Thursday, 15 November 2018

Strapping Young Lad "City" (1997)


With their first step a machination of musical extremity was haphazardly birthed and with the next it was mastered. Strapping Young Lad's and Devin's debut album Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing was an embryonic folly, glowing in the light of retrospection and with this next stride Devin Townsend recruits old time band mates Jed Simon and Byron Stroud alongside Metal veteran, beastly drummer and essential component of the SYL chaos, Gene Hoglan. Their first effort as a cohesive unit was defined as "the heaviest record of all time". Despite many bands attempts to further extremify Metal aesthetics, none have brought with it the pure ecstasy of a truly emphatic emotional experience. In my opinion, the heaviest album claim still holds up to this day.

Opening with Velvet Kevorkian and All Hail The New Flesh, City quickly establishes its grandiose sense of self exaggeration and drastic emotional need. With the wobbling of dense electronic noises between Dev screams of intent, the thick wall of sound aesthetic makes itself known before the song kicks in with an absolutely punishing flurry of sound that Dev emerges from with a triumphant roar. Gleams of colorful light burst and tidal grooves erupt from guitars, crushing riffs through punishing distortions. The song elevates these aspects with Devin soaring his stunning voice high above as the music peaks into the heavens before collapsing from above into more over the top sonic guitar grooves. Its all stunning but the pure emotion in the voice of our Canadian genius is something never to be forgotten.

"Well gentlemen, a great amount of money has been invested into this project and we can't allow it fail". We have heard soaring melodic beauty dancing through duality with the primitive powers of groove and with Oh My Fucking God we descend into the madness of the latter. Dev takes all the extreme ideas of Death, Thrash Metal and Grindcore and throws them in the trash can, unleashing his trump card. Led by spurts of maniacal, schizophrenic screaming over hyperactive fretwork we are swiftly led to the mid track mania of over bloated industrial noise dispensing itself into every crevasse of space as all the instruments ramp up into a tornado of utter madness. Through the insanity Dev's nutty, deranged "la la lala" singing just peaks the madness with a cherry on top of this frothing cake of non-directional fury.

The madness isn't over yet! Detox returns to the opening formula of vocally led melodic soaring as Dev cries for his wishes of sleep. Bouncing back and forth with jugular grooves the song hides a trick up its sleeve as when you think it can't get any better he unleashes a rip roaring, pop sensible power chord riff that peaks another sense of emotional purity emanating through the vocal chords. Its a gracious moment. Home Nucleonics sounds like a race of a cliff. More berserk guitar riffs rival up against the unrelenting feet of the beast Hoglan. The song fires through its arsenal of neck snapping riffs like a drill, whilst smothered itself willingly in industrial dissonance.

With its finest of extremities unleashed, the rest of the runtime gets to mature in various directions. AAA dials back the over the top nature, teasing it with its build up of suspense, letting the band show the building blocks of their sound. Great riffs, stunning screams, still with a dense web of electronic noise and powerful drumming, it draws that line it the sand to prove both the music and aesthetic at play is brilliance. Underneath The Waves has a more traditional metallic tone at first but Dev once again fires up the sparks with his neurotic, demented singing that swiftly ramps up the musical energy to the SYL elevation. The synths get more involved in the wall of sound here, a fitting tone to passionate screams from a tiring soul.

Room 429 is the track to make a separation from all heard before. A theatrical approach is taken by the group to create a circus of distant dread that lets some less exhausting ideas flourish. It does sound like the perfect stage for Dev to unleash his humor but fortunately he steers from any cheese. City closes with Spirituality, a slow morphing of atmosphere that sounds like a Post-Metal approach to the wielding density of this Industrial soundscape. Slow chugging stomps of guitars march through apocalyptic soundscapes of warfare as electronic synths let off like missile strikes. A couple of minutes in the song attempts to turn pace with vocals and sludgy grooves. It slowly builds, unable to unleash as the steady march confines it to being a sign off song. Its a really fantastic note to end a remarkable record on.

My passion and enthusiasm for this record is obvious. I only hope a reader could find this connection too. Of the best of the best, City has held up over the years as an unending source of adrenaline release and deep emotional resonance. Its such a dense sounding record that its masterful manipulation of sound waves has me forever engaged with that textural space between all the obvious. There is so much going on it can sound fresh with every listen. Devin Townsend is an utter genius and even under the guise of over the top Metal extremity can he make it truly meaningful. All that's left to be said is Strapping Young Lad rocks my hairy anus!

Rating: 10/10

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