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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.