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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.