Review Summary: Are you listening? ARE YOU?!
Looking back at Devin Townsend’s more recent work and collaborations, you would never suspect that the man who recorded an atmospheric country album or created the jokey Ziltoid the Omniscient in all his coffee-obsessed glory was also the frontman in one of the most relentlessly visceral, ferociously spiteful albums that heavy metal has to offer.
Just over 20 years ago, Strapping Young Lad released an album that was instantly classified a classic in extreme metal. With the finesse of an enraged bull in a china shop, “City”
was the explosive product of Devin Townsend just before he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Captured within this album is the erratic moods and traits that accompany those with bipolar disorder only amplified by the maniacal stereotypical sounds of melding Industrial and Death metal together. In short, it is a breathless sonic rampage delivered with affronting, shameless and uncompromising conviction.
Perhaps the greatest strength of “City”
is Hevy Devy’s brutal vocal delivery along with his blatant lyricism. Few artists are able to channel and project such genuine rage as Devin does on Strapping Young Lad’s second album. “Velvet Kevorkian” sets things off in a panicked state of mind through impending rhythms and chants. Before the stunningly belligerent “All Hail the New Flesh” explodes into action, Devin even asks “Are you ready…” in the first few moments. An apt question considering what follows is nothing short of literally breath-taking as Devin’s hellish howls open the song. His screams are drawn out during the chorus as if he is exuding every last drop of anger within him and lyrics such as ‘hey man, I’m gonna f*ck this *** up’ and ‘all of you as*holes can stay rotting here’ leave little to the imagination. Throughout the album, Devin’s vocals are delivered with such spite that they’re tangible enough to make the most devout Buddha frown.
Having recorded “City”
with a complete Strapping Young Lad line-up, Devin is supported heavily by his peers in projecting as much anger as possible. “Home Nucleonics” starts almost instantaneously with tides of rapid riffs and blistering blast beats courtesy of drumming mastermind, Gene Hoglan. Despite the chaotic approach each member of the band takes during “Oh My F*cking God”, the sudden pauses or abrupt guitar slides affirm that the band are very much in control, contrary to the asphyxiating singing. This is the core feeling of “City”
: as chaotic and unrestrained as it sounds, it’s not aimless. All this anger is targeted with meticulous attention to how Strapping Young Lad can make themselves sound even more destructive.
Consequently, there are certain aspects in this album that exhibit different types of fury, particularly the climax to ‘boiling point’. Commencing with perverse, eerie riffs, “AAA” is more of a seething sounding track than a full-on riot and the repetitive lyrics of ‘no one, no one ***s with me’ enhance the dominant attitude one feels when angry. Bountiful amounts of grinding, mechanic, technical Industrial effects are scattered throughout the album to make it sound as loud and purposefully jarring as possible and, in places, are added calculatingly such as the soaring atmosphere during the chorus of “Underneath the Waves”. Conversely, these effects are used in more haunting moods in the droning closer, “Spirituality”, although they are used with the same intent of producing a dedicated mood- be it rage, respite or acceptance.
Call it a cliché, but this album is an absolute beast. Very few albums have come close to replicating the same level of rage that “City”
does, and given the time passed since its release, it’s possible that few ever will in their own right. In conclusion, as predicted at the very end of the album, Strapping Young Lad will rock your hairy anus and you’d be wise to not object to it.