ones like 'Relentless', and even then the best it can do is be merely catchy and have good melodies. Other than that, everything's just so... insignificant. Material on other albums like 'City' was really emotionally engrossing, and felt like a look into the mind of Townsend. The stuff here is just a collection of songs.
Your whole enjoyment of this album really hinges on the reasons why you enjoyed other Strapping Young Lad albums. If you like it simply due to its musical aesthetic, then yes, there's really nothing wrong with this (though I might argue that some of the songs are poorly written). The production is good and clear, and there's catchy riffs and vocal patterns sometimes. If you liked other albums because of how they worked AS ALBUMS, with each song being an important part of a whole experience, I really feel that you'll be disappointed by this. Even if you view it from the perspective of songwriting, this is the weakest link in Strapping Young Lad's catalog, and the inability of it to communicate a greater meaning just brings it down further. I don't particularly like it.
This album is the darkest effort by the eclectic SYL, and although not as good as City or Alien, it's still far better than The New Black or HAARHT.
Dire starts the album off like you're entering hell, and Consequence only backs it up with buzzsaw riffs and pounding drumming. Some really evil riffs in this song. Relentless is kind of boring, but picks up and is extremely energetic (especially in a live setting). Rape Song is cool for a while but loses replay value over time. Aftermath is one of the real gems on here. It's a war song thru and thru, and it just feels massive. The riff that comes in towards the end is full of energy and those amazing metal triplet chugs that everybody HAS TO LOVE. Devour is another anthem and I don't know why SYL still doesn't play this song often. I think it's catchy as hell. Last Minute sounds like you're at war with satan, and Force Fed is a bit drawn out but has one of the most beautiful choruses I've heard from SYL. Dirt Pride is a straight up grinder with some mildly amusing lyrics (BUNK SOCK!). Bring On The Young closes the album much like Spirituality did on City; it's very drawn out but slowly builds and becomes quite a powerhouse.
My only qualm with the production on this album is that Gene's snare drum is practically inaudible. The guitars (courtesy of Jed Simon alone) are extremely tight, clean, and have some great metal crunch.
I consider this in league with SYL's greatest albums alongside City and Alien. These 3 albums all sound different but have that SYL element that ties them together. I just don't get much of that element in The New Black, and HAARHT really just has the songs SYL and In The Rainy Season.
A solid effort.
This must be Hevy Devy’s most masterful piece of brutality yet. Showing a lot more constraint than both “City” and “Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing” without sacrificing any of the insane anger that throughout the album is so imposingly in your face, Strapping Young Lad deliver another declaration of distraught and extreme anger. This time Strapping Young Lad are obviously a lot more serious and, the truth be known, it only does them favours at putting their point across.
Devin Townsend, the crazy Canadian madman behind Strapping Young Lad’s hyper onslaught, always said he only made a SYL album when pissed off and this slab of brutal, industrial holocaust clearly shows it. No playing around!
Fast, punishing songs with industrial overlays and manic, aggravated hatred for the state of our society, SYL will leave the listener with a horrific, melted face as if just being devastated by a nuclear bomb. The death metal riffs and the seemingly non-stop kick drum assault present on this album help define the “fire at will” attitude that takes form on the album. Devin Townsend, Gene Hoglund, Byron Stroud and co. are not content with taking prisoners as they continue their aural assault. No friend of brutal music will be left behind and no enemy will lay unscathed. THIS IS A SOUNTRACK TO WAR!! Whose side will you be on?
From what i've heard lately, some people are disappointed with this album...
what more could you ask for in an album than crunchingly heavy guitars, Gene Hoglan on drums - the master at work, damn adrenalising songs and the busiest nutjob in metal today, Devin Townsend.
To tackle the challenge of following up the monster album that was 'City' way back in 1997, there is a more 'democratic' (for want of a better word) input from the other members of Strapping Young Lad other than just Townsend.
If 'Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing' was the schizoid nutball kid with Attention-Deficit Disorder; and 'City' was the leaner, meaner brother with the muscle and hereditary insanity combining; then 'SYL' is the bigger, fatter, older brother that you were always threatened with but never actually laid eyes on.
It's by no means perfect, but bear in mind the fact that anything Strapping Young Lad release will no doubt be infinitely heavier than the albums that get all the media attention and court with the mainstream.
If you like "cyber metal", Red Harvest or anything Devin Townsend has written, it's quite simple. Buy this album or continue to live your life afraid to come into the light.
or something like that.
The 2003 release from Strapping Young Lad shows us a much different band then the one that gave the world the brutally heavy "City". While "City" was great, but was mindless brutality at times, "SYL" is still heavy and retains the death/industrial sound that they have while showing a more melodic side to them. All of the individual songs have been spoken of enough, so I will concentrate more on the overall sound of the album.
The guitar has a slightly grainy sound which I do not like as much as on "City". The drums (by Mr.Hoglan, drum god) are spectacular as always (listen to Devour and see what I mean). Devin's vocals are great and he not only screams (Relentless) but also sings (Force Fed). The production is very nice and not muddy in the least.
The best part about this album is it's unpredictability. The band will be playing one riff for a minute, then it will change without warning or buildup into a completly different riff or beat. One would think that with this, the songs would sound disjointed but they manage to stay together much better than one might think. Great riffs are to be found all over this album.
I was fortunate enought to see SYL live in Sept.03 and the show was excellent, with most of their take coming from this album. And rightfully so, it is a faithful follower to "City". The reason it did not rate as high as it's predecessor is simply because "City" is heavier and better for head banging.
Oh yes, and the lyrics are much better this time around. Buy this album, it is one of the most original and heavy albums to come out in 2003.
