Saturday, February 19, 2011

First Post: Strapping Young Lad: City

     This is the first post on the blog, so why not start it with a review of an album that is a personal favorite: Strapping Young Lad's 1997 release: City. This is Strapping Young Lad's second album to be released following their 1995 album: Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing.

     City was a huge release for Strapping Young Lad, giving them critical and commercial success. At this point, the musical focus of the band became more solidified. Many fans and critics agree that City is Strapping Young Lad's best effort, and even vocalist/guitar player Devin Townsend considers it to be the bands "ultimate" release.

     Musically, City can be described as a flurry of sounds and noises, combining to create music that is felt as much as it is heard.  The album paints an atmospheric picture of the mind of an individual  that has seemingly gone insane among the restlessness and chaos of modern society. From the beginning chimes of the first song, you know you are in for a wild ride.

     The first song Velvet Kevorkian begins with a repeating noise of what sounds like two ceramic plates being rubbed together. The noise suddenly stops and the song explodes into a a powerful array of sounds and noises. The recording is thick with multi-layered guitar tracks and samples, creating a huge wall of sound. The song then continues to chug away while vocalist Devin Townsend begins to start yelling lyrics through what sounds like a megaphone, almost as if he is speaking to a crowd. This continues until the song seamlessly passes into the next.

     The second song All Hail the New Flesh opens immediately after the end of the first song, starting with an ominous power chord, cymbal hits, and layers upon layers of industrial sounding samples. A riff starts to come in for a few bars and continues with the other guitar coming in moments later. The song then unleashes its energy with what can be described as a wall of sound. The music never lets up, the song always provides the listener with a new riff to keep the energy going. The lyrics, though not taken entirely seriously, combined with the powerful music make this song seem to be a sort of anthem against conventional living.

     The album does not let up, as the next song Oh My Fucking God is heavier than the songs before it. The listener is presented with machine like samples, and a voice in the background that sounds like a scientist. The song then erupts with a pounding drums and tremelo picked guitar. Drummer Gene Hoglan's drumming, and in particular his double bass abilities are becoming quiet apparent at this point in the album. As the song continues, an atmosphere of a busy city at night becomes realized. The chaotic music in this song seems to portray a "city" of people with tons of conflicting ideas who are in a rush to live their lives without first thinking about what they are doing. The frantic and quickly paced vocal lines that Townsend spits out also seem to demonstrate this.

     The album then slows down a little bit, but does not lose quality or heaviness for the next song Detox. The song begins with a quick rant from Townsend, then continues into a chuggy, triplet based riff. After a few variations, and some background chanting, Townsend begins to sing in a harsh but melodic voice. The more melodic and slowed down style of Detox brings fresh life into the album. The lyrics seem to be about not knowing where to belong in modern society. The music and in particular Townsend's vocal style during this song illustrate this feeling very well. Detox is full of raw emotion and the bridge of the song is excellent.

     The album then brings up the pace with song number five, Home Nucleonics. The song begins with a yell and a blast beat, before turning into a fast thrashy song with excellent drumming from Hoglan. Although the song is shorter than the others, it is full of heavy riffs and interesting background samples. The bridge of the song contains some of the heaviest parts on the album. The vocals are excellent, with Townsend throwing in different vocal styles from time to time. Home Nucleonics seems to be about technology taking over human life without people noticing. The machine like sound of this song illustrates this idea very well.

     The album then slows down again for the next song AAA, named after the guitar tuning Townsend used for this song. AAA starts off quietly with a single guitar and whispering vocals. The song begins to crescendo with industrial sounding samples and drum parts. The song then goes into full swing, the whole band plays, and creates a sludgy wall of sound. The lyrics seem to illustrate an experience of being with the wrong people and the negative effects of it, as well as feeling forced to live an ordinary, conventional lifestyle. The music has a dark and disturbing sound, and provides support for the angry vocal styles Townsend uses. There is a much more slow, rhythmic presence on AAA than any of the previous songs on the album. The outright expression the song gives off makes it one of the best songs on the album.

     City once again picks up speed with another thrashy song, Underneath the Waves. The song is fairly straight-forward compared to other songs on the album, yet it does not lose its quality or heaviness. At points, Townsend sounds insane by employing unconventional vocal styles. There are many layered samples that give the song a unique touch. The lyrics in Underneath the Waves express feelings of disdain for the stress, thoughtlessness, pressure, and fast pace of modern society. The music also illustrates these feelings. The song's fast pace, industrial noises, and staccato rhythms match the lyrics well.

      The next song is a cover from 90s band Cop Shoot Cop named Room 429. The song is much less heavy than other songs on City, but fits the album well. The song has a creepy sound to it, with a strange synth melody accompanied by thick guitar and bass work and powerful drumming. The lyrics are equally strange, presenting the listener with a scene in which someone is being held captive in a room. Devin Townsend's vocal delivery is excellent. Though a different and less harsh style than other vocal performances on the album, Townsend's vocals are very powerful and fit in perfectly with the rest of the song.

     The last song on the album is Spirituality. For the most part, the Spirituality is a slow and steady chugging song with powerful vocal delivery and extremely thick background samples. The song's lyrics seem to wrap up the overall theme of the album. Although not the most entertaining song on the album, there are some very strong parts, particularly in Devin Townsend's vocal performance.

     Overall, City is a masterpiece of expression. It is rare to find an album that so clearly expresses the thoughts of the writer. The music is incredibly thick and layered and provides the listener with a listening experience unlike any other. The music is so full, that it not only creates a sound, but a tangible thing that you can almost reach out and grab. The theme of City seems to be about how large the world has become, and how many different opinions and beliefs the people who inhabit it hold, and the ensuing conflict this creates, especially among people who are trying to decide what is right to do and believe early in life.