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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.