"I'll send you the new Strapping Young Lad tomorrow!" Goddammit, that's all I needed to hear to make my heart miss a beat and to let the sweat gush out of every pore in my skin. All kinds of worst-case-scenarios force themselves into my thoughts; what if Al Qaida decides to give the postal system a well deserved lesson in humility? What if the parcel gets the rough treatment courtesy of some postal-hooligan or disappears altogether? What if the album sucks? AAARRRRGGHGHH!!!!! Okay... Calm down.... Get a grip!! Just go to sleep and it'll be tomorrow before you know it.
The next morning on, one of my few free days, I crawled out of my tomb around 11 and stumbled to my mail box. And there it was, a small brown paper parcel like the ones I get on a regular basis. That's when curiosity killed the proverbial cat. In a shark like rage I ripped through the paper almost giving the other CD in the parcel a premature beating and triumphantly held the latest offering by master composer Devin Townsend in my sweaty hands! Feverishly fast I read the back of the promo:
7. Last Minute
8. Force Fed
9. Dirt Pride
10. Bring On The Young
The short serious somewhat snappy titles immediately grab hold of you,. Something we haven't come to expect from Devy who always got a laugh or two with his weird and funny lyrics and titles. Unfortunately the promo doesn't include any lyrics but I'm almost sure that Devy is not smiling anymore. Music-wise the master is using more or less the same source as on "City" with the only difference that the guitar-riffs have a more prominent place in the mix than before. And god damn those riffs!! One second I hear straight Death Metal in the Morbid Angel vein and the next it's pure Trash like Slayer. You can even hear some Black Metal influences in the divine/infernal racket that breaks loose when the vocals and keyboards unleash their strength. Tight. Fat. Hard. Pounding. Melodic. Brutal. Fast. Groovy. This album has it all! The vocals are a tad less chaotic and at times a bit powermetal-esque. Fans of the overpowering "City" are gonna love this and I'm sure the fans of Physicist, Terria and even Ocean Machine are gonna find something they like in the more subtle layers of this album. And I do mean layers cause it's the kind of subtlety you have to search for to hear. A really hard album to review actually since the music can only be described as: Strapping Young Lad Metal.
This is the swan song of the most misplaced and uncontrolled ‘enfant terrible’ Metal has ever seen and that's no laughing matter. And that's exactly what they will show the world. Because above all else Devin and Co. are still mighty pissed off! These non-conformists pur sang are in agreement with nothing and no one and are determined to choose their own path. Even if Devin told us he wanted to cease all his metal activities he still decided to go in a dignified manner. Job well done!
(This review was originally written for www.lordsofmetal.nl and is republished with kind permission of the webmaster)
No one can ever accuse Devin Townsend of giving his band a derivative or unoriginal sound. Strapping Young Lad always were distinctive with their mix of hardcore, progressive metal, and industrial. Unfortunately, this seemingly bulletproof mix was diluted by the fact that Devin felt the need to be the next Anthrax and create funny metal. As a result, SYL was pretty lame for the most part with its often ridiculous lyrics and at times weird melodies. At its worst the music was nothing but noise exacerbated by busy, muddled production.
Having had plenty of time to record solo projects and other people's albums including the outstanding Natural Born Chaos by Soilwork, he was no doubt influenced by the lot in addition to having gained some producing expertise. All of this shows greatly on his flagship band's latest work. All the annoying qualities of the previous Lad albums have been filtered out leaving just the promise that the original concept held... what should have been all along.
The aforementioned production is crystal clear with awesome drum sounds - deep pounding bass drums and heavy thundering cymbals - punchy guitars which sound great with palm-muting (which is found all over), and ideally mixed bass. I cannot bitch about the production job at all.
The riffs here still are not at the level of perfection of Carnal Forge, Pantera, or Machine Head, but they are for the most part huge with lots of chugging alternate picking. The drumwork would have to be the highlight though. It's a wonder Gene Hoglan is such a fat guy given the calorie-burning intensity of the beats. The double bass is pounded relentlessly and the tempos change quite a bit. All around technical but grooved drumming. The use of keyboards is a bit different on here, used more to accent the heaviness rather than ruin it.
The songwriting has obviously improved greatly to elicit such a positive review from me. It's diverse as ever but in a far more focused way. On songs like "Last Minute" he does his take on black metal, death metal on "Force Fed", hardcore on "Rape Song" and "Dirt Pride", Testament-like thrash on "Devour" and power metal on the rest. For the most part, they have eliminated the silly lyrics taking on metal staple topics such as war, rape, violence, and the like. Hell Devin even referred to it as "war music".
It's not quite perfect though. The biggest bitch I have is the complete and utter lack of solos. Now I am not of the school where every song must have a two minute wankfest after the second chorus, but on this album the avoidance of leads is seemingly deliberate. There are plenty of places here where a solo just belongs and instead you have a riff that is played for too long. That hurts the album significantly. The other complaint, somewhat smaller, is that Devin still at times seems like he does not take his job as a vocalist seriously. For this tendency at its worst, watch Century Media's tenth anniversary video. It's far less prominent here, and he mostly delivers the words powerfully and convincingly but it's got it's irritating moments. Finally, this may not really be that relevant to his music, but the booklet includes TWO pictures of Townsend's skullet. Why he doesn't just shave his head I do not know.
Despite all that though, nothing can stop me from going on about how cool SYL is. I see a lot of promise in this band which is only now being realized. Everyone who likes it fast and heavy, buy this CD. If you are a pussy, stay far away from it.
I'm out like... nevermind, this one's too easy.