As part of an ongoing New Year’s Resolution to expand the breadth of musical knowledge, I am listening to a discography of a band each month.
This is actually my entry for November, running a little late.
My previous entry saw we look at the back catalogue of the ascendant occult rockers Ghost.
This time around, I’ve gone for Canadian extreme metal band Strapping Young Lad.
Background: Ever since seeing him at Bloodstock Open Air 2010, I’ve slowly grown into being quite the an of Devin Townsend. Over the course of the past six years, I must have seen him live at least six times (that I can recall), including a brilliant acoustic request show at Corporation. Despite this, I’d rarely ventured into his Strapping Young Lad discography as, simply, the odd clip I’d heard sounded heavier than I was used to and it didn’t entirely sound for me. However, a number of friends over the years have asked/requested/suggested that I check the discography out. So, Paul, Joe and everyone else – here goes nothing!
– Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing
The slightly odd, agressive intro S.Y.L. gives way to In the Rainy Season. The pulsating and pounding riffs are catchy, without being anything special. The slightly more memorable Goat is then followed by one of the best tracks on the album in Cod Metal King. Though the synethesised drums date it, the sinister guitar tone makes this song. After Happy Camper (Carpe B.U.M.) comes a more interesting tune in Critic. Unremarkable at first, this grows into a interesting, catchy tune. None of the next three tracks did much for me and seemed like filler material to be honest, and we close things out with the totally silly Satan’s Ice Cream Truck. It doesn’t fit on the album at all, but it’s so totally Devin.
It’s interesting to be able to hear the kernels of Devin’s future sound throughout the album. Ultimately, it’s… fine. There’s a decent backbone of tracks bookended by okay efforts. Re-arrange the tracks and this is a solid EP with bonus tracks. This is probably more of a ‘listen once once you’ve gotten into them, then cherry pick the best songs in future’ than a must listen.
Cod Metal King, Critic.
Intro track Velvet Kevorkian immediately confirms that we’ve had a welcome production upgrade. Musically, it also sounds a lot closer to Devin’s later works. All Hail the New Flesh and Oh My Fucking God have some really tasty riffs, and Detox ups the ante further! The main riffs sounds a little like old school Metallica meets the best of Testament, but with Townsend’s own spin added. Best track on the album and best track released by them to this point. The next few tracks are fine. Room 429 is an interesting cover that was chosen as the penultimate song. I wasn’t familiar with the original, but I enjoyed this. Closer Spirituality has the ‘big’ sound Devin has honed later in his career. A good denoument.
Comfortably better than Heavy as a Real Heavy Thing. It’s held back a little by the lyrics that can seem a bit juvenile / unrefined in places.
Detox, Room 429, Spirituality.
– Strapping Young Lad
After the token intro track (Dire), thus begins a run of four perfectly-fine-if-not-overly-memorable songs. Thankfully, Aftermath is better! Devour and Last Minute are both better than the tracks that preceed Aftermath, if not quite to the same standard. Force Fed and Dirt Pride are pure filler. Bring on the Young has a nice doomy, Candlemass-like vibe early on. One of the better tracks .
Disappointing and a bit bland when compared to City. I literally am struggling to write much more about this.
Aftermath, Bring on the Young.
The token intro track has become a mini-song by this release! Imperial is its name, as it’s pretty decent! The first ‘proper’ track is Skeksis. This is one of those odd tracks that I don’t think anyone will define it as a ‘classic’, but it’s very good and a step-up on everything from the previous release. Shitstorm only really gets going in the last minute or so, but things pick up again with Love?. While good, I don’t quite understand the adoration this track gets (I understand it’s up their with Detox as one of the ‘ultimate’ SYL tracks). Still, I may be nitpcking – I’m saying this is more top 10-15ish as opposed to top two in the whole SYL disography. Shine is pretty good, and We Ride is a better quality filler song. I didn’t get along with Possessions, but I liked the acoustic change of pace Two Weeks. Thalamus isn’t bad, though I prefered Zen out of all the tracks at the tail end of the album. Info Dump is 11 minutes of mostly spoken word and static.
A pretty solid album, with the first half is generally better than the second. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to replay it a lot, I’d happily sit through more playings.
Skeksis, Love?, Zen
– The New Black
Casting off with intro tracks entirely, we open up SYL’s final studio album with the pretty darned good Decimator. You Suck has silly lyrics, but is very catchy. Antiproduct is quite an odd track (one that’s sure to divide listeners), but I really enjoyed it. Monument‘s main riff was used in later year for the bridge in Lucky Animals. This is a good, catchy track in its own right. Wrong Side is fantastically bonkers. There must be four or so distinct melodies throughout it’s three and a half minute run time, including a section that sounds so similar to what the Norweigan Shining are currently doing that it must have been an influence of sorts. I’m not sure how well Hope would work as a stand alone song, but it sits nicely here with its slow, down-tuned, chuggy guitars and Devin’s brilliantly malevolent vocals. Far Beyond Metal is AMAZING. It’s like Devin decided he was going to write some epic classic heavy metal, whilst binging on european melodic metal. It’s so over the top. You can hear the windmilling and imagine the air guitaring. I suspect those those that got into SYL for the angsty OTT heaviness may not like how cheesy this sounds, but each to their own. I love this and it’s probably my favourite track. Sonically, Fucker sounds like it should be on Addicited rather than an SYL album. Good track though. Almost Again also sounds much close to a later era Devin track – there’s a great empasis on melody in general on this album and this makes three tracks in a row where that is quite obvious. Polyphony is really an extended intro to the closing song, The New Black. A little low key compared to the mid-section of this album, it is still a sort of fitting closure to an interesting discography.
Controversial opinion time – I think this is their best album! It has the most catchy songs, the least filler and the most diversity. There’s also going to be a personal element to this as it by far most closely resembles Devin’s later output. It’s the album I’m mostly likely to play again in full.
Far Beyond Metal, Wrong Side, Monument