Review Summary: The beat starts here.
First of all, I'm surprised no previous reviewers had used that as their summary.
Strapping Young Lad is one of the most intriguingly psychotic bands to ever grace the world of metal music. Sure, a number of metal bands were labeled as psychotic and damaged for burning churches and committing an uncountable number of atrocities away from the stage and the recording studio, but how many of these bands actually got this attitude as involved in their music as SYL ever did? Led by Devin Townsend, this is the first SYL album he recorded with a full lineup, and it is without a doubt the most bone-breakingly heavy thing I've listened to ever since I discovered my love for metal. Blending all the most extreme types of music into one unstable mix that should probably be sold with a "biohazard" sticker, Townsend and his band tear down the walls of what's possible with heavy metal in this raging, intellectual metal masterpiece. Utilizing complex song structures, dual-riff interplay and some of the most bone-crushing drumming ever put to record, the band's second album "City" was bound to be a classic before the writing process was even completed.
Right off the bat you'll probably think, "What have I gotten myself into this time?". The rapid, industrial-esque eight-count that opens "Velvet Kevorkian" not only drops you into a hellish, unforgiving atmosphere, but is the only the beginning of 77 seconds of ungodly soundscapes that sound like they came out some sort of futuristic torture chamber. And if you think City is going to give you any downtime after this sonic pummeling, think again. This track immediately transitions into album highlight "All Hail The New Flesh", which is often regarded as the band's greatest song. Opening with frenzied drums and an ear-splitting roar by Townsend, the song soon gives way to a brutal riff-fest that introduces us to Townsend's pissed-off, although grimly humorous lyrics ("Hey man, I'm gonna f*ck this sh*t up" is quite the way to open a record, Devy). The band's wall-of-sound recording style, layered instrumentals, and industrial-sounding samples only stack upon one another to create a tsunami of pure chaos, obliterating everything in its sorry path. And we're only 7 minutes into City. It may be hard to believe, but from here things only get more nightmarish.
While the bass is often difficult to make out, Byron Stroud is a very technically gifted performer, which he proves whenever the mix allows him to be heard. His grooving lines on "Detox" and "AAA" take both songs to a new level of excellence, while his performance pushes the band forward on album closer "Spirituality". Of course, the two most talked-about things when it comes to SYL are the versatile, honestly frightening vocals and Gene Hoglan's inhuman drumming. Hoglan lays waste to his kit, never letting up or showing any signs of fatigue. The opening fill of "Oh My F*cking God" displays a level of speed and technicality that very few can manage to top, while the blast beats of "Home Nucleonics" make me question whether Hoglan is man or machine. However, it's not always about fitting as many notes as possible into a bar with Hoglan: his drumming on "Detox" is surprisingly groovy and simple (compared to the rest of the album; it's still a very technical performance). Townsend drones, croons, scats, hums, growls, grunts, shouts, shrieks, and demonizes his way through the vocal performances of the album, his voice being the perfect soundtrack to the infinite layers of chaos the listener is surrounded in. His unrelenting shrieking on "Oh My F*cking God" is scary as hell, plain and simple. Not only does he not take a breath for a straight minute, but he produces frequencies and tones no human should be capable of producing: Townsend gets the job done, and then some. His lyrics are just as good: sarcastic, biting, and effective. His writing can be just as frightening as his delivery ("Home Nucleonics") or be true and from his heart ("Detox").
The guitars are just as well-done. I feel that Scoot best summed them up in his reviews, when he stated that they sound like something a mental patient would create. Fitting, as Townsend is a sufferer of bipolar disorder (the subject of "Detox") and takes this to heart when producing demonic dissonance with his instrument. His interplay with fellow guitarist Jed Simon is spot-on, with the immense layers of their guitar tracks colliding and creating an explosion of abrasive tones and harsh (although effective) melody.
So there you have it. Everything about this album is insanely good and insanely insane, but I don't think I can end this review without talking a bit about "Home Nucleonics". The shortest actual song on the album, the fifth track of City is quite possibly the most ridiculously heavy song I've ever listened to. Opening with a quick, inscrutable voice sample ("The beat starts here") the band quickly dives into a chaotic landscape of face-melting riffs, inhumanly fast blast beats, and Townsend's relentless snarling. The song truly needs to be heard to be believed: the final 30 seconds are absolutely terrifying. This bloodcurdling masterpiece is only one of nine magnificent tracks on City, but I feel it stands above all the others because it goes to a level that no other song had really gone before.
If you haven't heard this, get it immediately as well as Alien. If you're not into voluntary sonic torture, you might wanna give it a skip, but any metalhead can appreciate what Strapping Young Lad did with their one and only perfect offering.
Recommended Tracks (asterisk signifies best track on the album):
All Hail The New Flesh
Oh My F!cking God